Today, the West Bromwich Albion hierarchy decided to dispense with the services of Slaven Bilić. It is a decision that has left me disgusted and disillusioned with the direction that the club, and perhaps football as a whole, is heading.
The Croat, who was appointed less than eighteen months ago with a target to get the club back into the Premier League in two years, achieved that goal in one season on a shoestring budget and despite having to contend with a global pandemic. He had to effectively rebuild the squad in the summer of 2019 after key players left, including both top goalscorers, and yet promotion was achieved with the team playing stylish football and he managed to get the group to gel incredibly quickly.
And yet, despite being given a miserly transfer budget ahead of what was always going to be a tough Premier League campaign, he has been deemed not good enough after just 13 games in charge. Furthermore, while the decision was almost certainly made in advance of last night’s fantastic performance at Manchester City, it is all the more galling that his last game in charge was one of the highlights of this season.
It is a decision that is based on unrealistic expectations, one that is unfair given what Bilić has achieved and is incredibly short-sighted.
While results this campaign have not been as good as we all would like, you have to put that into context. The transfer budget was woeful and the club have effectively asked Bilić to work miracles to keep this side in the top flight. Any replacement will have an equally difficult job and any candidate serious about keeping the club up will demand a significant transfer budget for January – if they get it, then why was Slav not given it? The squad, while limited, are obviously playing for the man and have bought into his methods – this decision will only disrupt and upset the players and the new man will have a difficult job to get them motivated for the next few games that come thick and fast over the Christmas period.
This season was always going to be hard, but I felt that Slav was capable of building something long term at the Hawthorns – he had won over the fans and had a football philosophy that we had all bought into. Most supporters would have accepted relegation this season in the knowledge that Bilić was capable of bringing us back again. The owners, it seems, have other ideas.
A new appointment will inevitably be short term and, even if Albion do stay up, where does that leave us next summer? At another crossroads, possibly looking for another new manager and in need of another squad rebuild.
Perhaps the one silver lining to this is that the owner’s desperation to stay in the top flight means that he is looking for an early exit, but then he should have thought of that in the summer when setting the transfer budget. And, of course, there is no guarantee that new owners will be any better.
With Sam Allardyce the favourite to come in, and the other “usual suspects” linked, it looks like a return to the Pulis/Pardew days which is a massive retrograde step and one which will further alienate the fan base. Supporters already feel disconnected due to the inability to attend matches and the various VAR controversies have left many feeling that football is no longer the game they love – this decision will be the final straw for many and it could take years to win them back. And remember that many had only just returned after feeling disillusioned during the Pulis years.
While the footballing reasons can be questioned, there is no doubt that the man himself deserved better. Slaven Bilić is a respectful, enthusiastic, committed and talented football manager, one who understands supporters, who will always front up and tell us how he feels. He is a thoroughly decent man.
The club hierarchy have treated him abominably. They have left him to be the face of the club with no public support and not given him the tools to succeed. To allow the news to leak out last night was scandalous – while it was apparently from the agent of a possible replacement who was unsuccessful, it just shows that the club were plotting in the shadows.
It’s a very dark day for the club but I would just like to say a big “THANK YOU” to Slaven Bilić, for all he has done for Albion. I really enjoyed the football last season and I was looking forward to more of the same.
Good luck Slav, you deserve better.