Ireland U21 star Declan Rice believes West Ham United’s fans will see the best of Slaven Bilic if they get behind their manager.
The Croatian has shipped plenty of criticism from his own fans this season and they host Liverpool today at the London Stadium just a point off the relegation zone.
Rice is set to make his sixth Premier League appearance of the campaign today as Bilic is without three of his regular centre-backs. James Collins and Sam Byram are injured, as is Jose Fonte, who Rice came on for in last week’s 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace.
Under-pressure Bilic has taken most of the flak on home soil. Although the win over Swansea five weeks ago was the third win at the London Stadium in September, boos regular rang out around the venue, especially when Javier Hernandez was substituted.
Rice, the 18-year-old Londoner who declared for Ireland through his Cork-born grandparents, insists the boss deserves the trust of fans.
“It’s difficult when the fans get on the backs of players and the manager,” he said. “They can’t be expecting exciting football all the time.
“The manager has shown faith in young players like me and he should get credit for that. He knows all about West Ham from his days here as a player and we love playing under him.”
Rice has already trained with the senior Ireland squad and his prospects of earning a full cap increase with the more exposure he gains in the Premier League.
“I know that nothing will be given to me in my career,” he reasons. “I’ve got to go out and build my experience up with West Ham. I’m not expecting to be in the Ireland senior squad full-time but I know Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane are keeping an eye on my progress.”
Bilic meanwhile has leapt to the defence of Liverpool’s under-fire defender Dejan Lovren, a player the West Ham boss knows well, having handed him his international debut in 2009 when he was Croatia boss. Lovren received online death threats in recent weeks.
“Those (internet trolls) should be “ashamed,” he said. “Maybe I’m wrong and maybe I’m naive but I think even those people who did it didn’t mean it seriously. They weren’t joking — it’s a bad, bad way of expressing that they’re not happy with the way he played. But that shouldn’t be there.
“He’s a very good player. He’s more than a centre-back. He never hides on the pitch. He’s always there. A lot of mistakes, sometimes he’s making up for somebody else’s mistakes.
“But when he’s exposed on such a big space against Dele Alli and Harry Kane, he doesn’t look good.”
Meanwhile, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp insists he will not put pressure on midfielder Emre Can to sign a new contract despite the threat of him leaving in the summer increasing.
“What could I do now? I could say ‘Yes, it is a big problem’, but it isn’t,” said Klopp.
“We have to respect his contract is ending and that is how it is.
“As long as Emre doesn’t give me one sign his mind is somewhere else I don’t have to talk about this, it is a normal thing in football.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved