Slaven Bilic: I don't mind if my West Ham players dive every now and again
Slaven Bilic recognises he is not the man to lecture footballers who pull the wool over referees’ eyes. And he will turn an occasional blind eye if one of his West Ham United players takes a tumble in the penalty area.
Laurent Blanc, the Paris Saint-Germain manager, would certainly agree with Bilic’s self-assessment that “I am not Mahatma Gandhi” after the Croatian cost the then France defender a 1998 World Cup final appearance. Bilic infamously went down clutching his face in the penalty box after being struck in the chest by Blanc during the semi-final. That earned the Frenchman a red card and a suspension for the final.
The issues of grappling in the box and simulation came up again this week, after following West Ham’s draw with Leicester City on Sunday in which Jamie Vardy was sent off for diving and West Ham were awarded a penalty after Wes Morgan clung on to Winston Reid during a corner kick.
The spot kick was only the second that West Ham have won in the Premier League this season, compared to seven conceded. Bilic does not want his players to be serial divers, but he would not complain if they earned a few more penalties – starting against Watford tomorrow night.
“I would like us to get a penalty, but also we as a club don’t want to get that label [of divers]. Occasionally I wouldn’t mind it, but I’m proud that we’re not that kind of club.”
Dimitri Payet was accused of diving against Manchester United in the FA Cup this season, but Bilic said: “The ‘dive’ with Payet, there was a touch, a light touch but a touch from behind and in my point of view if a player goes down with a touch – especially a touch from behind – a touch from behind means he’s not looking for contact, he doesn’t see it. And then sometimes when you feel a touch you go down, which is different for me than diving, so that wasn’t a dive.”
Bilic insists he was trying to protect himself from the threat of missing the World Cup final in 1998, but believes that grappling in the box must be dealt with by referees.
Asked about the 1998 incident with Blanc, Bilic said: “I’m not proud of that. I didn’t want him to get sent off, no way. Why? For him to miss the final? The final is not against us. I wanted to protect myself there. I didn’t want the referee to come with what they were usually doing then – yellow, yellow – and it’s my second yellow and I don’t play in the final if we go to the final.
“Maybe I should think more about Laurent Blanc but I was thinking more about myself. I only wanted to protect myself.”
In terms of the challenge that referees face in trying to police what goes on in the penalty area these days, Bilic added: “This is a contact sport, but contact is different – you can’t hold a player in the box.
“It’s got to be punished, but the problem is when you see in different games there are decisions that are given or not given, or in the same game, but it’s also hard for the referee because he can’t give every one of them.”
Diafra Sakho is set to return to the West Ham squad for the first time since pulling out ahead of the draw against Arsenal after learning he would start on the substitutes’ bench, but the striker is still expected to attempt to quit the Hammers in the summer.
On-loan midfielder Alex Song, who had a confrontation with Sakho ahead of the Arsenal match, is unlikely to play for West Ham again barring an injury crisis in the squad.