At the beginning of the season it was impossible to pick up a paper without seeing a column bemoaning the West Ham board for their decision to jettison “Big” Sam Allardyce and bring in the former Croatian manager Slaven Bilic. The abandonment of a man with more than a decade of top flight managerial experience in favour of a foreigner, yet to step foot in a Premier League technical area, was seen in some quarters as little more than sacrilege.
As the season draws to closer to its conclusion there is surely no one left harbouring any doubts. The vibrant football has captivated fans that were more than a little disillusioned with the style served up by Allardyce. Aside from his obvious comprehension of the tactical side to the sport and his terrific in game management, Bilic has proven adept at one of the trickiest aspects in modern football – recruitment. Last summer West Ham signed; Pedro Obiang (Sampdoria, undisclosed), Dimitri Payet (Marseille, undisclosed), Angelo Ogbonna (Juventus, undisclosed), Manuel Lanzini (Al Jazira, loan), Victor Moses (Chelsea, loan), Nikica Jelavic (Hull, undisclosed) and Michail Antonio (Nottingham Forest, undisclosed).
Aside from Jelavic, who has already been offloaded to the lucrative Chinese market, every signing has proved to be a success. A blend of identifying the correct staff and Bilic’s visible talent to integrate them quickly has made the club one of the success stories of the season. When you consider how often it can take players an age to adapt to the Premier League, what the Croatian gaffer has achieved is nothing short of miraculous. Famous American business guru and financial advisor Jim Collins sums up best exactly what makes the relationship between Bilic and his players so special; “Great vision without great people is irrelevant.”
The club still have a great shout of attaining both the FA Cup and a place in the top four, but rather than rest on their laurels Bilic and his club have already starting planning for next year – one that in all reality will feature European football. The January capture of Sam Byram was a good start, yet it is the proposed signing of Borussia Monchengladbach utility man Havard Nordveit that is most exciting.
The towering Norwegian with a howitzer of a shot, who, in another life failed to make the grade at London rivals Arsenal, has carved out a fine reputation as one of the Bundesliga’s most diverse players. Equally at home in defence or anchoring the midfield, Nordveit could provide the Hammers with a plethora of options in a season that could be extremely congested. The 26 year-old with over one hundred Bundesliga appearances will come with a wealth of experience, yet, still has room to develop and improve under Bilic’s tutelage.
When a team or player has a surprising amount of success the second season always proves to be more difficult; teams analyse your side with a warier eye and put protocols in place to nullify your strengths. This, unfortunately will be the arduous task faced by Dimitri Payet. However, a midfield base of Nordveit, Kouyate and Song could provide Payet with the freedom of the park and allow the diminutive French schemer to continue to unlock even the tightest of defences.
Any transfer is a gamble but with Bilic’s record in the transfer market you have little choice but to trust his judgement. When you factor in that Nordveit will arrive on a free transfer, it is an opportunity not to be missed.