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Bilic, bravado and bums on seats – are West Ham about to become more than Premier League B-listers?

Did you see the Champions League final the other week?

by Andrew Boulton | June 30, 2015

Wasn’t it brilliant when Kevin Nolan bundled his way past Gerard Pique, smashed the ball into the net and scribbled his phone number down on Shakira’s taut Columbian thigh? Didn’t James Tomkins do an incredible job of making Lionel Messi look like 2007 Franny Jeffers? And don’t even get me started on Carlton Cole’s hat-trick of crossbar-and-in back-heel volleys. Did you see all of that?

You didn’t because that, ladies and gents, all happened in my dreams – alongside me imaging that I was living in a tree house with Darren Anderton and Predator.

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But I can surely be forgiven for inventing such glory for West Ham United. They are now, I’m told, kind of a big deal. Aren’t they?


For those of you that have actually been living in the woods with a murderous alien and a man with weak hamstrings, West Ham are seemingly in the midst of revolution.

Gone is Sam Allardyce who, aside from bringing them back into the Premier League and comfortably securing a steady, but uninspiring, mid-table plod, is still largely regarded as the worst thing to have dropped into London since the Luftwaffe. Instead, with a move to the 54,000 capacity Olympic Stadium just a year away, West Ham went in search of a manger who matched their brave new ambitions.

Unfortunately, what began as a glorious quest quickly descended into them pawing at the trouser legs of top managers like One Direction fans desperately waving marriage proposal banners made from glitter and their own sick.

  • Are West Ham the new team to push for the Champions League? Odds here Desktop | Mobile

As the links to Jurgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti came and quickly went, the football world smirked in the general direction of Upton Park. Even Rafa Benitez didn’t seem too bothered, less so when the Real Madrid recruitment department accidentally sent an email to the wrong chap and couldn’t work out that damned complicated ‘recall’ procedure in time.

So what West Ham did end up with was a name that had been pretty much on their ‘B List’ all along, Slaven Bilic. Fondly thought of at the club despite making fewer than 50 appearances and a fairly abrupt exit to Everton, Bilic has a managerial record that we will politely describe as, ‘it’ll do’.

While 40 wins from his 60 games in charge of Croatia (including igniting a tabloid fury, mostly because he was willing to get a bit wetter than Steve McLaren) signaled the start of a bright managerial career, his spell in charge of Lokomotiv Moscow was ‘wobbly’. This season, despite spending 14 weeks at the top of the Turkish Süper Lig, his Besiktas side probably deserved nothing more than their third place finish.

But Bilic is nevertheless a likeable, passionate and intelligent man (and I believe there is a new FIFA law which says I must at some stage point out that he is both a qualified lawyer and in a rock band, as if that’s some sort of Herculean achievement against the odds and not just a consequence of him working about two hours a day for much of his adult life).

So with a new, albeit fourth/fifth choice, manager in place and the big stadium move looming, West Ham’s summer transfer rumours are very different from the typical musing over whether there are any late 90s Bolton players left to buy or when Carlton will be back.

And why wouldn’t the targets they’re being linked to receive a significant upgrade? Of the £272 million conversion costs for the Olympic Stadium, West Ham are being asked to bung in a few coppers to the tune of £15 million, plus a yearly rental fee. It’s an arrangement that has raised some questions – mostly from Barry Hearn who has just replaced Brian Harvey as Britain’s most ignored man.

West Ham Olympic Stadium

So with these new ambitions West Ham have already completed the signing of Ligue 1 assist machine Dimitri Payet and impressive Spanish bruiser Pedro Obiang. The Alex Song negotiations seem to be plodding along like, well, Song himself between January and May. And then we are into both the tittle and the tattle, in the shape of everyone from Charlie Austin to Loic Remy to Michu (who has apparently just been found at the back of the fridge behind some hazelnut yoghurt).

Despite the sniggering and frothy indignation, many fans are actually quite curious to see what direction this West Ham evolution takes. Will they rise up into the Champions League places like a cockney phoenix or will they end up being just a bit, well, Spurs?

It’s too early to say for sure but, with a seamlessly introduced Olympics analogy, whether they end up soaring over every hurdle or clumsily javelining themselves in the neck, it’s going to be fascinating to watch.

  • Can Bilic send West Ham to the upper echelons of the Premier League? Odds here Desktop | Mobile

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