What I found most pleasing about West Ham’s 3-1 victory over West Brom over the weekend was not Andy Carroll’s two goals, which I believe he has deserved for all his hard work this season, even if he has on the most part failed to find an end product to his work rate, or even his exceptional finish upon finding the net for the second time in the match, but his rather traditional celebration of blowing kisses into the crowd, which was no doubt an attempt by the lanky striker to ingratiate himself among the Hammers faithful.
Paying homage to Carroll’s surprising celebration aside, the performance in many ways typified West Ham’s season, using the simple but effective game plan of using direct football, organised defending and exceptional work-rate as a means to get results in a style that has become synonymous with Sam Allardyce. Furthermore, the result has all but secured Big Sam’s foreseeable future at the London club, with David Gold announcing yesterday that he, David Sullivan and Allardyce are close to agreeing a contract extension for the Hammers manager, whose current deal is set to expire at the end of the season.
Talks had been put on hold until Allardyce reached the critical 40 point mark in the Premier League – a near mathematical assurance of safety from relegation – but with eight games to go, 36 points and a game in hand, it seems unlikely West Ham will find themselves in the Championship next season.
But it beckons a question which is no doubt already on the minds of the West Ham supporters. Is the brand of football that Sam Allardyce brings and implements really the direction the club wish to be moving in?
Upon taking the role at Upton Park, Big Sam had to deal with his fair share of criticism. The direct style, the reliance upon players such as Carlton Cole and Kevin Nolan, is adverse to the traditions of the East London club, whom for better or for worse during the Hammers’ recent history, have attempted to play in a more attractive, progressive and optimistic manner. Similarly, Allardyce’s inaugural season had its hiccups. Rather than making light work of the English second tier, West Ham eventually earned promotion through the play-offs, despite outweighing the rest of the league in terms of first team quality, resources and finance.
But what matters most is that Allardyce lead the club back to the Premier League, bouncing back in a single season and not falling victim to the traps that have left other clubs that appeared to be top flight institutions, such as Charlton, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and Blackburn Rovers, in complete freefall. Furthermore, West Ham’s return to the top flight has been incredibly successful, and one would argue that the former Bolton and Blackburn manager deserves the reward of a new contract.
I have little doubt that Big Sam would continually be able to steer the Hammers clear of relegation in the coming seasons, as it is after all his specialty, but I can’t help but think that a club of West Ham’s stature, that are moving to a brand new stadium, a former Olympic stadium for that matter, could and arguably should be striving for better than being a low order Premier League club.
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Should Gold and Sullivan offer Allardyce a new deal, it will cement the near future of the club and the first team. Although transfer rumours are based around informal murmurings and hearsay, you get the feeling that the West Ham boss would make Andy Carroll’s loan move a permanent fixture should he have the financial backing to suffice the striker’s transfer in the summer. It’s difficult to come up with a transfer fee for the occasional England man, as his £35million move to Liverpool was arguably as much as £25million over-priced, yet opportunities for Carroll to prove himself at Anfield will now be few and far between under Brendan Rodgers.
But even if Allardyce can’t capture the Geordie target man’s services for the long-term, he’d have to find a striker of a similar mould. The team is tactically geared towards playing in a direct way, and furthermore, key individuals have been brought in to implement that combative long-ball style. Matt Jarvis for example was purchased from Wolves, another side whom under Mick McCarthy played a similar brand of football, whilst Kevin Nolan has forged a career out of Allardyce’s style, often being the focal point of the veteran manager’s teams over the years. Similarly, James Collins, Joey O’Brien, Winston Reid and James Tomkins are hardly defenders you’d associate with playing out of the back.
It’s not that I have a problem with this particular brand of football. It may at times be boring to watch, especially if both teams involved adopt the same mentality, but it is quintessentially English in character, and represents a few unique attributes of the Premier League that makes the English top flight what it is, in terms of the importance of physicality.
Yet, my concern lies more with how far a basic style of football can take you. Tony Pulis, even after bringing players like Charlie Adam and Jermaine Pennant , who possess a bit more craft and flair, has reached a stumbling block at Stoke, and a lack of progress has now turned a section of the Potters’ fan base against him. Similarly at Bolton, Allardyce once flirted with UEFA Cup qualification, but the bubble soon burst and the Trotters found themselves as Premier League bottom half regulars once again.
Similarly, West Ham’s academy is well known for bringing some exceptional talent. Perhaps the club hasn’t been consistent with producing the quality of player as they have through the 1960s and 1990s, but they have made a considerable contribution to the England national team by focusing on home grown players in comparison to other major Premier League clubs. My fear is that the Allardyce methodology will either filter through, and thus create a generation of long ball footballers, whom are already rife throughout the Three Lions set-up, or on the other hand, limit opportunities for academy products to break into the first team because they don’t fit the current mould the Hammers manager has brought to Upton Park.
There is a common trend amongst English fans to tempt their clubs into biting off more than they can chew, and I suppose this article is guilty of the same. I will restate that I have no doubts over Allardyce’s abilities to maintain West Ham’s top flight status; it is rather a few years down the line, and attempting to move the club up to the next level where I can foresee problems emerging.
Moving to the Olympic stadium will bring a flurry of financial revenues to a club that has rather unluckily been held back by monetary issues off the pitch rather than their successes and failures on it. And with those revenues will be the opportunity to sign better, more expensive and more expansive types of player, which unfortunately for Allardyce is where his managerial abilities become slightly redundant. It would be unfair, unwarranted and dishonourable of Gold and Sullivan not to offer their manager a new contract, but keeping the deal reduced to a few years, or even a single season, can only be in the best interests of the club, considering the enormous potential of their future.
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