Following a Premier League campaign in which West Ham averaged just 1.3 goals per match at home, equating to a rather shocking £25 per goal for the punters, Sam Allardyce will be entering a baptism of fire next season unless he uses the summer transfer window as an opportunity to evolve the Hammers’ disturbingly attritional style.
A sedated Premier League victory over a 10-man Hull City back in March was met by a rapture of jeering angst around Upton Park, whilst co-chairman David Gold has reportedly charged the under-fire Hammers boss with the task using a £20million summer warchest to bring in players that will appease the fans by transforming the East Londoners’ philosophy into something more commendable.
The Boleyn boo-boys will have little faith in Allardyce meeting their demands for a higher quality of football. After all, the 59 year-old has continuously championed his war-like tactics throughout spells at Bolton, Newcastle and Blackburn, and despite three years of continuous uproar from the West Ham fan base regarding their club’s playing style, they are yet to receive any evidence that Allardyce has actually listened to their growing concerns. Rather, any open discussion on the subject is met with the traditional stonewall response of results taking priority.
Yet, amid all this justified grievance towards the West Ham gaffer, it’s been long forgotten that he is indeed one of the transfer market’s undisputed masters. That characteristic hasn’t been quite so prevalent during Allardyce’s East London tenure, but it was a hallmark of his eight-year stay at Bolton Wanderers.
And in my opinion, that career-defining spell at the Reebok produces enough evidence to suggest that, despite Allardyce’s obvious ideological alliance to route-one football, he is still the right man to bring West Ham’s ’19th Century Football’ up to date with the rest of the Premier League.
When Big Sam took the Wanderers to the top flight in 2001, his first task was to make them as defensively mean as possible. But the Bolton side that recorded a 6th-place Premier League finish and simultaneously reached a League Cup final four years later contained such aesthetic talents as Ivan Campo, Jay-Jay Okocha, Stelios Giannakopoulos and Fernando Hierro, all of whom brought international class to the Reebok stadium. That summer, Hidetoshi Nakata, the greatest technical talent Asia had to offer at the time, also joined the Bolton ranks, and a year later Nicolas Anelka followed suit.
To say Allardyce’s Bolton were football purists or tica-taca forbearers would be untrue, but to claim long-ball football was the only weapon in their armoury would be an equal fallacy. Rather, the Reebok outfit’s blend of quality footballers, mean athletes and accomplished defenders made them a multi-dimensional side that could play in a variety of ways. The fans were happy and results were exceptional.
What took place at the Reebok was a slow yet steady evolution, with its driving force Allardyce’s ambition and astuteness in the transfer market. Once the solid basis of a Premier League side was established, Big Sam began to pepper it with established names boasting natural pedigree and great technical quality.
There is no reason why the Hammers boss can’t replicate that process at Upton Park – Mark Hughes’ successful transition at Stoke City this season, even improving the Potters’ league position despite prior concerns that changing their Tony Pulis-inspired mentality would inevitably result in relegation, is further evidence that players of Premier League quality can adapt and change to new demands.
After all, the fans do not desire unnecessary upheaval that could eventually cost the club it’s Premier League status – they just want evidence of long-term planning and a greater ambition than simply top flight safety. In two years time, West Ham will move to a new ground that gives them the fifth-largest capacity in the Premier League, yet, as the current philosophical situation stands, the Olympic Stadium will be home to a brand of football more acquainted with League One.
Furthermore, it’s not as if the current West Ham squad requires a drastic overhaul in order to meet the fans’ wishes. Ravel Morrison, Mark Noble Stewart Downing and Matt Jarvis are all talented footballers capable of playing in a more attractive, fluid style, whilst their backline remains one of the most impressive defensive units outside of the Premier League’s top four.
The confirmed signing of quick and versatile forward Mauro Zarate, boasting netting prowess and stereotypical South American flair, is already a step in the right direction. And of course, the Hammers couldn’t ask for a better or more popular attacking coach than fan favourite Teddy Sheringham, who was officially appointed with the role last month.
If Sam Allardyce can use the summer window and his £20million budget to bring West Ham a step closer to what he eventually achieved at Bolton, then the chorus of discontent surrounding Upton Park will be brought to an end. The fans do not expect their club to be transformed into the next Barcelona overnight, but they do – and quite rightly so – demand progress.
Allardyce’s Bolton tenure proves he’s the right man to evolve the Hammers style, and the fact no manager knows the club better than him remains an intrinsic advantage. Should the 59 year-old fail or refuse to do so however, he only has himself to blame for the inevitable consequences.