WHO Poll
Q: 2022 Summer Transfer Window - How many 1st team players will we sign before August 6th
a. None as Sullivan will wait until the last week before he gets his scattergun out the cupboard
25%
  
b. A couple of freebies paraded as superstars, usual hype to follow
27%
  
c. I'm more optimistic as surely they know we need to strengthen, 3-4 with decent money spent.
46%
  
d. Who gives a toss as we have a great squad already, I've already ordered the new replica kit, socks and all and can't wait to wear it at our first game, down the pub of course, I bleed claret & blue
2%
  



Irish Hammer 2:14 Wed Mar 30
Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
Slaven Bilic: ‘Management is like a drug. Once you’ve tried it, you don’t want to try anything else’
Roshane Thomas

“Management is like a drug. Once you’ve tried it, you don’t want to try anything else. It’s almost like you become a drug addict.”

Although it is a career that lacks job security and comes under constant scrutiny and pressure, Slaven Bilic is explaining why he still enjoys the hustle and bustle of management.

Since his first job at Hajduk Split, Bilic has managed the Croatia national team, Lokomotiv Moscow, Besiktas, West Ham United, Al-Ittihad, West Bromwich Albion and Beijing Guoan.

He left his role in China in January due to family reasons. But despite it being a relentless industry, Bilic is excited about the next chapter in his career.

“That’s why most managers don’t take breaks,” he tells The Athletic. “Once you do, you’re bored after a couple of weeks. It’s an addictive career. There are a lot of players I’ve managed who are reaching the end of their careers. Most of them have asked me for advice on becoming a manager. I told them, ‘It’s important to stay in football but management isn’t easy. There are other career paths like a sporting director where there’s less pressure’.

“I’ve been reflecting a lot. Analysing my whole managerial career, the good and bad times. It’s always fast-paced when you’re a manager. People don’t like doing it but sometimes you need a brief moment to re-evaluate things. Hopefully, this will help for my next job. This is my second break in over 10 years.

“My first one helped me massively. I’m not questioning my philosophy but thinking about little details like tactics, training and dealing with players and the board. I’ve been watching a lot of games and scouting players. I want to improve.”

Bilic joined Beijing Guoan in January 2021 on a two-year contract. He lived alone for the majority of his 12 months in China, which was tough during the pandemic. Although he enjoyed the experience, he wants to be closer to home. Over the past eight months, the 53-year-old has had two managerial offers — one he respectfully turned down and one blocked by Guoan.

“It was tough being away from family but I’m not a little kid,” he says. “I knew what I signed up for. It’s not like I’m going to be in my pram and start crying like a baby. My family were supposed to come and live with me after pre-season but it was impossible. I’ve spent most of my managerial career in England and Turkey. People there like me and I feel really good in those countries. It’s likely my next job will be in England or Turkey. That’s where I’ve made my name as a manager.

“I had an offer in July from a top European team. It’s a big club, I wanted to go there and I met with their chairman. We spoke for three days. I spoke to the owner of Beijing Guoan but he didn’t want me to leave. I asked and pushed for him to let me accept this job. But then I said to myself, ‘You’re not a player who will stop training, or go on strike. You’re a manager. You can’t be a wanker. At the end of the day, you signed this contract’. I didn’t want to make problems. The chairman is a brilliant guy so we agreed that I’d stay until the end of the season. On January 3, I asked to leave and he fulfilled his promise.

“A top national team approached me in January. But I turned it down because the World Cup is in December and this time next year, I would be in the same position. I was manager of Croatia for six years. It was a great experience but I see myself as a club coach. I enjoy the daily interaction with the players.”

It is no surprise Bilic has attracted interest given his experience.

He beat England, who failed to qualify, twice in the Euro 2008 qualifiers. Croatia exceeded expectations during the tournament and it was only a penalty shootout defeat against Turkey that denied them a place in the semi-finals.

“We didn’t get past the group stage in the 2006 World Cup and Croatia appointed me,” he says. “It was a shock because I was only 37. It wasn’t common for managers to get jobs at that age. But they liked me and I tried my best to impress. We had a great team with Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Niko Kranjcar. If Eduardo hadn’t suffered that terrible injury for Arsenal against Birmingham my plan was to win the Euros.

