Down the pub with Slav over a pint of ….MILK!

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Slaven Bilic has been West Ham’s manager in waiting not for the past few weeks but for nine years.
Not long after they had bought the club in 2006 the east London club’s previous Icelandic owners opted to sack Alan Pardew just a few months after the club had lost to Liverpool on penalties and Alan Curbishley followed.
Bilic was in the frame but at the time he had just graduated from managing Croatia’s under 21 team to taking charge of the senior side and with a deep sense of loyalty to his country could not even be tempted to talk.
Later after David Gold and David Sullivan rescued the club from going to the wall Bilic was in the frame again but the Davids opted instead for what they thought were the safe hands of Avram Grant.
When it came to replacing Grant  after relegation, Bilic was still entrenched with the Croatia national team and also felt he needed more miles on the clock in club football before taking a big job in the Premier League or Bundesliga.
Those miles have been stacked up with a rough time at Lokomotiv Moscow and successful stint with Besiktas in Turkey.
So  when he quit Besiktas last month it seemed he a  was shoo in to take over from Sam Allardyce.
Indeed there is little doubt Bilic would have been  sounded out by third parties some months ago when it was clear the Allardyce era would be over this summer.
But in football always beware the phrase “done deal” and the machinations of myriads of agents trying to hustle a move or a new deal for their client .
Suddenly managers with better CV’s than Bilic’s were either available or being touted around.
Jurgen Klopp, Rafa Benitez, Frank de Boer, Marcelo Bielsa, Unai Emery….all seemed better than Bilic when it came to “going foreign”.
Then there were the cases for  the young  bright English managers Eddie Howe and Gary Monk. Or David Moyes.
The idea of bringing Harry Redknapp back was even discussed.
The over riding factor was : Which manager would make sure the team stays in the Premier League for their move to the Olympic Stadium in 2017 ?
For the past month or so David Sullivan has agonized with all the options and attempted to get full approval of co owner David Gold and vice chairman Karren Brady. It has not been easy to task .
Benitez was the one they thought ticked most of the  boxes but when Real Madrid came calling then a decision between the Bernebau and the Bolyen was an obvious one for the Spaniard.
Moyes made it clear he would carry on rebuilding his career at Real Socidead and didn’t fancy stepping into the shoes of his pal Big Sam.
Then as the process spun out there became a nagging feeling that maybe some of those on the “long list”, or at least there advisors ,were using West Ham’s situation as a way of filling their boots with new contracts at their existing clubs.
All the while Bilic remained an option despite reservations that he had not managed a club in one of the “big leagues.”
Bilic could easily have taken umbrage that the club was on  a recruitment carousel and jumped off.
Instead he sealed himself off holidaying with his family back near his home in Split. He refused to comment publicly or even take calls. He just viewed the situation phlegmatically.
Why wouldn’t a club making such a big decision go through their options ?
And as they did the realization set in that no one could possibly tick all the boxes and that Bilic ticked most. He also wanted the job not just the money.
Eventually, after meeting him over the weekend thrashing out terms and strategy , West Ham’s triumvirate decision makers all agreed that Bilic is the way forward.
He  knows the English scene , he is tactically astute if not innovative , and most of all he is a strong commanding character that gets players playing for him and the cause.
And Bilic is big on causes as I first found out not long after Redknapp signed him from German club Karlsruhe in 1996.
I had arranged to do an interview with Bilic at West Ham’s Chadwell Heath training ground. But Bilic didn’t want to do it there. He wanted more relaxed surrounds and wanted to find out what an old fashioned “normal” British pub was like.
So I took him a few miles down the road to the Moby Dick just off the A12. I walked in and asked him what he wanted  : “ A pint of milk,” he replied.
“Pardon ?”
“ Oh I don’t drink  I just wanted to see what a pub looks like.”
He didn’t drink but boy did he smoke back then . In the hour or so we chatted he puffed his way through half a pack of Malboro Red.
As he did so his  passion for a cause became clear as he discussed his fierce patriotism for  Croatia at a time when the bitter turmoil of civil war as a consequence of the break of Yugoslavia was still a recent painful memory.
Slav ( as he likes to be known)  also wanted me to tell him about the culture and the history of West Ham.
I like to think some Claret and Blue DNA was grafted under neath Bilic’s skin that day.
Bilic took his passion on to the pitch for the Hammers and a year later when Everton agreed to sign him in March ( the days before the transfer window) he insisted he stay on and play for West Ham until they pulled themselves  away from relegation battle.
When he moved into management with his home town club of Hadjuk Split after his career was cut short by injury there always seemed a sense of destiny that Bilic would  one day return to West Ham as manager.
It has taken a long time coming, and the process in recent weeks was starting to become exhausting but in the end the Hammers have a new manager who will not only promote more expansive football but will demand the players perform with pride and passion or in other words restore the “West Ham” way.

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Hugh Southon is a lifelong Iron and the founding editor of ClaretandHugh. He is a national newspaper journalist of many years experience and was Bobby Moore's 'ghost' writer during the great man's lifetime. He describes ClaretandHugh as "the Hammers daily newspaper!"

Follow on Twitter @hughsouthon


  • Tiddy says:

    Let’s hope so every time I hear what Slav commands I get a tingle up the spine I believe he will become a true leader

  • lezred says:

    Great article rob gave me goosebumps reading that

  • Quickdraw Slaven a party says:

    Great piece and once again the message is clear,this is a job Slav longs to do he sees it as his calling. I know when new managers get appointed they always come out with the usual I know the clubs history,what it means to the fans and I’m here to bring back the good times but with Slav you know he means and understands all of it.
    Finally I hope the club kept a few of Johnny Lyall’s ashtrays sounds like they’ll get some use lol

  • WestGoaHam says:

    Nice story. Sounds he really wants get stuck in. He’s a proper geezer and deserves to do well.

  • bubs says:

    You covered every thing Rob and it sounds like Slaven rocks your boat,
    I agree with the fact that every time we have a problem with our managers in the past
    Slavens name has been head of the rest

  • RayStewartsRightPeg says:

    Slav was always the man for me – it was the only sensible AND realistic choice. I’m eagerly awaiting to see who makes up his backroom team.

  • HungryHammer66 says:

    Great piece Rob and even though SuGo had to court the other available managers I think the footballing gods have let the cards fall as they did to give us our rightful guvnor !

    SLAV THE IMPALER………. There Was Claret Everywhere !!!

    Irons In The Soul X

  • rads says:

    Semi-Skimmed Slavs Claret & Blue Army 😉

  • bubs says:

    Rad you are competing against spoonie now,with last nights black out Kevin must be going

  • Quickdraw Slaven a party says:

    Kevin was last spotted yesterday afternoon with a pair of wire cutters in his hand muttering “I’ll avenge you Sam,if it’s the last thing I do mwahaha!”

  • rads says:

    Haha,yeah no Kev sermon lastnight,i missed it.Hope he can produce a real blinder tonight to make up for it 😀

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