Sam Allardyce is no stranger to bringing a team up in to the Premier League and then establishing them as a solid top-flight team under his watch.
He did it with Bolton between 1999 and 2007 and is now in a similar position with West Ham, having led them back to the Premier League after just one season in the Championship. But just how far can he take the Hammers?
The early signs have been impressive in the Premier League for West Ham, despite their style of football being increasingly criticised by rivals fans and the media. But his so-called ‘long-ball’ or ‘direct’ style of play sees West Ham sit eighth in the league after collecting 19 points from their opening 13 games.
Those that have watched West Ham regularly this season will have also noticed that they like to play on the floor, too. The likes of Mark Noble, Kevin Nolan and Mohamed Diame in the centre of midfield allow them to play slick, passing football whenever they need to, while the towering presence of Andy Carroll up front gives them the option of direct, route one football as well.
It is this type of versatility in Allardyce’s tactical approach that can see West Ham become an established top-flight team once more. Record signing Matt Jarvis and the currently injured Ricardo Vaz Te add width to West Ham’s attacks, and will both cause defenders arial problems with their crossing ability throughout the season.
The most notable mark he has already made at West Ham is the tightness of West Ham’s defence. Under Avram Grant, in the season they went down, West Ham conceded a whopping 70 goals and finished the campaign with the division’s worst goal difference of -27. They kept just five clean sheets all season and shipped, on average, 1.84 goals a game.
Thirteen games into this season and the Hammers have already kept five clean sheets and have shipped an average of 1.15 goals a game, which is a significant difference after just one season out of the top flight.
The one thing Allardyce will see that needs improvement is his strike force. Andy Carroll is doing a fantastic job up top on his own, but with just one goal in his first nine appearances for the club, West Ham clearly need more of an out-and-out goal scorer to aid Carroll, who’s role at the moment involves more holding the ball up for the likes of Nolan to run out to from midfield.
With the January transfer window fast approaching, we can expect Allardyce to bring in the type of striker they need in helping the midfield and defence in scoring the goals that will ultimately see them win games. They have been a tough side to beat so far this season, which is evident from their win away at Newcastle and their goalless draw at home to champions City. But with just three of their 16 league goals coming from strikers so far, they’ll be looking for some extra help up top to re-enforce their attacking capabilities.
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That brings me on to Allardyce’s shrewdness in the transfer market. The ability to prize Kevin Nolan away from Newcastle into the Championship for a reported £4 million has to be one of the best bits of business the club has seen in recent years. Additionally, players like Ricardo Vaz Te, Joey O’Brien and George McCartney have all admitted that they owe a lot of their recent good form to Allardyce’s faith in them after their careers had initially looked to have hit brick walls.
Furthermore, Allardyce seems to be getting the best out of Andy Carroll after he clearly struggled with life at Liverpool and he saw him as the perfect fit into his team, especially with his best mate and captain Kevin Nolan already making a big influence at the club.
This is where West Ham have uncovered a gem in Sam Allardyce. His ability to identify players he feels can slot seamlessly in to his team and then get the best out of them is second to none. The relationship he has with his players is unrivaled and that has been rewarded with the evident high confidence within the camp thus far. Several players have recently told the press there is a good vibe within the dressing room at the moment and that has a lot to do with the way Allardyce runs things.
Beyond this season, depending on where West Ham end up by the end of the campaign, West Ham can expect much of the same. Shrewd transfer dealings, confident players and a mixture of route one and slick, passing football is Allardyce’s recipe for success and, so far, it is working at Upton Park.
Also, if the Hammers are handed the keys to the Olympic Stadium, that will give Allardyce even more scope for West Ham to become more than just an established top 10 Premier League side.
Having said that, he eventually took Bolton into Europe in his fifth season at the Reebok without much of a budget, and that was after seeing his side narrowly avoid relegation for two successive seasons before then.
The world is Allardyce’s oyster at West Ham at the moment and, although West Ham fans should not expect instant success, he has everything at his disposal to ensure West Ham will not suffer another relegation battle in the near future and begin their quest to be an established top-flight club once again.
And that is why I think Sam Allardyce is West Ham’s best managerial appointment since Harry Redknapp. It’s a bold statement, I know, but we’ve done a lot worse sine Redknapp. Do I really need to name names?
With a bit of patience and with the fans behind him, he and West Ham can go places.