It was never easy to understand why Dick Advocaat postponed his retirement to face another relegation battle with Sunderland. He’d ticked the box of managing in the Premier League and ensured the Black Cats’ safety. What he hadn’t done was move the team forward. It was as if both manager and club were stuck with no idea what to do next.
After eight winless league games Sunderland came out of their stasis, agreed to part terms with Advocaat, and brought in Sam Allardyce. Suddenly a team that looked like dead certs for the drop have renewed hope. Big Sam may not excite fans in the same way other managerial appointments do but he has a good track record of making sides more than the sum of their parts.
Under Advocaat Sunderland may have got a big name, with title winning sides in four countries, but he was an unknown quantity in a major league. Statistically his return has been worse than his recent predecessors with a win rate of 21%, it had been 33% last season but the terrible start saw it decline fast.
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Paolo Di Canio only managed 23%, the same as the short term option of Ricky Sbragia, Steve Bruce 30%, Gus Poyet 31% and Martin O’Neill 32%. The figures don’t fluctuate too much which is another worrying sign for Sunderland. Regardless of who they have handed over power to the direction hasn’t changed much.
This is where Big Sam is a fresh alternative. You’ll never hear him talk about projects or philosophies, he understands football is about getting results. Long before the use of technology and stats were widespread in football he was using them to maximise all the information at his disposal. His teams may have lacked flair but they have been the thorn in many tops sides over the years with their mechanical-like efficiency.
Instead of looking for a false messiah Sunderland have hired the everyday working class man. There are no miracles in Allardyce’s locker, just hard work and graft. It’s reported he’s not always the easiest man to be around, he has certainly rubbed up former employers the wrong way, so it’s even more of an achievement that he can get results without needing to be loved.
With his way of working he managed to take a Bolton side that were mid-table in the second tier to fifth in the Premier League, eventually giving them European football. His eight years there proving chairman should show patience. Without him they started to plummet and today find themselves occupying a relegation spot in the second tier and suffering massive debts.
He left Wanderers for Newcastle United, believing it to be a golden opportunity to manage a big club but the fans there didn’t take to his methodical approach. The Geordies almost give the impression they would rather lose and never take home a trophy than win without excitement. After eight months he left them placed eleventh in the Premier League.
At Blackburn the task wasn’t unlike the new one he faces now. They were struggling in a relegation spot and needed saving. He did this and guided them to tenth. The following season the Venky’s Group proved they should stick to chickens and sacked him. Rovers now sit mid-table in the Championship.
With West Ham United he performed a similar feat to his Bolton days, bringing them up to the Premier League and stabilising the club. He only managed 114 games for the Hammers compared to 226 for Bolton so it’ll never be known how far he could have taken them. The fans had become restless with his style of play which meant he was always on borrowed time. Here Big Sam was unlucky. Being criticised for not playing “the West Ham way” must have been baffling. The West Ham way for decades has been to yo-yo, not go on flamboyant title runs. He must have thought his way had been an improvement.
Big Sam can be the difference Sunderland have needed for years. They have a backbone of players more than capable at this level. Jermain Defoe brings experience and goals, younger players like Jack Rodwell and Adam Johnson have points to prove and reputations to restore.
Historically Sam Allardyce doesn’t fail. He may underwhelm, annoy or antagonise, but he always moves clubs in the right direction. After a few seasons at Sunderland there’s no reason he can’t be in the hat for the England job, he’s good at going from one mission impossible to the next.