Despite the disappointments of West Ham’s debut season in the London Stadium, Slaven Bilic’s standing remains relatively unscathed.
Yes, charisma and passion may not be enough to save his job – the boardroom moved to Stratford to conquer Europe not celebrate survival – but the Croatian retains a popularity, even among those who, one day, will end the relationship.
“I’m not bothered,” said Bilic about speculation over his future. A draw at Sunderland – where most teams go to collect their three points – is the latest dour result and prompted renewed questions about his future.
West Ham lost the lead twice, the second time in the soul-sapping 90th minute, and Bilic’s conclusion – “it was a fair result” – summed up the pragmatism of the man, for good or ill.
It was a fair result, that was the problem. “We couldn’t finish them off,” he added, pointing to the problem of many sides short of confidence and self-belief.
“We aren’t pointing fingers. We are winning, losing, scoring and conceding goals as a team. We do it all as a team,” he said.
Those who wonder why he’s never angry – and whether that’s what’s missing from the dressing room – were given an insight before the match when the manager said “he had his moments”, contemplating – although not executing – plans to smash tables to make his point.
The 48-year-old is looking at the Everton game on Saturday to get three points to take them to the all-important benchmark of 40 points. The relief would be tremendous after a season in which the boss has transformed from a giddy sideline schoolboy to a care-worn, grizzled veteran after the woes of the Stadium, Payet and poor form.
The board backs him for now, the team is all but safe, the first season away from Upton Park has been negotiated without complete calamity and there are signs – in small patches of play – that West Ham could return to the fabled West Ham Way.
He said: “I’ve always been quite relaxed about my contract situation. I do my job the best I can and those things don’t bother me.
“At the end of the day, I have a contract which has another year to run, so I’m honestly not bothered.”
The foundation of the lacklustre season were to be found in a fumbled summer transfer market in which West Ham ran around, announcing various intentions to land superstars before inevitably scratching around in the bargain basement. The signs are that habit has not changed with an indication of a hopeless move for Everton’s Romelu Lukaku.
A touch of Bilic level-headedness in transfer dealings should be the summer motto – if Bilic is still around to show the way.
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