Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Joke Is on England as Bilic Turns Hammers Talk to His Advantage; Happy in His Work: Slaven Bilic during the Euro .2008 Qualifying Campaign (Far Left); with Luka Modric (above) and Playing His Guitar (Left)

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Joke Is on England as Bilic Turns Hammers Talk to His Advantage; Happy in His Work: Slaven Bilic during the Euro .2008 Qualifying Campaign (Far Left); with Luka Modric (above) and Playing His Guitar (Left)

Article excerpt

Byline: IAN CHADBAND

IT IS typical of Slaven Bilic that, while uncertainty has been gripping Zagreb about his career intentions following tomorrow's World Cup qualifier against England, he has still been able to use all the fevered speculation which accompanies his reputation as Europe's most wanted coach to help inspire his Croatian team.

A nation could at least stop fretting today that their favourite son might soon be off to an old stamping ground at West Ham, with Gianfranco Zola now apparently poised for the Upton Park job, but it hasn't stopped plenty of dark mutterings here from Croatia's FA chiefs about these supposed English dirty tricks having been designed to destabilise their coach and his boys before the key Group game.

To which the coolest dude in world football would doubtless just take a drag on his ciggie, strum a few chords and tell everyone in any of the four languages he's fluent in: 'Hey, just relax'. Destabilisation? Bilic has simply been deflecting all the sound and fury here by turning the whole saga of his future into a running training ground gag with his lads.

"In training we always make jokes about it..

Players have been teasing me to take them to England as well," Bilic smiled yesterday.

So at a stroke, a potential distraction is turned into a communal in-joke, an aid to team bonding.

This is just a snapshot of Bilic's art of relaxed man management, an art which, allied to a sharp and streetwise footballing brain, has made him such an attractive target way beyond east London.

It is not meant to be disrespectful to Zola or Roberto Donadoni to suggest that West Ham may well be ending up with second best..

First choice Bilic, whose hopes of doing the job in tandem with his national team duties until January has effectively ruled him out, was the right man not because he once played for the Hammers but because everything he has so far achieved in coaching has spoken of a very gifted communicator with a thoroughly modern take on how to get the best out of his players.

His revelation about how he'll go to the rooms of his players, like the Spurs pair of Vedran Corluka and Luka Modric, and lie in bed with them to talk over their problems conjured up a glorious and completely unlikely vision of a sympathetic Don Fabio doing the same. "Let's chat about your goalscoring drought, Wayne," you can almost hear Capello saying. "Budge over, there's a good lad." But to Bilic, young enough to be on his players' wavelength while still respected enough to be able to double as both friend and boss, the new way is the only way. "You have to do it. Sometimes football managers think 'If you do that you're losing the distance and the authority'. No, you're gaining," he said.

It is still early days for Capello (right), of course, but of course it has to be much harder for a 62-year-old to get through to foreign players in a foreign tongue than for a silver-tongued 39-year-old who can comfortably breach the generation gap to win over a bunch of compatriots who already thought of him with some reverence anyway. …

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