Slaven Bilić has settled into the gaffer’s chair at The Hawthorns - and who better to welcome him than the half-Croatian but 100 per cent Baggie Adrian Chiles?
Very little fazed Slaven on his first day in charge but we managed to catch him by surprise when he arrived in the first-team dressing room for a WBA TV interview to find Chiles, complete with the famous checked shirt of Croatia’s national team, waiting to greet him.
What followed makes for special viewing as the BBC Radio 5 Live broadcaster got the chance to fire the questions all Albion fans have been asking.
The answers made for compelling listening…
In Part One, Slaven talks why he chose The Hawthorns as his new home and what sort of atmosphere he expects to find within.
AC: I’ve wondered what to ask you, so I thought first of all, why here? When did the idea come to you that you’d come here?
SB: You shouldn’t ask me why, maybe I would accept if someone from Croatia asked why, if somebody from Turkey asked why. Like from Turkey they asked me why, my friends. Even in Croatia they respect the league, they know that this is first of all a big club. Is it the Premier League? No it isn’t, but this is a league that has been followed all over the world, at least I follow it and my football friends follow it. It’s a big league, a very demanding league. It’s a very challenging league, I don’t have to give you excuses why I came here.
I put the Championship, to be fair, on my bucket list a few years ago. Not only me, many other coaches, it’s tempting this league. It’s crazy. When I had the opportunity to come to this league, and especially to a club that is massive and big. I managed here three times, it’s not a new place for me, so I knew when I was coming. When I heard from Luke how ambitious they are, and everything, without being crazy ambitious. Without saying we have to do it even if we lose some players. I thought about it and I thought, to cut a long story short, I didn’t have to come here, I could have gone somewhere else. I couldn’t go to a top, top club, but I could go to different countries, but this was always very, very tempting for me.
AC: Did you see us last season at all?
SB: Yes, of course. Even when I was in Saudi Arabia and there you have the Championship on the television. I was watching the league, of course I was. I was watching and we, I say ‘we’ because we are now on the same page, we were kind of consistent. Unfortunately, not close enough to the top.
AC: Did you see the Play-Offs?
SB: Of course, I watched both games. We were pretty much unlucky in Birmingham. They’re a good team but when you are 1-0 up I would have expected to score another one.
What surprised me was the second leg. That is also one of the reasons when I told myself, ‘the place is buzzing and this is the club, I can feel the football’. I could feel that passion, that link between the fans and the pitch so I said, ‘this is it’. Then we scored and everything was going our way, until that moment of the second yellow.
AC: You got that visceral feeling of the atmosphere? That came over on the television to you?
SB: Yes, of course. That is one thing about the Championship, I love these grounds. I used to play on these grounds when I was in England. They are not modern arenas. I’ve got nothing against modern arenas but basically they all look the same. But this is like, you can still smell the grass, you still feel the fans - they are not close to you, they are there with you. That is one of the reasons why not only me, but why a lot of people, love the Championship.
AC: What about the training ground, what’s it like walking into there?
SB: Also, the training ground is a football training ground. When we were changing training grounds at West Ham from Chadwell Heath, which was the same training ground as when I played at West Ham, they asked me to be involved in the move to Rush Green. I said ‘let’s do it good but I feel a training ground should not be like a five-star hotel’. In the modern age players are already dragged away from the essence of football. It’s all perfect for them but you want the smell of grass. And ours is exactly that. It’s got everything. It’s new, the canteen is brilliant but it’s not a luxury hotel. It shouldn’t be and I like it. This is football.
In Part Two, which will be released on wba.co.uk at 5pm on Wednesday, Slaven discusses the mental strength required for the Sky Bet Championship, his preferred style of play, and the Club’s vision for the future.