When West Ham regained promotion back to the Premier League in 2004-05 I don’t think anybody can really say they expected the Hammers to suffer another relegation relatively soon afterwards. But this is exactly what happened under the leadership of Avram Grant in 2010-11. Grant was a disastrous appointment who was milking a reputation of sending Chelsea to the Champions League final and a faltering Pompey to the FA Cup final. With the club winning only seven games that season, the Hammers themselves were faltering. They hadn’t heeded the warning signs from the previous campaign under another seemingly average manager, Gianfranco Zola. With only 35 points in the 2009-10, they were fortunate to stay up in a poor league that season which saw Burnley, Hull and Portsmouth fall back into the Football League.
Needless to say, the 1st June 2011, was a joyous day for all Hammers fans when Sam Allardyce was appointed as the new boss at Upton Park. He was the saviour in a bad situation at West Ham. He made very astute signings. He used his contacts from his previous teams to inherit a squad that would inevitably be up there at the end of the season and removed the dead wood who failed so badly. In came his former Bolton possy in Kevin Nolan, Joey O’Brien, Matt Taylor and Ricardo Vaz Te (albeit in January). Allardyce also acquired dangerous players at second tier level such as Abdoulaye Faye, Papa Bouba Diop and John Carew. Out went Danny Gabbidon, Lars Jacobsen, Johnathan Spector, Luis Boa Marte, Manuel da Costa, Thomas Hitzlsperger and Matthew Upson who had messed up the previous campaign.
Simply put, Allardyce and West Ham were both too big in stature to be playing in the Championship. Therefore it was no surprise when they returned to the big time with the 2-1 victory over Blackpool in May. Although, you could argue that with the squad he had inherited that season, a third place finish was poor. However, I will grant him that the fact that the Championship is a difficult league to get out of and there have been countless examples of teams that are yet to return to the big time after spending so many years in the top flight i.e. Charlton, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday etc.
So the Hammers are back in the big time for the 2012-13 campaign. And the club purchased wisely, most notably, importing the quality of Andy Carroll and Yossi Benayoun will surely ensure that the club will survive this season. But this made me wonder. IS survival good enough for a club like West Ham? I don’t think the expectations at West Ham are the same as they are at Reading and Southampton. I would argue that West Ham are just outside the top 10 in the biggest clubs in England, whereas Southampton and Reading are more likely just outside the top 20. Therefore, it seems to me unimaginable that the London club will be playing Championship football again.
And in fairness, I don’t think survival is the season goal for Allardyce as well this season, a mid-table finish is his target. This, of course, is perfectly amicable for a club’s first season back in the top flight. However, I wonder what the long-term aspirations of both Allardyce and West Ham are. I expect that once West Ham find their feet in the Premier League once again the expectations for a club of their size is to look towards cementing a European place. And after all, if similar sized clubs such as Everton and Newcastle United reach those levels, then there is no reason why a club with the following of West Ham can’t either.
And therefore, as a result of inevitable increasing expectations that will occur, I have doubts whether Allardyce has the credentials to take West Ham forward that next level. I think everyone felt that ‘Big Sam’ was harshly treated when he was sacked by Blackburn and Newcastle. Granted, the Venky’s dismissed Allardyce because they wanted a puppet to pull the strings with at Ewood Park. However, with giving it a lot of thought, I now find Mike Ashley decision to sack Allardyce an interesting one, especially given their recent success under Pardew. I wonder whether it was in Ashley’s thinking that Allardyce doesn’t have the ability to take the club to the next level.
Allardyce’s best managerial tenure was at Bolton where he guided the club to a sixth and then an eighth-place finish. That was a magnificent achievement to guide a small club like Bolton to those dizzy heights. But even then looking back I find it interesting that in spite of this, he was overlooked for the England job when the FA opted for Steve McClaren as a replacement for Sven Goran Eriksson. Do the fat cats at the top just not rate Allardyce as a top manager?
Without the intention of being over-critical to who I incidentally think is a good Premier League manager, apart from the two seasons he enjoyed with Bolton, when you analyse his career in the top-flight, his league finishes haven’t been all that impressive. He endured two 17th placed finishes in successive seasons at the Reebok, when he was sacked by Newcastle the club were lying in 11th and in his one full season at Blackburn the club finished a disappointing 15th.
I think the expectations at West Ham may also change if and when they move into their new stadium. Often new stadiums provide a catalyst for increased expectations at a football club. Perhaps an increase in seats gives a delusion of club grandeur. But inevitably, once West Ham do move into their new stadium, and let’s face it it’s looking likely, both the stature and the expectations will increase. I reckon that if Allardyce is still in charge by the time the move to the new stadium is in place, whenever this may be, whether the pressure on him to provide more success at the club will suddenly occur.
Perhaps there are other factors as well that will prevent the club from finishing in the top 6 on a yearly basis. Can the trio of Gold, Sullivan and Brady realistically supply the funds to propel the club to that next level? Will they be willing to give Allardyce the kind of financial support he will need to maintain a challenge at the higher end of the Premier League table? Somehow, I doubt it, as they didn’t exactly splash the millions at Birmingham City.
To sum up, Allardyce is a good manager and he has done a good job as Hammers boss. I just question whether he has the credentials to cope with the increased expectations that will arise with managing a big club such as West Ham in the distant future.
I would love to know your thoughts on how far you think Allardyce can take the club. Am I being overcritical on ‘Big Sam’ and just scaremongering? Or is there a genuine belief that Allardyce just isn’t a top 6 manager?
Don’t forget to follow me @Matt_of_the_day