There has always been a certain magnetic arrogance about Slaven Bilic, ever since he emphatically bragged about Croatia being much better than England in 'every possible way.'
His Croatian side had ensured Steve McClaren's spell as England manager ended in ignominy when they outplayed them 3-2 at Wembley and, almost a year on, Bilic was frank and brutal in his assessment of England's progress, now under Fabio Capello.
"We are much better in every possible way," he said. "We are simply better players, we are better as a team. We've had more training sessions. Before that game in Zagreb, we'd maybe had 20 or 30 training sessions together. Now we've had 150."
It was a statement that screamed of reality for non-committal England fans who refused to accept that they were simply not that good. There weren't a lot of managers that would have come out with such a refreshingly blunt appraisal of England's lack of progression at that time, but Bilic did. And he didn't care about the backlash or the opprobrium surrounding his statements.
Of course, in order to make such a grim assessment, he needed to be backed up by his own superior squad - and there can be no arguing that he was. Croatia were a force to be reckoned with under the former West Ham defender, rising from 21st to 5th in the FIFA World Rankings in less than two years after a brilliant competitive record that included a 35-game unbeaten stretch at the Maksimir Stadium in the Croatian capital.
Back then, Bilic was a brash but immensely talented young manager still on the tender side of 40 and leaving an indelible mark on the international football scene. Now, he's more experienced and hardened - but just as wise - and he's got reason to be hailed as the true harbinger of heavy metal football to the Premier League.
The initial, excitement-filled reaction to Jurgen Klopp's appointment as Liverpool manager was that he was going to herald a brand of football that entranced the Bundesliga and would reinvigorate one of England's most illustrious teams. His gegenpressing may yet come to a glorious fruition - although the signs are that he has a huge challenge ahead of him - but Bilic is the man who's really captured the imagination with his outstanding start to life as West Ham manager.
Interestingly, this exact time last year brought lofty praise to Sam Allardyce's Hammers after they defeated then champions Manchester City 2-1 in a thrilling showdown at Upton Park. Almost exactly a year on, Bilic's riveting east Londoners heaped more misery on a thoroughly disarrayed Chelsea.
"Quality players look forward to the big games when the players of lesser quality get a bit anxious and think: 'Oh look who I'm playing against today,'" Allardyce said following that victory over City, and his words have a certain resonance in that the current squad of West Ham players look to be brimming with confidence, packed with quality and ready to take anyone on.
You only have to glance at their results so far this season to see such a mentality in execution. Victories against Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City away from home were a triptych of tactical nous from Bilic and thrilling endeavour from his players, further enhanced by piling the misery on Jose Mourinho.
There have been a couple of wobbles, yes, like the chaotically disorganised performance in the 3-4 home defeat to Bournemouth, or the loss to fellow high-flyers Leicester City a week previous. But since the Bournemouth game, they've gone seven games unbeaten, scoring 16 goals in the process with a series of attack-happy performances.
The Hammers moved rapidly to secure the signings of Angelo Ogbonna and Pedro Obiang in the summer and being satisfied with their defensive panel, Bilic embarked on bloating his squad with exciting attacking talent. In came Manuel Lanzini, Victor Moses, Nikica Jelavic and the gloriously gifted Dimitri Payet, who together have infused this Hammers side with a verve, guile and enthusiasm that has simply proved too much for some of the league's big guns. Throw in a returning Enner Valencia and Andy Carroll and Bilic has himself a mightily impressive line-up.
The depth of quality supplemented by an effective blend of youth and experience could spell a truly memorable season at Upton Park before they move into the Olympic Stadium - and much of it is owed to Bilic's seamless transition to Premier League management.
Last season, Allardyce's West Ham touched the top four until their confidence vanished after Christmas. The task for Bilic is now maintaining the momentum and attractive style of football that has propelled them to within two points of the top of the table - but Bilic certainly looks up to the task.
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