The barracking of West Ham by their own fans following a 2-1 victory over Hull was the defining moment of their season. It was a second season of frustration in the Premier League as the reality of being a smaller club in England’s top tier sank in. It was a season in which the team struggled to score and their £15m striker lay injured.
But more than anything, it was a season in which the fans ran out of patience with their manager’s methods.
West Ham and Allardyce were never a good fit. The West Ham fans believe in all the mystic that surrounds the ‘Academy of Football’ title that emblazons the walls of Upton Park. Allardyce couldn’t care less about such dross. How important a factor tradition should be in a game that is already so corrupted by money is debatable, but it’s clear that manager and fans stand on different ends of the spectrum in this case.
Allardyce doesn’t think his teams play ‘bad football’ but ‘winning football’. And if they can’t win, they’ll try and draw. There’s nothing wrong with taking a pragmatic approach to the game – Jose Mourinho, the most celebrated manager of modern times, applies similar methods – and West Ham can’t claim that this not what they expected when the appointed Allardyce.
However, when Allardyce was appointed, West Ham were in a very different situation. The club had just been relegated to the Championship and their financial situation was dire. An immediate return to the Premier League was required in order to stem the blood flow. A season out of the Premier League was a bad. Two would be a disaster.
West Ham were desperate and they saw hope in Allardyce. His simple football was accepted while the team were winning promotion back the Premier League and for the first season of their return. However, safety achieved and club stabilized, the West Ham fans have become dissatisfied with what they see as a poorer form of the game.
The brief for Allardyce is now to keep the team in the Premier League while playing more attractive football. Mark Hughes has shown it can be done at Stoke by taking an unfancied side to mid-table whilst simultaneously improving the quality of football they played. This is Mark Hughes, the same guy who was in charge of that Blackburn team who regularly arranged brawls at Ewood Park on Saturday’s at 3pm. If Hughes can change, surely Allardyce is capable of it also.
But it’s quite clear Hughes is no Allardici. This is the man who claimed he would be ‘better suited’ to managing Real Madrid when he was at Blackburn Rovers. This is the same man who claimed that he’d get a ‘top four job’ if he had a more foreign sounding name.
A man with this sort of supreme confidence does not change his ways just because some people are bored with them. No. His reaction to hearing his team booed off after victory was not to cower and recoil in self-doubt but to cup his ear defiantly in mock disbelief.
Allardyce is not in football to entertain but to earn the personal vindication that comes with success. For Allardyce, playing unattractive football is a small price to play for victory, and this is not going to be changed by what he sees as the ungrateful attitudes of the few.
West Ham fans’ patience with Allardyce appears to be spent and it’s hard to see how the relationship can last the season. Baring a challenge for European football led by an Andy Carroll playing like a man who once cost £35m, don’t expect Allardyce to be West Ham manger come the end of the season.
But then don’t expect him to be Real Madrid manager either.