Managerial madness

A lot of west ham supporters have criticised the appointment of Slaven Bilic as the manager.-GETTY IMAGES

There have been many changes at the top of European clubs during the close season. The most high profile being that of Rafa Benitez’s appointment as the Real Madrid coach. Very often there’s little method behind these appointments. By Brian Glanville.

In what might be laughably called the close season, the managerial merry go round is hectically busy. Zinedine Zidane, such a prominent figure in two World Cup finals, scorer in Paris with a couple of headers, one from each side of the goal, against Brazil in 1998, sent off in the subsequent final against Italy, had hoped he would be chosen to follow the jettisoned Italian Carlo Ancelotti as the manager of Real Madrid, having been functioning as deputy to Ancelotti, while running the club’s second team. Instead the position has gone to Rafa Benitez, who had left his job in Italy as the manager of Napoli.

Needless to say Benitez is delighted, not least because he began his playing career as a youth team player with Real. To be frank, I have never been quite sure of his managerial qualities since the Istanbul European Cup final between Liverpool, whom he was then managing, and Milan. The Liverpool team he fielded in the first half was absurdly lopsided, with no player deputed to mark the explosive Milan midfielder Kaka, who duly ran riot, Liverpool finding themselves three goals behind and to all intents and purposes hopelessly out of the running.

But in their half-time dressing room Steven Gerrard the captain and others raised their voices demanding change and it was only then that Benitez sent on in midfield the German international Dieter Hamann, who duly marked Kaka out of the game. Inspired by Gerrard, Liverpool made a sensational recovery, got back all three goals and after extra-time proceeded to win on penalties. It is rumoured that the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti was not too popular with the players, but he paid the penalty for failure in the European Champions League, and failed to match Barcelona.

West Ham United, about to start their very last season at Upton Park, where they have been for generations, to take over the vast Olympic Stadium — will its capacity, even though reduced to 56,000, be too much for them to fill — have acquired the Croatian Slaven Bilic as their new manager, in succession to Sam Allardyce, who seemed glad enough to leave, and who has turned down offers of employment elsewhere, saying he needs a rest from management.

West Ham fans, brought up on the academy of skills developed under the aegis of Ron Greewood, with Bobby Moore, Martin Peters, and Geoff Hurst all winning the 1966 World Cup with England, have never taken to Allardyce’s more pragmatic methods with frequent use of the long ball.

Bilic, who ran Croatia’s international team for five years, refusing all club offers at the time out of patriotism, arrived from Turkey but only as third or fourth choice. There has been some criticism of the fact that though he has great managerial experience, he has never before managed in England, which seems nonsensical to me. What of Jose Mourinho at Chelsea and Arsene Wenger at Arsenal? Neither had previously managed an English club when they took up their roles in London.

One remembers the fatuity of a bigoted group of Arsenal fans who spoke scathingly of ‘Arsene Who?’ when anybody with a knowledge of European football should have known that he had won a French Championship with Monaco, where two such well known English footballers as Chris Waddle and Glenn Hoddle were in his team.

Arsenal were lucky then to have a mover and shaker such as David Dein as a senior director. It was he who brought Wenger to Highbury for what turned out to be a supremely long reign.