Sunday 21 January 2018

Bilic demands players show spirit of '97

West Ham United manager Slaven Bilic. Photo: PA
West Ham United manager Slaven Bilic. Photo: PA

Matt Law

Slaven Bilic reeled off the names without pausing: Dicks, Bishop, Moncur, Potts, Miklosko - the characters who saved West Ham when he fought off relegation with the club as a player.

Now, 20 years later, Bilic is counting on this group of players to prove they can emulate that passion and show they have the mettle to cope with today's relegation six-pointer against Swansea City, which could also have implications for Bilic's own future.

It was reported yesterday that the club are considering short-term options to replace Bilic if West Ham lose again today.

Bilic, Julian Dicks and Steve Potts are all on the West Ham coaching staff, and can vividly remember how they won their survival battle in 1997, when the club finished two points above the drop.

Successive home games against Swansea and bottom-of-the-table Sunderland are much easier than Bilic had it as a player, when West Ham needed something out of their final two games of the season against Newcastle and Manchester United, the runners-up and champions respectively.

"It was worse as we were in trouble with two games to go," said Bilic. "Against Newcastle, we drew 0-0, a midweek game, I think. Our last game was against United away, where we did not want to go and need anything (West Ham lost 2-0).

"Newcastle were better, as they qualified for the Champions League that season. I remember that game. It was the spirit and everything.

"Our team was also ups and downs all the time. Even in the same game, starting well and the second half bad or the other way around. It was the case then also. I spoke to Dicks in the dressing-room just now about that.

"But, when we needed them, we had those kinds of characters. Dicks, Bishop, Moncur, Potts, Ludo Miklosko. We had them. A good team."

Asked whether he cared as much about survival as a player, Bilic replied: "Yes. If you are responsible, you are responsible. You don't need to become a manager to be responsible. You have more responsibility as a manager, I am responsible to you, I am the PR of responsibility.

"But it is your job as a player, you have to be responsible. As a player, you have inner responsibility. I was like that."

And the class of 2017, are they taking enough responsibility?

"If you are asking me if they care, of course they care," said Bilic. "This is not a question of qualifying for Europe or not qualifying for Europe, or whether or not we finish in the top 10.

"We care about those things, but this is far more serious. It's a very serious situation. It's not do or die, but it's a serious situation. Do my players care as much as me? I think they do."

Just as he and his team-mates did against Newcastle, West Ham badly need to stop leaking goals in the closing games of the season after conceding 13 in their run of five successive defeats.

"We are conceding way too many goals, not just in the last five games," said Bilic. "We either get a clean sheet or we concede more than two goals or even three goals.

"I said it a few times to the players. We can talk about individual mistakes, but if you have to score more than three goals to get something then you can't expect to."

Bilic, however, does not have time to experiment or try anything new and must, instead, hope that one of his old plans pays off.

"We've changed the system a lot of times this season, three or four at the back, and we are thinking about that," said Bilic. "But there is not a lot of time to try things, so it won't be anything new." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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