“There is no yesterday in football,” Slaven Bilic explained, and you could see his point. All this game really cares about is the here and now. The winners of English football’s three major trophies last season were all sacked. If Tottenham are 14th at Christmas, you bet Mauricio Pochettino will be sacked too. Managerial contracts should come with a disclaimer: past performance is no guarantee of future employment.
Which sounds pretty grim. But the relentless churn of the Premier League has its perks, too. Redemption, revival, renewal: these things have never been easier to attain. Win your next game, and the pressure is off. Win your next two, and the world fetes you as a genius. Win three, and somebody on Twitter will definitely link you with the Barcelona job.
For now, Bilic will take one. An important win it was, too: lifting them eight points clear of the relegation zone, and even if West Ham are not safe yet, they now have enough of a cushion to start looking up the table, rather than down it.
“Still, we can finish in the top half,” he said after the 1-0 win over Swansea. “Watford are in 10th position and are one point ahead of us. But let’s get the job done very soon - 40 points (West Ham are currently on 36). We haven’t done the job, we are nowhere near doing the job.”
All the talk ahead of this game was about how Bilic was potentially one defeat from the sack. That may yet be the case, but the warmth of the reception he received from the stadium and his players on Saturday revealed the extent to which he still has this club in his grasp. The fans sang his name during the second half. The players dedicated the victory to him. “This guy is unbelievable,” said Cheikhou Kouyate, who scored the game’s only goal. “He works hard for the team, and for the players, and this victory is good for him. I like the man, I like the boss.”
In short, there was something in the air here that suggested the Bilic story may not entirely have run its course. Even by West Ham standards, it has been a turbulent season: a new stadium, crowd trouble, a miserable star player, crushing defeats, crippling injuries. But they have come through it. And with a decent late surge and a good summer transfer window, the experience may even end up doing them some good.
“This season could be one of the most valuable seasons for growing the club,” Bilic said. “First of all, because this experience makes you motivated not to be in this situation again. And it makes you stronger.”
Perhaps it was the warm spring sunshine, but there were signs of optimism everywhere you looked on Saturday. After a tough start to his West Ham career, Sam Byram had his best game for the club by miles. After making a late block to deny Luciano Narsingh, he was mobbed by jubilant team-mates, celebrated as if he had scored a winning goal. On the opposite flank, Arthur Masuaku had Wayne Routledge in his pocket. Jonathan Calleri looked sharp up front after coming on for the injured Michail Antonio.
Consistency is still the issue, and it would be typically West Ham to follow this win by losing against Sunderland this weekend. But consistency comes from confidence, and confidence comes from days like this. “It’s our biggest win in a few years,” said captain Mark Noble. “It was so important. One more win should see us safe.”
It was not a great game, in truth. But in a strange way, it was a perfect expression of the Premier League in 2017. Every goal feels monumental. Every win feels like the first. Every defeat feels like the end. No, there are no yesterdays in football. But for Bilic, and for West Ham, there may yet be a tomorrow.