“A lot of people remember the victory against England at Wembley. That match wasn’t even the most important game for Croatia because we had already qualified. But it was one of the biggest wins in our history. England had all the pressure in the world to win and they crumbled. That win massively helped boost my profile.”

Later, as manager of Besiktas, Bilic was back on English radars as his side narrowly lost to Arsenal 1-0 on aggregate during a Champions League qualifying tie in 2014.

“I remember coming up against Arsenal and Arsene Wenger said to me after he was impressed with how Besiktas played. That gave me a lot of confidence.”

Fewer than 12 months later, West Ham appointed Bilic on a three-year deal. He replaced Sam Allardyce and became only the second Croatian to manage in the Premier League after Velimir Zajec’s brief spell in charge of Portsmouth. Bilic had played for West Ham between 1995-97 and made 54 appearances, giving him immediate kudos among the fans. His reputation soared in his first season at the helm as he guided the club to a seventh-place league finish and secured Europa League qualification.

“They approached me and straight away I was interested,” he says of his arrival in 2015. “I had a meeting with Karren Brady and David Sullivan at his house. It went well, I was excited and the fans were so supportive.

“Everyone wants to be loved and I still feel the love from West Ham fans. I didn’t play for a long time at the club but I still remember the reaction in my first game as manager. We played a team from Andorra (Lusitanos) and the stadium was packed. It was incredible and someone from the staff said, ‘They came because of you’. That was a special feeling.”

Bilic still fondly remembers the club’s last game at Upton Park in May 2016 when West Ham beat Manchester United 3-2 thanks to goals from Diafra Sakho, Michail Antonio and Winston Reid. Given his close affiliation to the club, Bilic was in tears after the game.

slaven-bilic
Bilic chats to David Moyes during his time at West Ham (Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images)
“I enjoyed every bit of managing West Ham,” he says. “It’s everything I thought it would be. The first year was great and we signed players like Manuel Lanzini and Dimitri Payet. We beat most of the big teams. The last game at the stadium was amazing. I was emotional during and after the match. We didn’t want to put extra pressure on the players but I told them, ‘We can’t lose this game. Not the last one at Upton Park’.

“It was a crazy day and Hollywood couldn’t have written a better script. We drove to the stadium from our hotel in Canary Wharf. The coach couldn’t move because there were so many people near the ground. West Ham fans smashed the windows of Manchester United’s coach so they were late for the game. The match had the whole package. These things happen often in Turkey but I’d never seen it in England.”

Most managers have a pool of talent on their radar. Bilic is no different and he was keen to strengthen West Ham’s squad so they could be competitive in the league. When the Croatian discussed transfer targets with Sullivan, he was informed Payet, then at Marseille, was available. Christmas came early for Bilic.

“Dimitri enjoyed his time at the club and I wanted to sign him when I was manager of Bestikas but it was impossible to get him,” he says. “Then I joined West Ham and Sullivan mentioned some agents are phoning him about a player who I may know. I asked Sullivan who the player is and he said it’s Payet. I thought, ‘Are you kidding? We need to sign him right now! We can’t let other clubs find out’. We signed Dimitri in three days and I was shocked in a positive way.

“Dimitri wanted to be a star in the Premier League. He wanted to get back in the squad for France’s national team. He didn’t fulfil his potential there. He played great for a few games then nothing after. But he was great for West Ham.”

Despite Payet impressing with his solo goals, free kicks from long distances and jinking runs, his desire to return to Marseille in January 2017 harmed the dressing-room dynamic. Dealing with big egos is one of the hardest parts of management. Bilic knew Payet was arguably the club’s most important player.

During the Frenchman’s 18-month spell, he scored 15 goals in 60 games across all competitions. But the prospect of keeping the playmaker became arduous when players secretly addressed their concerns to Bilic.

