West Ham are back in the big time next season after clinching promotion to the top flight via the play-offs under the stewardship of Sam Allardyce, but already they’re being tipped for the drop in various quarters, which to an extent, simply ignores what a good manager they have at the helm, which begs the question, does Allardyce get the credit he deserves?
The modern fascination of winning in style has seen effective managers like Allardyce unfairly criticised for the style of play that their teams play with. Roberto Martinez is lauded at Wigan for the mediocrity he oversees simply because it’s aesthetically pleasing while people like Allardyce are lambasted for achieving just as much but without the panache. Successful football should be all that matters at any club to any fan, if you can incorporate a modicum of craft to the graft, then all the better, but it’s far from a pre-requisite.
Allardyce has managed eight teams in his managerial career to date – Limerick, Preston (caretaker), Blackpool, Notts County, Bolton, Newcastle, Blackburn and West Ham – three of these were in higher divisions by the time he left, with promotions with Notts County, Bolton and West Ham, while he won the league with Limerick.
His eight-year reign as Bolton manager, though, is the one that’s worth remembering most because there he took a team from the lower reaches of the Championship and established them as a top eight side in the Premier League and in 2004-5 they finished as high as sixth. While at the club he brought players such as Youri Djorkaeff, Jay-Jay Okocha, Fernando Hierro and Nicolas Anelka to the Reebok.
After winning promotion courtesy of Ricardo Vaz Te’s injury-time winner against Blackpool at Wembley he stated: “I was considered the top of my industry at Bolton. We were fifth in the Premier League and I had to suffer two sackings that were harsh. It damaged my reputation, but I’m still achieving great things. Bolton, Blackburn and Newcastle in the past all went down. I don’t take any satisfaction from that but I must have done something right at those clubs.”
It’s soundbites such as this and the now infamous throwaway line: “I’m not suited to Bolton or Blackburn, I would be more suited to Inter or Real Madrid. It wouldn’t be a problem to me to go and manage those clubs because I would win the double or the league every time” that give every hack their column inches and increases the negative press. To rate him as a manager, you don’t have to like him as a man. He can be hugely egotistical, and sometimes come across as an arrogant old fool, but he’s definitely someone who gets the job done.
At Bolton, the two times that the club tried a more expansive approach after Allardyce left the club, they suffered relegation under Owen Coyle, while Sammy Lee was sacked after winning just three of his 14 games at the helm with the club firmly entrenched within the relegation zone. It may be something of a pragmatic approach, but achieving what is expected of you is a hugely overlooked quality in a manager these days.
Would Blackburn have ever become the circus show they have under Steve Kean if Allardyce had been at the helm? Of course they wouldn’t. His football isn’t as ugly as his detractors would have you believe, but neither is it as beautiful as the man himself would try and claim. It may be a touch more direct than the punters down at Upton Park have become accustomed to over the years, but the club have suffered two relegations inside a decade from the top flight, so it’s time for a change because something clearly wasn’t working.
Last season, with an expensively-assembled squad and the highest wage bill in the league by some distance, the pressure was on Allardyce to deliver promotion at the first time of asking. Undone by some ropey home form and a penchant for drawing winnable fixtures, they had to go up the hard way as they narrowly missed out on automatic promotion by just two points.
But in the midst of all that, his side went 20 games unbeaten at one point, amassed a respectable total of 86 points, which would have been enough to finish second the year before and pick the confidence up of a bunch of under-performing players while adding a fair share of his own.
The Championship respects winning football above all else over the course of an extremely tough 46 game period, the task now is to add a degree of finesse to the side ahead of the coming campaign. Norwich should act as the blueprint next term for the club – capable of playing it on the deck and the longer stuff if required – but I wouldn’t bet against a top half finish with Allardyce in charge.
Personal objections to the man always lead to the inevitable criticism of his style of play, but when it comes to results, there are few better around than Allardyce and it’s conveniently always an area where critique is few and far between. I would go as far as to say he’s the most underrated manager in England, but that would imply that anyone is as clueless enough to not rate him at all, which judging by his past CV, would seem a tad churlish to say the least.
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