Football is a funny old game. some people buy into mythology surrounding a club. One of the myths certain people buy into is the ‘tradition’ of a club in terms of the way it plays. Hankering to a golden era of football where the style was dynamic, always on the deck with scintillating moves, etc. Some clubs deserve that tradition, clubs like Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspurs for whom you could virtually pick any era from the 1950’s onwards and more likely than not they’ll have the reputation for ‘playing the game the right way’.
West Ham United. The Academy of Football. Apparently. 1960’s sure – the Greenwood years and his ‘doctrine’ and ‘principles’. John Lyall succeeding in the 1970’s and 1980’s kept it going to an extent. From then on, though, lets face it, Harry Redknapp did bits and bobs, but seriously other than that they’ve been living off memories. This season in particular highlighted that if the place were an academy it would have to be assessed as one of those failing schools. Avram Grant maybe a ‘nice guy’ but he sadly epitomised a saying of where ‘nice guys’ end up. Not only that the team hardly played ‘nice’ football, and more importantly they don’t play effective football, because it’s all well and good playing ‘fancy dan’ football, but if you’re not winning games you tend to end up … well … in the same position as West Ham United.
So now the Hammers are at a crossroads and their controversial owners have made a decision. They have not made the decision to be popular with the fans, which to be fair is playing right along with their style of ownership to this point – disrespecting Zola at the end of last season, sacking the guy unceremoniously, appointing Grant, keeping him over the January period, coming out with crazy statements in the media and sacking Grant unceremoniously – these guys were obviously not brought up to treat things and people ‘right’. So you’d think I’d be among those with eyebrows raised and question marks over the decision they’ve made.
In support of the eyebrows raised if you buy into the myth of the Academy of Football then ‘with the greatest of respect’, Allardyce is not your man. His managerial career does not suggest he’s a principled guy in the Wenger mode. It does appear as though he couldn’t care less if the ball is passed on the ground or punted in the air to clear it. Having said that, I don’t necessarily see him as a ‘long-ball merchant’ – how can you say that after seeing the impact that skillful players like Djorkaeff and Okocha had on the side? Sure he was methods were direct in terms of utilising a guy like Kevin Davies, but it’s good management to make the most of the players you have.
This gets to the heart of why I actually think that the owners have made the right decision. (Yeah, even I had to do a double take when I thought it through. I thought the phrase ‘good decision’ and the current West Ham owners would never be used in the same sentence. Just goes to show.) I felt Allardyce was badly treated at both Newcastle United and eventually Blackburn Rovers. He may not have fit in at a bigger club in Newcastle but the thing was a joke in terms of the ownership there. (Where have I seen that before?) As for Blackburn the problem there was … hold on a minute, this is familiar … the owners again. Allardyce is a highly rated manager for a reason. He is able to make teams hard to beat, hard working, hard in the tackle and hard in their discipline. The joke at Blackburn was that anyone and his Aunt would have seen that Allardyce was well on his way to establishing Blackburn in the same way as he did with Bolton as a top ten side competing for those lucrative European places and being a safe mid-table side.
That is what Allardyce can guarantee to virtually any side of that nature. That’s why he’s a superb selection for a side like West Ham. No I don’t think he will bring a fantasy football that has fans drooling. Neither do I think he’ll make them a thug hard-life team that gets the ball and hoofs it. I think if given the opportunity and the space to do so he will make West Ham United hard to beat and promotion favourites. I may not be a big fan of the way the man comes across in the media – and I am not – but I cannot deny the man’s ability and record in a club that treats the guy right.
Funnily enough with his history of owner ‘challenges’ I’d like to think that now the owners will shut up and let the man handle things. To their credit they did that at Birmingham City to a degree, which is why they talked about rarely sacking a manager. Grant was not that strong a manager and definitely didn’t have the media clout and wherewithal to look after himself. You’d think that Allardyce with his experience won’t be jerked around by the Sullivan/Gold/Brady triumvirate. I’d like to think that with the ‘club’s best interests at heart’ the owners would just give the man the room he needs to get the job done. Sam’s big challenge, however, is to get the fans behind him, which as Roy Hodgson found it, is a crucial factor if you want to keep your job. Initial reactions are a bit like the video below and I get the impression that if Sam doesn’t do the job then he will lose it, and this time he may not have the owners to blame. I hope he defies the odds on that score.