Slaven Bilic won’t win Manager of the Year - that prize will deservedly wing its way to English football’s most loveable Italian grandpa - but in any other season the West Ham United gaffer would be an absolute shoo-in, wouldn’t he?
I think so. Due to Leicester City’s incredible title march, the transformation the Croat’s inspired at the Boleyn Ground has been stunningly under-played.
It’s so easy to forget when you’re caught up in the moment, but let’s rewind the clock a second; West Ham were pretty dreadful last season.
Dull on the eye and cursed by a traditionally soft mentality, the 47-year-old inherited a downbeat Hammers squad that had limped unhappily to the end of 2014-15, with a paltry two wins from their last 17 matches.
With virtually no summer holiday to look forward to either (thanks to their unwanted Fair Play inclusion in the Europa League) morale within the dressing room must have been as flat as it gets. And now look where they are!
Everything about West Ham has been virtually unrecognizable since Bilic was handed the keys. So, what makes him so good?
It sounds simplistic to say - but believe me it’s incredibly important - I think his core strength is that he’s actually a decent bloke.
It’s OK to be a little bit scared of the boss, it keeps you on your toes, (and Bilic has that fearsome stare) but the bottom line for most footballers is that they just want to know where they stand. Players at all levels of the game crave managers they can trust.
If you can talk to the gaffer man to man, and come out of that conversation feeling you haven’t been fed a pack of duplicitous lies, the lift it gives you is instantly tangible. There’s so much more willingness to go the extra mile for the man. You’ll want to please him.
I’m yet to meet Bilic, but everyone I’ve spoken to that has, is always full of praise for his personality. Charismatic and engaging, he is clearly smart enough to know that making people feel good about themselves is a trait that works. And that’s perhaps the secret to maintaining such a happy camp.
With so many new arrivals on board, stalwarts such as Andy Carroll, James Tomkins and James Collins haven’t always featured this season, but there has been no evidence of dissent. Everyone has given their all, and the harmony has shone through.
A large portion of that ‘trust’ has also been gained by his honest actions
In just the third Premier League game of the season Bilic hauled one of his new signings, Angelo Ogbonna, off after just 33 minutes. No apology. No fanfare. Tactically, he needed to change it – and there, in one bold swoop he proved that everyone, in his eyes, was on the same level.
High earners Alex Song and Carroll are far from guaranteed a place (some managers would feel they needed to justify their selections) and other new faces such as Pedro Obiang, Victor Moses, Manuel Lanzini and Michail Antonio have all had to earn their spots in the side. No one is in just because he signed them. You get there on merit.
Bilic doesn’t do favouritism, and that of course, creates a healthy environment.
Tactically he also earned his stripes in the early weeks, and that was important.
Had his game plans backfired at Emirates Stadium, Anfield and the Etihad, belief in his methods may have been stunted. Instead, the exact opposite occurred.
Lifted by victories at those unlikely venues, bucking old West Ham trends, the players suddenly believed in everything Bilic asked of them.
Since then, whichever system he has asked them to perform (and their have been five or more this season) they quietly embrace the instructions, and play with confidence.
The inferiority complex that’s plagued the Hammers for as long as I can remember has vanished. They believe they can beat anyone, anywhere. It feels strange to say this, but West Ham have finally become tough, and that’s down to Bilic.
Yes, the signing of Dimitri Payet was genius, and the Frenchman’s magical contributions have elevated the Hammers to a higher plain, but the Croatian’s intelligent, well-balanced approach has been every bit as instrumental.
Like Manager of the Year elect Ranieri, he makes a complicated job look simple.
The pair of them have been equally brilliant this season.
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