Successful rallying cry or imminent good-bye?

RapidHammer’s monthly column for “West Ham till I die”

It’s early December and it has already been a long, long, tough and so far disappointing season. In November West Ham couldn’t muster a single win home or away, and they spoiled the party when the Austrian Irons celebrated their fifth anniversary on the evening of the game against Tottenham in a Vienna pub called the Tube Station.

Conceding two late goals after leading Spurs 2-1 at White Hart Lane was a very bitter pill to swallow, but shipping nine goals in the last two games was a devastating backlash. Nevertheless I am looking forward to my upcoming trip to London and my first visit to the Olympic Stadium when West Ham play Hull. The time has come to turn the corner at last. But we could also see Slaven Bilic’s depart after this game.

Well, all could have been so fine if the signs of improvement that West Ham showed in October and in the November league games against Spurs and Man Utd had not been like bubbles that fade and die too quickly. To be honest, in the last two games West Ham have been awful for most of the 180 mins, and the team exposed their defense and got outplayed the second half of their respective matches when they were desperately seeking an equaliser. There have been some glimpses of what could have been if … (e.g. if Ashley Fletcher had scored against Arsenal when the hosts trailed a 0-1), but all in all the performance in these two games lacked pace, commitment and confidence.

I was interviewed by the GermanGunners podcast in the wake of the Arsenal game https://germangunners.com/2016/12/01/gg-podcast-episode-39-01-12-2016-endlich-dezember/

I tried to explain that, despite the 1-4 defeat in the League Cup last Wednesday, things were already coming good for West Ham and that I expected them to climb up the table and Slaven Bilic’s job to be safe. In the game against Arsenal West Ham’s cause wasn’t helped by James Collins’ early injury, but shipping another five goals just three days after a heavy 1-4 League Cup defeat – that unfortunately proved me very, very wrong!

Now Slaven Bilic has admitted not only the obvious fact that the players have not shown enough commitment in the last two games, but that they are not applying themselves in training either. This confession is a very risky move. It could be seen as a last attempt of a more or less helpless manager to avoid being made responsible for the current predicament and getting the sack.

But the plea of guilty made by Bilic himself in his press conference after the Arsenal game could also have an immediate effect and help to rally the troops before the next game against Liverpool, bringing back the spirit the team had  last Season playing in the great “Farewell Boleyn kit”! If the players respond to the gaffer’s allegation with increased commitment to the cause and try to prove the manager and all their critics wrong we could see a very much improved performance next weekend.

I think the board still backs Bilic, as do I, but without significant signs of improvement in the next few games the manager (whose contract has not been renewed so far) will be gone! I hate to say that because I dislike the hire-and-fire of managers we see too often in football today, but if the squad does not respond to the manager any more, a new manager is to come in. This would have to happen by the beginning of January at the latest to give him the transfer window to bring in his own men.

But we cannot only hold the manager responsible for West Ham’s problems, also too many players are injured, out of form or really seem to lack commitment and determination. Not only Dimitri Payet comes to mind when I say that, but he really does not look the same player he was last season and at the Euros in summer. Too often his body language seems to show that he doesn’t care anymore…

In contrast to Payet, Michail Antonio always seems to care, but it was the manager who didn’t care and played him out of position much too often. Antonio has to be played in an offensive position and not as a full back! Everybody knows that, but the manager has not taken this obvious fact into account in summer. If James Tomkins had not been sold to Crystal Palace West Ham still would have a proved and experienced player who often has stepped in as right back quite successfully!

The season has been a big disappointment so far, and when my eagerly anticipated first visit to the London Stadium will take place in less than two weeks time against Hull City I could already have to watch a team that has slumped down into the relegation zone. So let’s hope Slaven Bilic’s plea of guilty at his last press conference has been the rallying cry that immediately lets us see signs of improvement in the tough away game against Liverpool and in the really important midweek game against Burnley afterwards. Let’s hope the players train and play with greater determination and finally turn the corner before Christmas!

Four points from the next two games, and I would fly to London with a much better feeling than I have today!

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