“It dragged on for four weeks and I tried to ease the situation,” he says. “The board let me do everything and it wasn’t easy. It was during the Christmas period and we had a lot of games. Dimitri wanted to go home but the club didn’t want to sell him. It was one week before the game against Crystal Palace and I kept being asked about Dimitri. If you want to keep players like him you have two solutions: give him a new contract every 18 months or sell him.

“I wanted to solve the matter internally but it started to affect the dressing room. That’s when I decided I had to cut it. When players like Mark Noble asked me, ‘Boss what’s going on?’, that’s when I had to protect the team.”

Since making his first-team debut against Southend in August 2004, Mark Noble has made appearances under Alan Pardew, Alan Curbishley, Gianfranco Zola, Avram Grant, Sam Allardyce, Bilic, David Moyes and Manuel Pellegrini. Of those eight managers, Noble scored his most goals (seven) in a Premier League campaign under Bilic.

noble-bilic
Bilic enjoyed an excellent relationship with Noble at West Ham (Photo: Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Bilic says there isn’t a particular secret as to why he was able to get the best out of the midfielder. But during this interview of an hour and a half, he regularly references Modric and Noble as the two players he enjoyed working with the most.

In the 2015-16 season, the West Ham captain registered more goals than Raheem Sterling (six), James Milner (five), Adam Lallana (four) and Jack Wilshere (zero). The now-34-year-old is set to retire at the end of this season, but there is a tinge of sadness in Bilic’s voice as he explains why Noble missed out on making England’s Euro 2016 squad.

“Mark loves and cares about the club,” he says. “I made him captain and it’s the easiest decision I’ve made in my managerial career. Not many people know this but he was very close to earning a place in that squad. Roy Hodgson came to a few games to watch Mark. Roy and I had a few chats about Mark but Danny Drinkwater had a great season when Leicester City won the league.

“It was between him and Mark and Roy decided to go with Drinkwater. Mark also had a great season and he deserved at least one cap. It’s a shame he didn’t get to play for the senior team.”

In November 2017, West Ham sacked Bilic with the club in the relegation zone. He is not bitter about his exit and believes he has learned a lot from the experience. The trend for managers to last no longer than a couple of years in any job has not hampered his passion for coaching.

After a short spell at Al-Ittihad in Saudi Arabia, West Brom came calling. In his first season, he won promotion from the Championship before he was sacked in December 2020, with the club 19th in the Premier League.

slaven-bilic
Bilic was sacked after West Brom held Manchester City to a draw (Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
“When you lose your job it’s not ideal but you learn from it,” he says. “At West Ham and West Brom, I made a few mistakes. After the first season at West Ham, I didn’t push for new players. If I asked for new signings and we didn’t get any, I’d just get on with my job and work with the squad. But I should have fought a bit harder to improve the quality of the team. Looking back, I let myself down. Hopefully, in my next job, it will be different.

“At West Brom, when I was sacked I didn’t see it coming. I enjoyed working with the players. But I wasn’t on the same page with some people at the club. When I lost my job I wasn’t pleased because we were just starting to improve. I was disappointed I didn’t get to see it through but it comes with the territory. I don’t like it but that’s how life is as a manager these days.”

So what next for Bilic?

He isn’t short of interest but is potentially waiting for the right opportunity. He has enjoyed his break after leaving Beijing. It has enabled him to reflect and assess areas for improvement. But most importantly, he has his mojo back and believes he is about to enter his peak years of management.

“I believe the best is yet to come. I have the passion, energy and experience. I feel good, I feel ready and I can’t wait to work again. I’ve enjoyed the time off — it was needed, to be honest. I had to reset myself and spend time with my family. But now I’m excited about the next chapter in my career.”

(Top photo: John Early/Getty Images)

Replies - Newest Posts First (Show In Chronological Order)

Darby_ 11:33 Thu Mar 31
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
Bolics

Darby_ 11:28 Thu Mar 31
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
Nah, Snodders came in during Bilic's second season, in the Jan transfer window from memory, after Payet was sold. Bolic got sacked during his third season.

master 10:57 Thu Mar 31
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
Has he ever had a successful 2nd season in any of his managerial jobs?

tonka 10:28 Thu Mar 31
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
I remember bumping into Bilic in the saint bar in soho just after he left us. He was at the bar smoking. I asked why he left. He shrugged his shoulders and said “money”

Kaiser Zoso 10:23 Thu Mar 31
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
Correct Darbs, plus Fonte for £8 million.

