Sam Allardyce – football’s Oliver Twist

25 Oct

It is a gritty, but nevertheless accurate, fact that the best looking orphans get adopted first out of the orphanage.  One would think that some sort of “cab-rank” rule applies when it comes to something as important as adoption.  However, apparently this isn’t the case.  Too Good is unable to explain why would-be surrogates apply an aesthetic rigour to their decision-making, but the facts remain to be as they are – the munters get left on the subs’ bench.

Sam Allardyce knows exactly what it’s like to be unloved on aesthetic grounds.  The man from Dudley is football’s answer to brutalism.  Sure, there will be a few outcriers who see a beauty in Big Sam’s interpretation of football, but most of us just think it’s a big concrete mess.  A style of play that ought to have been torn down and reconstructed at the same time as Manchester’s old Arndale Centre was.

As sure as those less appealing orphans are left with a life-time of emotional scarring, so too has Big Sam been rendered damaged and hurt from being consistently overlooked.  A big tear rolls down his big cheek every time he sees a coach with a fitted suit and a more fluid style of play get plucked from the orphanage of crap football teams and nestled into one of the warm, cozy homes of the premiership elite.

The impact this has had on Big Sam is palpably evident.  You only have to scratch the surface to see the wounds:

“I won’t ever be going to a top-four club because I’m not called Allardici, just Allardyce.”

Sam Allardyce.

These aren’t the words of a defiant underdog; unapologetic for his misunderstood genius.  This is a statement laced with the brittle nomenclature of a damaged psyche.  Unresolved emotional trauma that won’t loosen its grip.  Sam’s stuck in the orphanage, and those idiot Top 4 foster parents just keep on picking more superficially attractive managerial alternatives.

It’s the final two words of the quote that yank the heart strings quite so taut.  “Just Allardyce”.  Leave them off and Sam might just have gotten away with a droll observation, evincing a wry smile and a wink from the assembled hacks.  Throw in the last two words and suddenly you’ve got a desperate and isolated man, struggling to control a wobbly lip.  Just Allardyce.  Just Allardyce.  Just plain old Sam Allardyce, nothing to see here.  Referring to oneself in the third person is usually an example of arrogance.  When used for the purpose of self-pity it’s just plain upsetting.

How did he end up feeling so unloved?  Maybe the quote was a defensive reaction; natural for a man who was sacked from his first permanent managerial post by a chairman sat in a prison cell at the time.  Maybe it’s the sniggering he hears when, trying to sound tech-savvy, he makes reference to analysing games on his laptop.

Preston, Blackpool, Notts County, Bolton, Blackburn.  Big Sam’s career reads like a Who’s Who of places you wouldn’t want to live in the north of England.  Newcastle was supposed to be his big break.  A team with a huge following and, finally, some real money to spend.  This was destined to be the final stepping stone before Allardyce was installed at a Champions League team.  Sadly, it turned out to be a tiny Toon adventure, lasting barely eight months.  Newcastle fans sang “You should have stayed at the Reebok” and “Sacked in the morning” at him.

Those cruel words must have still been ringing in Allardyce’s ears when he was sacked again 24 months into his next position, this time at Blackburn.  Quite the transformation for a manger whose stock was soaring when he left Bolton in 2007.  Three years on and Sam was running out of filing space for his rapidly accumulating p45s.

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It’s hard to understand why Allardyce doesn’t resonate more with our footballing public.  Certainly, no-one can doubt his Anglo-Saxon credentials.  Here is a man so quintessentially couched in the British elements of the game that even his jowls look like a flat back four.  Maybe it’s the denial as to who he truly is, and what he truly stands for, that sticks in the craw.  There’s an air of intellectual honesty to men like Jack Charlton, Mick McCarthy and Tony Pulis.  Men whose brand of football is as unattractive as the ginger one from Girls Aloud, but who make no protestations to the contrary. 

Not so, for Big Sam.  I don’t know if he’s trying to kid us or himself, but there’s a level of hypocrisy bordering on wilful blindness with Allardyce.  He rails against accusations of direct, turgid football but then goes and signs a front two battering ram of Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll[1].  He’s the dog that craps all over the kitchen floor and then gives it the old “What, me guvnor?” routine when his owner comes home.  You’re fooling no-one, Sam.  And no amount of references to being a “pioneer of using Prozone in football management” will persuade us to the contrary.

Allowing Allardyce the reins at a club like West Ham was the final straw for many.  Everybody loves the Hammers.  Easy on the eye, rich in history and never actually quite good enough to ruffle the feathers of other teams.  Yet here, at the club synonymous with Sir Trevor Brooking and Bobby Moore, we were forced to witness the convergence of Andy Carroll, Kevin Nolan and Carlton Cole in order to play out the logical end-game of Allardyce’s bleak philosophy.  It was like handing Peter Stringfellow the keys to a listed building.

————

In the interests of balance, Allardyce has had his moments in the sun and we shouldn’t let that be forgotten.  “Bolton Wanderers finishing in the top 6” was a phrase few of us thought we would ever hear.  The last time Bolton were good enough to qualify for non-domestic duties, the concept of “European competition” was an entirely different affair that involved tanks and rationing.  Allardyce managed it, though. 

Again now at West Ham, despite the desecration of such holy ground, he returned the Irons to the top flight at the first attempt and finished 10th the following year.  In addition to usually one or both of Kevin Nolan and El Hadj Diouf, Allardyce brings stability to the table.

To quote Clive Owen in the motion picture Sin City, maybe Allardyce just had the rotten luck of being born in the wrong century.  I haven’t seen any footage of Allardyce in his playing days, but it is unlikely that he ever wore pink boots.  He’s an old-fashioned cannon in an era of drones and heat-sensitive missiles.  If he had been born thirty years earlier, he’d have probably been the England manager.

