Sunday 17 December 2017

Bilic looks for Christmas Carroll lift and demands more from Payet

"Bilic has no intention of relinquishing the job he cherished with the club he enjoyed playing for the most" Photo: PA

Jason Burt

Slaven Bilic is reacting as he always does. He is fighting. "Slaven was a warrior when he played," says former West Ham striker Trevor Morley and, as a manager, Bilic has the same qualities.

He is also a realist and a man who does not seek praise or rest on past achievements, such as last season's seventh-place finish in the Premier League. The Croat is fully aware that if results do not turn around before Christmas then the club will look at 'Plan B'. And that means, simply, a change of manager.

Former Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini, keen on a Premier League return, is already positioning himself.

But that can wait. Bilic has no intention of relinquishing the job he cherished with the club he enjoyed playing for the most, the one he connected with the most. West Ham, also, despite their problems, do not want to make a change - although one will happen if relegation fears harden.

"I felt the support," Bilic says having had his usual Monday-morning phone conversation with co-chairman David Sullivan. Suffice to say after the 5-1 "humiliation" - Bilic's own word - at home by Arsenal last Saturday, it was more frank, more in-depth and more questioning than usual. No one is in any doubt.

At the centre of their hopes of returning to form is Andy Carroll. Finally fit again, the striker is crucial, not least because Diafra Sakho is out and new signings, such as Simone Zaza and Jonathan Calleri, have appeared overawed.

Does Bilic unleash Carroll against his former club tomorrow? With West Ham then facing fellow strugglers Burnley and Hull City at home - two games that might define their season and decide Bilic's future - it is a big call.

"We will have to manage him," Bilic says. "It doesn't mean he isn't going to start against Liverpool. But . . . we have three games (in a week) and we need him in all three of them.

"But we can't be that greedy or crazy to think that he would last three games, 90 minutes in the space of one week - although he feels good and he's fit."

Already Bilic has spoken about the "perfect storm" this season: the stadium move, the injuries - record signing André Ayew is still not fit - and a host of new men failing to settle, while key players during the last campaign are off form.

The most crucial is Dimitri Payet. There have been meetings with the France international, who took his country's Euro 2016 final defeat badly, was unsettled by talk of a big-money move and did not appear in the right frame of mind. But Bilic and West Ham need him.

"I'm not afraid to criticise but it's always behind closed doors," Bilic says. "We had a few meetings within the squad, more than a few, and the only way we can get out of this situation is by training hard and provoking, even, the luck to come on our side." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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