The FourFourTwo Season Preview 2015/16: West Ham
And so the post-Big Sam era begins. Let the football fiesta begin, right? Slaven Bilic may have almost picked up the Hammers’ job by default after Davids Gold and Sullivan failed to land anyone from a shortlist of illustrious coaching names, but the Croatian (recently named 43rd in our list of the top 50 managers in the world) may have the passion and tactical nous to match whatever anyone else can achieve at the final season at the Boleyn. A rumoured cessation clause without compensation exists should Bilic do very badly, but with several possibly sage signings in the bank already, the heights of the top half look well within reach. You still here, Nolan?
What the fan says
WestHamTilIIDie.com editor Iain Dale tells FourFourTwo how he sees West Ham's final season at the Boleyn panning out.
- Pedro Obiang (Sampdoria)
- Dimitri Payet (Marseille)
- Angelo Ogbonna (Juventus)
- Darren Randolph (Birmingham)
- Carl Jenkinson (Arsenal, loan)
- Manuel Lanzini (Al-Jazira, loan)
- Stephen Hendrie (Hamilton)
- Dan Potts (Luton)
- Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough)
- Carlton Cole (Released)
- Guy Demel (Released)
- Jussi Jaaskelainen (Released)
- Nene (Released)
Why they'll do well
Gold and Sullivan have provided the means to shell out on several top bracket players to help usher in Bilic, and the acquisition of Dimitri Payet in particular looks to be good business. Stealing the playmaker away from Marseille, where he was the leading assist-maker in Ligue 1 last season, could prove a smart move and will help add guile to the Hammers’ attack in 2015/16. If Andy Carroll can be kept fit more often, and Pedro Obiang and Angelo Ogbonna (both looked at by the elite clubs) take to the Premier League straight away, the immediate future looks claret and bright. With a settled defence, now that Carl Jenkinson is back on another loan deal, former Croatia boss Bilic has the makings of a good squad at his disposal.
Why they'll do badly
If, on the other hand, the European signings fail to pick up the pace and relentless intensity of the English game, then the Hammers’ squad may be forced to rely on the unconvincing Mauro Zarate and Modibo Maiga should Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho need a rest. Also, have the East End outfit let Stewart Downing fly the nest a season too soon? The Hammers had a storming start to last season, with Alex Song impressing in midfield, but ran out of gas late on in the campaign, hinting at an understrength squad. If this has not been addressed in the summer transfer market, there could be trouble ahead when injuries come to bite – especially important given the added stress and strain of a European campaign to contend with. Bilic’s side should at least play an attractive brand of football, grounded as he is in West Ham’s culture.
The big question...
1) How will Bilic fare as a Premier League boss?
The former Everton and West Ham centre-back’s Besiktas side impressed last season by pushing Arsenal in the Champions League qualifiers and then beating Spurs and Liverpool in the Europa League. And we all remember how his Croatia side made mugs of England at Wembley in 2007. Can Bilic now step up to the rigours of the Premier League?
2) Will youngsters benefit from Europa League?
Bilic may privately rue the a sapping pan European adventure in his first Premier League managerial stint, but one advantage could be that it provides the opportunity for West Ham’s youngsters to shine. The likes of Reece Oxford, Reece Burke and Elliot Lee could be the next talented youngsters from the Academy of Football.
3) Can they keep Carroll fit?
The tall targetman made a paltry 12 starts last season yet still scored five goals and impressed with his industry and bullish play, as usual. If the medical staff can get a full season from him, the Gateshead-born spearhead could prove to be the difference-maker.
Key player: Dimitri Payet
The former Marseille playmaker was the most creative player in Europe’s top five leagues, supplying more through-balls than anyone else (except for Lionel Messi) last season. And he has already excited the fans by scoring two goals and registering an assist in his first game, albeit a friendly against Southend. The Hammers may have suffered from a lack of creativity under Big Sam (they were the only side in the top flight to not have one of their substitutes supply an assist in 2014/15), so Payet’s inventiveness will be welcomed.
What we'll be saying come May
It was a great European adventure and West Ham look to have several stars of the future coming through, but that 12th-placed finish won’t have impressed the Davids as the Olympic Stadium comes into view.
To see where FourFourTwo think West Ham will finish – along with a bespoke two-page preview – get our special new season issue, which will be out soon.