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From Hammer Hero to Managerial Maestro: Unveiling Slaven Bilić’s West Ham Legacy

Over the years, West Ham United have had 19 managers, with plenty sticking out. A recent manager that somewhat goes under the radar is Slaven Bilić. The Croatian brought good results but, with his successor now having lifted major silverware, all be it in his second spell, the Croat is forgotten.

It was on the 9th of June, 2015, when Bilić returned to Upton Park, having previously played for the Hammers. Between January 1996 to May 1997, Slaven made 54 Hammers appearances, before he headed North to Everton. His managerial arrival came after Sam Allardyce, who returned the Hammers to the top flight, departed upon the expiration of his contract. Joining the club, Bilić said: “I’m really glad to be back with West Ham United. It’s in the Premier League, which is among the best in the world. It’s a big challenge and you are competing with the best and what better club to do it with than West Ham.” (Sky Sports)

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Bilić during his playing days in East London (Photo – Betway Insider)

His first season

His first season saw 12 signings, as he looked to shape his side. Most notably, he had picked up players such as Angelo Ogbonna from Juventus, and Dimitri Payet from Marseille. Payet was the most expensive dealing, coming in for a £10.7 million transfer fee. Payet hit the ground running, and so did Bilić. The Frenchman would get an assist on his debut, as his free kick was turned in by Cheikhou Kouyaté. This was no normal game either, as the Hammers went and dominated at the Emirates, defeating Arsenal 2-0. Most notably, Bilić had chosen to debut 16-year-old Reece Oxford, who managed to pocket Mesut Ozil for the whole 90 minutes. It was a stroke of managerial genius from Bilić and that continued, especially on the road.

The Hammers, on paper, were handed a tough first 3 away games; Arsenal, Liverpool, Man City. After triumphing in North London, the 2 away games up North would bring the same results. On the 29th of August, the Hammers grabbed a 3-0 win at Anfield, their first since 1963. There was a goal for new signing Manuel Lanzini, with Diafra Sakho and club captain Mark Noble also scoring. Just under a month later, there was a fabulous win at the Etihad Stadium. Sakho was on target once again, as well as another one of Slaven Bilić’s signings, Victor Moses.

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The Hammers players celebrate a 2-0 lead in Manchester (Photo – West Ham website)

After struggling with injuries, form dropped off come the turn of the year. However, the Hammers had managed a 2-1 win against the reigning Premier League Champions Chelsea, at Upton Park. The year 2016 started well, as a 2-0 home win against Liverpool saw West Ham complete the league double over the Reds for the first time in 52 years. January also meant the opening of the transfer window, seeing Sam Byram join from Leeds United. Meanwhile, Mauro Zárate and Nikica Jelavić departed the club. The Hammers had been struck with further injuries, but battled through as they reached the FA Cup 6th round by the end of February.

The grudge matches came down to 1 side as Manchester United provided the entertainment in the FA Cup. After a beautiful Dimitri Payet free-kick was cancelled out by a Martial equaliser, a replay was needed. However, despite James Tomkins’ goal, goals from Marcus Rashford and Marouane Fellani were enough to send the Red Devils through. Come to the end of the season, only 1 game mattered – the last EVER at Upton Park.

Since 2012, following the conclusion of the Olympics, the Hammers had an agreement to call the London Stadium home upon completion of renovations. Therefore, the 2015/16 season was pinpointed as the last before the move. On Tuesday 10th May 2016, United once again rolled into town. With the mass amounts of Hammers fans outside the ground, kick-off was delayed, seeing the game commence at 8:30. It was the roar of the home crowd first, as Manuel Lanzini found Diafra Sakho who fired home and gave the Hammers a famous lead. But, it was seemingly not to be. Anthony Martial was the villain as goals in the 51st and 72nd minutes saw the Red Devils lead. However, West Ham were not going to lose this game, as Michail Antonio fired back less than 5 minutes later, to level the game. Then, arguably one of the most historical West Ham moments happened as Winston Reid headed in a late winner, to send the ground in pandemonium. The Hammers turned the lights out on 112 years of history in some way.

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Reid’s famous header to win the game (Photo – Daily Mail)

Along with that, it was a 7th-placed finish and Europa League playoff qualification secured, as Slaven Bilić’s debut season was rather impressive.

2016/17 Season

The 2016 summer was an interesting window, as Bilić brought in André Ayew for £20 million and some loan signings such as Simone Zaza. The season start showed the poor window, as there were just 10 points picked up from the first 10 games. Outside of the Premier League, for the second season in a row, there was Europa League embarrassment. Romanian side, Astra Giurgiu, dumped West Ham out in the qualifying stages for the second season in a row. The Hammer’s hierarchy kept faith in Bilić, as he was able to turn things around.

Between late November to the end of the year, the Hammers won 3, drew 2 and lost 2. Bilić was clearly happy with his side, as he only signed José Fonte and Robert Snodgrass in the winter window. The latter of which spent the remainder of the season in the Championship, on loan with Aston Villa. There was a massive departure too, as Dimitri Payet had placed a transfer request, seeing him return home to Marseille, for double his initial price. However, West Ham remained somewhat mediocre, as there were good and bad spells until the end of the season. Memorably, the visit of Tottenham to the London Stadium saw a Manuel Lanzini goal beat their London rivals. However, after all 38 games, it was an 11th-placed finish. However, West Ham had finished about the reigning Premier League Champions, Leicester, as the Foxes stooped to 12th.

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His final season

The following transfer window was deemed a success, as Bilić brought in experience with Pablo Zabaleta, whilst strikers Javier Hernandez and Marko Arnautovic bolstered the squad upfront. Joe Hart was also brought in on loan, following the departure of Darren Randolph to Middlesborough.

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Marko Arnautovic following his £20 million arrival from Stoke City (Photo – Premier League)

However, the season start was once again a disaster. After 10 games, it was just 9 points. There were defeats to Man Utd, Newcastle, Brighton, Tottenham and Southampton with 2 wins being against newly promoted Huddersfield and a 90th-minute winner at home to Swansea. Following the 11th game of the season, a 4-1 home loss to Liverpool, Slaven Bilić was given his marching orders. It was a 2-and-a-half-year stay, with an excellent first season.

He managed 111 games, winning 42, drawing 30 and suffering 39 defeats. This equates to a 37.84 win percentage. This is a figure which sits him high, alongside legendary West Ham managers such as John Lyall, Ron Greenwood and Syd King.

Ultimately, Bilić peaked in his first season as the club heavily defied expectations. It was a slow downhill decline until his demise, as the club never looked as if they were going to return to what he had first made in the 2015/16 season. Bilić has positive memories of West Ham; his name is written in history.

An underrated manager at the very least.

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