On Tuesday night West Bromwich Albion picked up one the most impressive result of their season so far, drawing 1-1 at Manchester City. By Wednesday afternoon their manager, Slaven Bilic, was out of a job. Bilic knew this was coming. He was philosophical when quizzed on his future after the game at the Etihad Stadium, insisting that such matters were out of his hands and he therefore would not be getting overly worked up about them.
“I’m very calm. I love my job, I enjoy it and I’m working hard for myself and my staff for the club,” he said. “Everything else is out of my control. I’m just doing my best. I don’t think about other things. I’m not bothered what’s happening behind the scenes – I don’t care.”
The axe fell less than 24 hours later, as Bilic became the first managerial casualty of the Premier League campaign. Just a matter of hours later, Sam Allardyce was confirmed as his replacement and will take charge before West Brom’s game against Aston Villa this weekend.
The timing of the decision seems odd, coming on the back of a hard-earned point against Manchester City. Yet if the West Brom board had lost faith in the Croatian, they were right to dismiss him regardless of the outcome at the Etihad. Giving managers a game or two to save their job usually only delays the inevitable. By definition, a stay of execution is only temporary.
Even so, Bilic can consider himself hard done by. He did an excellent job at The Hawthorns last term, returning West Brom to the top flight ahead of schedule. He was not exactly backed wholeheartedly in the summer transfer market, with Branislav Ivanovic, Cedric Kipre, David Button, Conor Gallagher and Karlan Grant the only new arrivals to The Hawthorns. Grady Diangana, Matheus Pereira, Callum Robinson and Filip Krovinovic were also signed either permanently or on loan, but each of those players was also involved in West Brom’s promotion push last season.
Such was the Baggies’ minimal investment, many wondered whether the club were content to bank the money from a season in the Premier League, before attempting to come back stronger following relegation. The same strategy was seemingly employed by Norwich City last time out. Having stuck with Daniel Farke despite demotion, the Canaries are sitting pretty in the top two of the Championship at the time of writing.
However, West Brom deciding to sack Bilic suggests they are not taking such an approach. The powers that be at The Hawthorns clearly think the Baggies can still stay up this season, and their decision shows they no longer believe Bilic is the man to achieve that objective.
Allardyce has a deserved reputation for avoiding relegation from the Premier League but he would not have agreed to take the job had the club made it clear they were not too fussed about going down. Allardyce will demand backing in the January window and Bilic will no doubt feel frustrated if the Baggies board suddenly loosens the purse strings next months.
The former West Ham boss would be the first to admit that results have not been great so far this campaign, but it is hard to argue that Bilic should have got more out of the players at his disposal. And although West Brom have only amassed seven points from their 13 games to date, they are just two points adrift of safety.
Yet decisions of this nature should be predictions for the future, not assessments of the past. The West Brom hierarchy may well agree that Bilic has done little wrong, but if they feel Allardyce is better placed to keep the club in the Premier League, they are right to employ him in the Croatian’s stead. Only time will tell whether their judgment is correct.