West Ham United have parted company with Slaven Bilić following a woeful start to the season and are almost certainly going to replace him with ex-Everton and Manchester United boss David Moyes. But can he put a collection of managerial failures behind him and keep the east London side in the league?
In the ruthless world of Premier league management, sackings can often be cruel and iniquitous. But in the case of Slaven Bilić, his dismissal resembled something more akin to mercy as his West Ham side succumbed to yet another jarring defeat on Saturday.
Bilić has been a dead man walking for some time now. His side have suffered the ignominy of hefty defeats to Newcastle United and Brighton and find themselves consigned to the relegation zone.
It has taken some time, but West Ham chairmen David Gold and David Sullivan have finally come to the realisation that the Croatian is not the man to turn their club’s fortunes around.
In the end, the fans were no longer with the Croatian boss. As the final whistle blew on Saturday, the Croatian stood in a near-empty London Stadium reeling from yet another abject performance from his West Ham side.
Those who had remained did so only to demand their manager’s head. Less than forty eight hours later, they’d get it.
The 4-1 defeat to Liverpool had exemplified Bilic’s inability to organise a defence. For the first goal, Liverpool had simply cleared their lines from a West Ham corner when the breakaway suddenly left Sadio Mané and Mohamed Salah in the opposite half with only Aaron Cresswell between them and Joe Hart’s goal.
It was as basic a goal to concede as you are likely to see at this level.
Worse still is that having been 2-0 down at half-time, West Ham gave themselves some hope when Manuel Lanzini produced a tidy finish to cut the deficit to the minimum.
Unforgivably, the Hammers then allowed Liverpool to regain their two goal lead directly from the subsequent kick off.
Over the course of his 29-month tenure, Bilić had brought in established players, big names that he felt could bring the club forward and help to realise their European ambitions.
But the side he has assembled is instead rooted near the bottom of the Premier League, showing a distinct lack of cohesion and, as they limped to this latest defeat, a lack of fight.
Nobody sums up that lack of fight more than Marko Arnautović.
A club record signing, the Austrian international has been maddeningly ineffective in the claret and blue of West Ham and his most significant contribution to a game so far was getting sent off against Southampton for use of an elbow.
Andre Ayew and Manuel Lanzini have also failed to put in consistent performances under Bilić and it had become impossible to ignore how such an assembly of talent could appear so rudderless week in week out.
In the end, however, responsibility rests with the manager. The commitment of individual players can certainly be doubted in light of recent results but there is also a nagging sense that Bilić has been unsure how best to utilise them.
Javier Hernandez is the type of predatory forward that West Ham have been crying out for, a proven goal scorer who is lethal when hanging on the last defender’s shoulder. And yet he is often left to play upfront on his own, unsupported and expected to hold up ball as Andy Carroll does. Chicarito is a player who needs to get the ball to his feet and does not have the physicality to play any other type of forward role.
With Bilic gone focus will now turn to his replacement and according to multiple reports that replacement will come in the form of David Moyes on an interim basis.
Since leaving his post at Goodison Park, Moyes has taken on three management jobs with little success, most notably with Manchester United where his style of football was particularly reviled.
And most recently, he oversaw Sunderland’s relegation from the Premier League with a loss-rate of 65%.
Many would have thought that such unequivocal failures would have precluded him from a Premier League job in the short term and that his best hope was to take over a lower league side and build them up, as he once upon a time did with Preston North End.
And yet it now appears that he will get that backing from Gold and Sullivan who apparently believe that he still has what it takes to lead a successful Premier League outfit.
Moyes will inherit a talented side but one that is tactically wayward and severely lacking in confidence. He will need to put discipline on a defence that has conceded more goals than any other in the league and will also have to coax performances out of Arnautovic and Hernandez if West Ham are to undergo any radical transformation.
But there is not a lot of evidence in recent years that Moyes can rise to such a challenge.
His Manchester United side went from being champions under Alex Ferguson to finishing a lowly seventh. Their defence was shambolic and the attack misfired on a regular basis with players like Maroune Fellaini being played out of position.
Similarly at Sunderland his side often appeared directionless. Admittedly, it was a poor Sunderland side but Moyes did nothing to improve it, eventually falling out with players, staff and fans as Sunderland finished bottom of the table.
He complained about the club’s debts and inability to compete in the transfer market, but it seemed like a hollow excuse. Sunderland have not invested much into their squad in recent years.
Surely Moyes would have known what he was getting into when he rushed to take the position. And if not it betrays a serious lack of judgement on his part.
Moyes could prove a success at West Ham and lead the side to a respectable league position. It’s just that all the evidence suggests otherwise.
Kevin Boyle, Pundit Arena