LONDON (Reuters) - Slaven Bilic has only been manager at West Ham United for a season and a half but already has experienced the full gamut of emotions associated with the mercurial London club.
There were the heady highs last season when his eye-catching side pushed for a top-four finish in the Premier League, the tearful farewell to a cherished old stadium, the uncomfortable transition to a new one, and for a while this season the pressure of a horrid run of results that put his job in peril.
Through all of it the deep-thinking former Croatia international, who endeared himself to Irons fans during a brief but whole-hearted playing career at Upton Park in the mid 1990s, has cultivated his reputation for impassioned straight-talking.
The depth of his knowledge was apparent when working as a pundit for ITV during the European Championships -- earning rave reviews for his cliche-free analysis.
This season, with crowd violence marring some home fixtures, a lengthy injury list and his team’s confidence shredded by defeats such as the 5-1 home thrashing by Arsenal in December, Bilic found himself under attack from every direction.
He pulled no punches after the Arsenal defeat, accusing his players of lacking intensity in training -- an admission that could have lost him the dressing room and ultimately his job.
Instead, West Ham’s season has turned around. They drew their next game 2-2 at Liverpool and won four of the next six to move into the more tranquil waters of mid-table having been sucked towards the relegation battle.
Bilic knows only too well that things are never that simple at West Ham and even as his injury-plagued striker Andy Carroll was marking yet another return with a spectacular volley against Crystal Palace on Saturday, storm clouds were massing.
France playmaker Dimiti Payet, a cult hero with the fans after his extraordinary displays last season, was not in the team having decided he wanted to leave the club.
True to his style, Bilic did not hide behind manager speak.
“We have said we don’t want to sell our best players but Payet does not want to play for us,” Bilic said bluntly.
“But until he changes his attitude he is out of the team and he’s not going to train with us.”
West Ham’s fans, never slow in venting their spleen, predictably turned on the French maestro whose future could be decided in the coming days.
More significantly, however, it was the 48-year-old Bilic’s name they sang loudest and will probably do so again at Middlesbrough this weekend.
While Payet’s flashes of genius will be sorely missed, it is Bilic they identify with and trust as the man to take the club to the next level having steered them to seventh last season.
“I don’t like it but I want that challenge, I want to try to sort it out,” Bilic said of Payet’s downing of tools.
“It’s not enjoyable but when you have such a big challenge in front of you it motivates you even more and it gets the best out of you. That’s how I feel now.”
Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis