Idealism appeared to play little part in West Ham’s appointment of Sam Allardyce as manager last summer. A club whose history is a monument to the ‘right’ way to play football seems almost diametrically opposed to the ‘win-at-all-costs’ approach of the former Bolton, Newcastle and Blackburn manager.
The 57-year-old may have attained promotion at his first attempt for West Ham but few supporters were enamoured with the way in which it was achieved. Considering the quality of the squad and the money available to Allardyce, to win promotion through the playoffs was hardly ideal, especially considering they relied on an 87th minute goal to achieve the feat.
The West Ham manager’s penchant for players over six foot, and football to match, had Hammers fans grumbling and groaning for large periods of the season whilst much of their football between Christmas and March was some of the ugliest on offer in the top two tiers of the English game. The five draws of March, in particular, inspired the voicing of concern from fans. Although The Hammers ended the season with a run of eight wins from their last nine matches, scoring twenty-five goals along the way, criticism of the manager’s style has remained.
Upon achieving promotion, Allardyce has now split opinion amongst the club’s supporters. There are those who appear to have detracted previous statements about only playing attractive football, who are merely grateful for their swift return to the top flight, especially considering how close they came to not realising that goal.
Some, however, are not swayed by such a view. They would sooner believe that if a manager had, as Allardyce did last year, the best squad in the league and still refused to play attacking football then he doesn’t belong at West Ham.
However, considering they are a newly-promoted team, and considering that, comparatively, West Ham have gone from the strongest squad in the league to one of the weakest, is it too much for fans of the club to expect both style and substance from Allardyce?
The first thing to remember is that, although their fans might feel as though there is a ‘West Ham way of doing things’ in reality that means little. Admittedly, some teams, like Barcelona, do have a continuous ethos at the club in terms of how the game should be played. Yet even the big clubs can turn on such inherent beliefs. Real Madrid and others have been known to sacrifice style for substance in order to achieve their goals. They proved that with the appointment of Fabio Capello and then Jose Mourinho.
Or if you’re looking for an example a little closer to home then you could take Arsenal. Their reputation as a free-flowing, attacking team belies the fact that for nine years under George Graham they were perpetrators of a defensive, direct style of football that was not totally at odds with the philosophy of Sam Allardyce.
Generations of fans become accustomed to witnessing a style of football that they enjoy or appreciate and when a manager tries to change that they object.
But that doesn’t mean said style is entwined with the club’s identity.
Ultimately, Allardyce is utilising his squad in a way that he feels is most effective. I’m not defending his style of play, or his personality, but it does seem that those West Ham fans that criticise Allardyce should realise that he is not really to blame.
Allardyce’s teams have always prioritised winning over stylish football; that is his managerial identity. Anybody who expects him to change this is dreaming. The fans may be unhappy with his style, but don’t use the excuse that it is unbecoming for West Ham to play as such because it is incredibly ignorant of any team to claim they are too good for a certain style of football when they have been relegated.
The second point to be made is that, if the fans are looking for somebody to blame, why not vent anger at the owners who chose Allardyce as manager in the first place. In appointing him, they were the individuals responsible for choosing to abandon the attacking principles of West Ham. I don’t like his style of play, and I wouldn’t want him managing my club but to criticise Allardyce’s managerial style seems a little unfair considering it was that style that earned him the job in the first place. It might be possible to expect both style and substance from some managers, but Allardyce isn’t that man.