They were brought in by Moyes though, weren't they?

Darby_ 10:14 Thu Mar 31
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
Although from memory, we also bought Snodders for an, in retrospect, amazing 10m during that season.

Nagel 9:35 Thu Mar 31
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
Kaiser Zoso 8:34 Thu Mar 31

That is a really damning list.

To be fair though, only 3 of those 9 weren't loans or freebies, and of those 3 one is still with us and the other 2 we more or less got our money back when selling them on. Sullivan, who undoubtedly chose all or most of those players, probably thought it was decent business.

If Bilic had said, 'I didn’t push for more quality players’ there'd be no argument.

Darby_ 9:01 Thu Mar 31
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
I remember wondering why we were buying so many right-wingers when we already had Antonio who was one of our main goalscorers. Unfortunately, we soon found out.

Kaiser Zoso 8:34 Thu Mar 31
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
‘ After the first season at West Ham, I didn’t push for new players.’

Oh really? We’d just qualified for the Europa League and had moved to the new ground. We added the following players

André AYEW
Arthur MASUAKU
Edimilson FERNANDES
Simone ZAZA
Jonathan CALLERI
Gokhan TORE
Sofiane FEGHOULI
Harvard NORDTVEIT
Alvaro ARBELOA
Ashley FLETCHER

Fuck knows how many Bilic actually wanted if he brought in 9 and he didn’t consider he’d pushed for enough new players.

Seven of those players lasted one season.

legrandefromage 5:01 Thu Mar 31
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
Not enough discipline to be a success as a manager.

Without Payet the last season at the Boleyn would have been bang average https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbkunYhbYK4

Manuel 4:14 Thu Mar 31
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
I too like Bilic, but he comes across here as a journeyman football manager just after the next pay day, and I can't at this point ever see him being anymore than that now.

Missed his family in China? Why didn't he think of that before he went out there? Or maybe he did and just wanted to nick a few quid.

SDKFZ 222 12:38 Thu Mar 31
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
I’ll always be grateful for the last season at the Boleyn, but the subsequent season was a complete eye opener. It didn’t help when they had much publicised ‘pet’ days and ‘bring your children to work’ days at the training ground. The training also seemed to consist mainly of volleying balls into an empty net and not much else. It appeared also that the players and management weren’t taking things too seriously after the relative success of the previous season.

TonkaToy 11:46 Wed Mar 30
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
I'd have him back when Dave has had enough.

Job to finish.....

factory seconds 10:27 Wed Mar 30
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
slav's west ham was like west ham squared, all the good and all the bad multiplied by itself.

if he didn't have to juggle the move to the moon crater he'd have done well i reckon.

Texas Iron 8:30 Wed Mar 30
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
Don’t arf talk a lot…

😳😳

MaryMillingtonsGhost 7:40 Wed Mar 30
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
zico 2:41

Mex Martillo 7:36 Wed Mar 30
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
Thanks Irish

Mex Martillo 7:36 Wed Mar 30
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
I also have time for Bilic, I even enjoy reading his interviews like this one.
I'd wouldn't have been disappointed to have kept Bilic and seem where we went. I'm sure he would have kept us up, but we'll never know.

BBondsBootlaces 5:18 Wed Mar 30
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
Agree with Zico.

I have time for Slaven. Passionate in everything he does, and he's no slouch.

Eerie Descent 3:12 Wed Mar 30
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
He does permanently look like he's been on a wonky one and not slept for 4 nights.

gph 2:48 Wed Mar 30
Re: Article : Slaven Bilic, the Junkie Football Manager
"...but thinking about little details like tactics, training..."

FFS.

LITTLE details? No wonder he gets himself into messes where his undoubted cleverness can't get him out.

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