West Ham endured a traumatic first season at the London Stadium, not helped by Dimitri Payet forcing through a return to Marseille in January by going on strike. The Hammers did recover from early relegation concerns to finish 11th, with Slaven Bilic apportioned blame and credit for both sides of the coin, but overall improvement will be seen as a minimum requirement this time around following a string of big-name summer captures. Joe Hart, Pablo Zabaleta, Marko Arnautovic and Javier Hernandez all bring vast knowhow.
Bilic is a free spirit, an easy-going personality driven more by an intuition for understanding the dynamics of a dressing room than any scientific approach to recruitment or tactics. He doesn’t like monotony and can become restless when required to do anything that is routine or repetitive. To him, innovation is reading between the lines of an emotional problem and finding an original solution or communicating an idea to his players in a way that inspires them. Capturing the imagination of others is a skill that comes natural.
“The ambition is to finish in the top 10 – minimum – but with the hope or plan to break into the top eight, top seven or top six. It’s going to be very hard. You saw in my first season that it’s possible but you have to tick all of the boxes. You have to have a good transfer window, keep clear of injuries and settle down in the stadium. It’s not going to be blooming all the time but we need to make it feel like it’s our home.”
The new arrivals should bring better game-management and that will hopefully have a calming influence on the mood in the stands. But the impact on the final table might only be marginal. Bilic is hardly renowned for his attention to detail in terms of tactical preparation and this heavy budget outlay on players of vast experience might be as much about safeguarding himself from the axe, and sparing the club from any threat of relegation, than it is about making in-roads on the top six.