Indeed, the Hammers’ recent successes under their quintessentially English gaffer, propelling them to fourth in table after five wins in nine, including shock rompings of the Citizens and Liverpool, are hard to ignore in a Premier League climate where only six of a potential twenty managers are English – and all of that six finished in the top flight’s bottom half last season or were promoted from the Championship.
The Three Lions gig has been playing on Sam Allardyce’s mind lately. In a recent interview with The Express, he revealed that he was desperate for the job in 2006, before it went to the ‘Wally with the Brolly’, Steve Mclaren, and also outlined hopes of being considered for the job when Roy Hodgson’s future comes under review after Euro 2016.
Allardyce’s meticulous eye for detail is often lost in his obnoxious demeanour and the continuous debates over 19th century football, despite it being one of his obvious strengths. The ‘fat Sam’ moniker doesn’t help much either, as if Allardyce represents nothing more than a loutish, beer-swigging football dinosaur of the Joe Kinnear variety.
But you can’t win five in nine whilst averaging just 46% possession – or for that matter, beat the Premier League’s reigning champions with just 30% of the ball – without an obsessive-compulsive game-plan, without West Ham’s level of scrupulous organisation. All that comes from Allardyce’s preparation and how well it’s translated to the players on the training pitch.
It would be interesting to witness Allardyce attempting to transition that style to international football; the siege mentality, the clinical efficiency, the philosophy of curtailing the opposition by honing in on the specifics rather than attempting to play your own game.
England have played that way under Hodgson at times, but it’s always shrouded in the ambiguity of apologetic undertones. Allardyce on the other hand, would give it a sense of genuine purpose and ideology.
But Big Sam would be wasted as England boss – and not because of what the critics might say. Following a summer window in which he’s transformed West Ham’s fortunes on a budget of just £30million, clearly, unquestionably, undoubtedly and indisputably, Allardyce’s greatest qualities as a manager, by far, are in the transfer market.
Indeed, there’s been a great debate about the evolution of the Hammers’ philosophy this season, as pundits laud the 60 year-old with praise for taking the concerns of the Boleyn boo-boys on board. That’s all waffle, Allardyce doesn’t care about any of that, and statistically speaking, West Ham haven’t changed all that much from last year.
For example, the Irons played a higher percentage of long-passes, 17%, than any Premier League side last season. This term, their long-ball bias remains remarkably similar at 16%. Last season, they recorded the joint-longest average pass length of 21 metres; this season, they’re in joint-second with 20 meters. Last year their average possession was 46%, now it’s up to 47%.
And in classic Allardyce style, six of his side’s 17 goals this season have come from set pieces – the most of any Premier League club.
The real changes have been in personnel and the improved efficiency they provide. Just as Allardyce enriched his battle-hardened Bolton side with a series of astute, high-quality additions, ranging from Jay-Jay Okocha in 2002 to Nicolas Anelka in 2006, he used his impeccable knowledge of the transfer market to completely change the dynamics of the Hammers squad this summer.
Take Alex Song for example, the former Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder whose spent the last nine seasons plying his trade regularly in the Champions League. Brought in a one-year loan deal, after seemingly being rejected by the European elite, did the Premier League witness a better pound-for-pound acquisition this summer? Everyone appears to forgotten that the Cameroonian is just 27 and currently enjoying his peak years, one of which now belongs to the Hammers.
Then there’s the entirely new-look strike-force of Enner Valencia and Diafra Sakho, the former one of the 2014 World Cup’s more notable transfer gems and the latter’s intrinsic role in helping FC Metz return to Ligue 1 since plummeting into the French third tier just two years ago, amassing 39 goals in 70 league appearances, apparently unnoticed by the rest of European football.
Costing the East Londoners around £17million combined, their eight goals has already matched Andy Carroll and Carlton Cole’s entire output from last term. They’re even making Stewart Downing look like a top-class No.10.
Of course, there have been tactical alterations but these can be sourced in recruitment too. It’s often said that full-back is now the most important position on the pitch, and Allardyce swapped both No.2 and No.3 this summer by bringing in Carl Jenkinson from Arsenal and Aaron Cresswell from Ipswich, after claiming twelve assists in his final Championship campaign. A far cry from the more attritional, retro styles of Joey O’Brien and Guy Demel.
Indeed, if you were to compare West Ham’s summer business to the rest of the Premier League in terms of value for money, the only genuine competition would be from Chelsea and Southampton, two of the three clubs currently above the Hammers in the league table. They spent £60million and £30million more than Allardyce respectively.
Allardyce for England would be an intriguing experiment – purely for the sake of public and punditry reaction before anything else. Yet, one that would prevent the 60 year-old from playing to by far his greatest strength. The West Ham gaffer keeps dreaming of Three Lions but it’s time for him to face reality – like it, lump it or loathe it, he’s a club manager – the Premier League’s greatest wheeler-dealer – through and through.