Slaven Bilić hopes to develop an attacking outfit at Albion but insists his style of play will be built on “solid” foundations.
The Baggies boss discusses a range of topics in Part Two of his interview with broadcaster Adrian Chiles - including the mental strength required for the Sky Bet Championship, tactics, and the Club’s vision for the future.
AC: You played in Germany, you played over here, you played in Croatia and you’ve also managed here, in Turkey, in Russia. Have you ever managed in a 46-game season?
SB: That’s also one of the reasons (why I wanted to come here). We can talk about the English way of playing or the Spanish, Croatian, European, South America or wherever, but it’s still football. It’s tempting when you go to something new. It’s 46 games, you play every day basically!
In every other league you have a good start and if you have a good start after six, seven, eight games then you are there. You might hit one crisis but you know you are there. Here, if you have a good start it matters but, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter because the season is so long and there are so many games. You have to be unbelievably strong, fit also, but more than anything be psychologically ready for ups and downs. That is the most important thing.
AC: You’ve had some tremendous highs in your career as a player and as a manager. You beat Germany in the World Cup quarter-final in 1998 but then I think back to that game against Turkey at the Euros, I remember your face and thinking ‘can he survive this?’.
SB: It was awful, you are right. But then again you have it every week in football. You had it last season in the Champions League, there were many games like that. What comes to my mind is the way that Paris Saint-Germain lost to Manchester United. It’s crazy.
So those games, like the Turkey one against us where we scored with one minute to go but still conceded another goal and went out on penalties, and to be so close to a historical achievement for your country. It kills you, but then you recover and it makes you stronger. It makes you ready for when it comes next time.
AC: Is there a mode of football that you favour?
SB: First of all you have to be solid, of course you have to be solid. Even Man City have to be solid. But I like to be solid with players who can play football. I like to convince those players to defend, and then you have ‘bingo’. But also when you have the ball, you can be very dangerous. I like to attack, but we’re going to see. It all depends on the players, who will stay and who will go, who we’re going to get and all that.
Today football is more or less the same everywhere, it’s worldwide. You have to respect the fans, and to me it’s not a problem because I love that energetic kind of football, not a boring one.
I’m not going to mention the names but we saw some great, world-class managers not suit the fans, and they don’t like it. They don’t like the controlled football just to keep the ball at the halfway line or whatever, they want passion and they want power. It’s possible, it’s not easy but it’s possible, to do that kind of (solid) system but with passion, energy and power.
AC: Have you been given some assurances on what players are going to have to go and what players you can bring in?
SB: Of course. I was not desperate for a job, I wouldn’t sign just for signing. This is a big job, a big responsibility. You have a responsibility towards the fans, to yourself at the end of the day and your family and everything.
I spoke with the club and that project, long-term or short-term, it’s the same line. They are very ambitious, they want to bring the club back to where it belongs. They wanted me and they wanted to show with my appointment that they're ambitious.
Last year we had a very good team. Last year our team on paper was almost a Premier League team to be fair, which you don't find every time when a club goes down. Now we’re going to try and keep all the players that we want to keep. And if somebody goes or even if somebody doesn’t go, we want to strengthen our position - where I think and the Club think is needed and crucial in trying to do what we didn't do last year, and that is to go back to the Premier League. It will be very difficult, but that is the goal.
AC: The last two seasons have been awful, going down from the Premier League and then losing to Villa. What can you say about getting things going again?
SB: Look, when you said last season was awful, it ended awful... But you can't say it was awful. Okay, I said you had the best team on paper but you had Leeds, you had Norwich that surprised and you had Villa. You can hate them, or not like them, but they had a good team. They were also lucky with recruitment, they got some good players.
All that I can promise is that me, my staff and the club are going to do everything. We’re going to work, we’ve already started, to get some good players and make them click straight away. We want to keep as many players as we can from the squad, because there are some really good players there.
I’m not big-headed, but give me the right ingredients and I’ll make the team better. In talks with the Club, with Luke (Dowling) and with people from the Club, our goal is the same and our ambition is the same. And that is, in two years but hopefully straight away, to try and get back to the Premier League.