When West Ham swapped Sam Allardyce for former Hammer Slaven Bilic it signalled a change in philosophy but also represented great risk. Allardyce’s West Ham never played the most attractive football but it was mightily effective – a trademark of the former Bolton boss.
The former Croatia national team boss is somewhat of a cult hero in East London and his likeable personality, great man management skills as well as his tactical shrewdness and adaptability contrasts greatly to his predecessor’s. Take nothing away from Allardyce – he brought and then kept West Ham up but his disconnect with the fans always left the club feeling uneasy. However, with Bilic in charge it seems a match made in heaven both in the stands and on the pitch.
Now at the tail end of the season and the decision made to bring in Bilic has been completely justified. Having been just seven minutes away from an F.A. Cup semi-final at the expense of Manchester United before Anthony Martial’s equaliser forced a reply and just two points off the top four West Ham have quickly transformed into an attractive side and one of the most dangerous in the Premier League.
Bilic, a contender for Manager of the Year, has recruited wisely and has unearthed a genuine star in Dimitri Payet. Payet is a microcosm of the new look West Ham: inventive, daring and classy. When David Gold and company made the decision to bring in the former Croatia manager it was for reasons being played out on the pitch and their hiring has played out in the best possible way.
The new era for The Hammers has started with a bang and with the move to a new stadium immanent Bilic is giving West Ham fans and The Boleyn Ground a farewell to remember. Along with Payet Michail Antonio, Enner Valencia and Cheikhou Kouyate have given the London side a swashbuckling attack capable of causing the biggest sides in the league nightmares.
A new attacking vigour has been discovered and Bilic has transformed his former team from steady mid table team into a legitimate European squad. So far this campaign West Ham have scored 45 league goals – one more than they did through the entirety of last season – and they still have nine games to go.
Even with them now boasting an upgrade in attacking talent Bilic has tried to keep a solid defence with The Hammers keeping ten clean sheets so far with them keeping teams like Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham at bay.
The month of March has been an excellent one for West Ham as they beat title contenders Spurs before staging a remarkable comeback to come from two goals down to snatch victory from Everton 3-2 – Payet as he has done so often this season being the catalyst for the comeback. And most recently a 1-1 draw against Man United in the F.A. Cup – the moment of the game coming when West Ham’s French talisman thundered a superb free kick right past David De Gea. It would be hard to argue that out on that Old Trafford pitch the best player was not wearing claret and blue – De Gea being the only player who could challenge that.
With so many outstanding stories this season West Ham have got lost in the mix. In a league where standing still is practically going in reverse Bilic has his ideas and imprinted them on the current squad quicker than most could imagine and has got this team taking huge strides forwards. The Boleyn Ground is getting a fitting send off with it being treated to some of the best football in the Premier League.
West Ham attack at electric pace using their wide men to devastating effect when they have possession. An interchangeable front four and a flexibility in their game makes them a joy to watch for any neutral. Forever anchored by their disciplined central midfield pairing of Mark Noble and Alex Song it is easy to see the freedom the forwards have. Bilic is constructing a perfectly balanced team where each element compliments the other.
West Ham could yet have a say in the title race with them welcoming Arsenal before travelling to Leicester City in April. Not only that but they could very well blow the race for the top four wide open should they repeat their result against Arsenal on the opening day of the season.
Bilic could, realistically, guide his side to third and an F.A. Cup triumph in his first season in England. Should he achieve one, or even both, then West Ham fans can dream big about their future in the hands of the capable Croat.