————

The success of his time at Upton Park will likely now define Allardyce’s premiership career.  He did the business at Bolton, was booted out at Newcastle, and then walked into a lunatic asylum at Ewood Park (a spell from which we can conclude very little).  A positive report card at West Ham and you would have to concede that, on balance, his methods get results. 

Ultimately, though, I don’t think it is results that Allardyce craves.  It’s acceptance that he’s after.  It’s understanding.  It’s an arm around his Big shoulder.  More than anything, the ugly duckling from the midlands just needs a little love.  He just needs to be told “it’s not your fault” ten or eleven times, in the manner that Robin Williams did to Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting, so that he can have a good cry and release the demons that have plagued him for so long.

So here it is.  I love you, Sam.  Not massively, it has to be said.  And not in a particularly wholesome way, either.  But you seem to be able to consistently get results at a certain level within the game.  If I supported any team in the bottom half of the premiership, I’d be happy to have you as manager.  Newcastle were idiots to get rid of you so quickly.  And their fans sarcastically chanting “Big Sam for England” wasn’t right.  If I could have stopped them, I would have. 

I’d much prefer it if you didn’t sign players like Andy Carroll.  But such acquisitions are inextricable with your view on how the game needs to be played.  I accept that.  You could probably tone down the general levels of sarcasm in your interviews.  It gets weary season after season.  And stop talking about your laptop like you work for NASA – we’ve all got one.  But these are small things.  You’re not insufferable, Sam.  You’ll never irritate people to anywhere near the levels that Alan Pardew manages to achieve.  You’re not Alan Pardew, Sam.  You hear me?  You’re not Alan Pardew. 

You’re a good kid. 

Hopefully this provides you with some solace.

————————————————————————–

“Please sir, I want two uncompromising centre-forwards.”


[1] While spending a short period of time in the U.S. playing for the Tampa Bay Rowdies, it may stun you to learn that Allardyce was a student of gridiron and subsequently applied many of the practices and techniques into association football.

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4 Responses to “Sam Allardyce – football’s Oliver Twist”

  1. Anonymous October 30, 2013 at 4:36 pm #

    An interesting read. I will try to put across the why Big Sam will never get a top job arguments as concisely as I can (N.B. declaring conflict of interest as a Newcastle fan):

    1. ADAPTING STYLES OF PLAY – Big Sam has done an excellent job in consistently managing “small” (not meant in a patronising way; just teams of more limited financial resources, size of support and track record of success) teams which have “punched above their weight”. It is fair to state that his Bolton and Blackburn teams overachieved relative to their resources and the quality of the players. I don’t think West Ham fall into that category due to the sums of money he has spent in both getting them up and keeping them up. However, the one time where he had an opportunity to manage a “bigger” (again, not a misguided Geordie view of Newcastle’s place in the world, but relating to both the financial resources made available to Allardyce, the players he had available and the size of the fan base and expectation i.e. Allardyce cannot claim he is worthy of managing a “big” club yet complain about the fan expectations that come with the job) he messed it up. He tried to just “plug” better players into the same system he used at Bolton (i.e. Viduka for Davies, Owen for Diouf etc). He spent large amounts of money on Alan Smith and Abdoulaye Faye to play central midfield and got rid of the more technically gifted Emre and Scott Parker (I am not Parker’s biggest fan, thinking he tends to play sideways and is overrated, but he is certainly more talented than Smith or Faye). Moreover (and as we’ve previously discussed, far more criminal), he played Michael Owen wide as part of a front three. As much as Newcastle fans (justifiably) are aggrieved at the level of Owen’s commitment to Newcastle (particular in the last couple of months of his contract the year we got relegated as he played in a manner suggesting he was trying to protect himself from injury so to not jeopardise his free transfer to Man Utd) for the period he was at the club he was comfortably the club’s most potent and talented attacking player. If you read comments from Owen subsequently, he suggests that Allardyce’s tactical gems consisted of using his (and Obafemi Martins’) pace to pressurise full-backs with their backs to their own goals and win throw-ins. It may have been more helpful on working out ways to get Owen in behind defences to, well, score. Basically, there is no evidence to suggest that Big Sam can get his teams to play a different way.

    • Anonymous October 30, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

      2. RESULTS – Newcastle’s results under Big Sam were no better than (or indeed worse than) Glenn Roeder. Newcastle fans are not ignorant – if Big Sam had pushed us to the verge of the top 4, 5, 6 teams by playing direct but effective football the majority of fans would probably have accepted that (don’t allow the idiots who Sky Sports News always manage to find hanging around the ground at 3pm in the afternoon to be representative of the fan base as a whole). However, to see a large financial outlay result in no improvement in results but a considerable downturn in the quality of football, it is not unreasonable for the fans to voice their dissatisfaction.

      The argument that Newcastle would never have gone down if Allardyce was manager is not credible either. The statement itself is probably correct. However, the context is misleading. Newcastle would not have been relegated if Kevin Keegan had remained manager. Newcastle would not have been relegated if Glenn Roeder had still been manager. Indeed, despite a bit of a scare Alan Pardew kept Newcastle in the top flight relatively comfortably in the end last season. Newcastle got relegated because the club was a shambles and Joe Kinnear and Alan Shearer had the manager duties between them for almost the entire season. The same argument goes for his replacement by Steve Kean at Blackburn btw (although to be honest, I think there is a decent chance Blackburn would have got relegated with Allardyce in charge because under Venky’s Blackburn are a basket case i.e. lucky escape for Big Sam there).

      4. THE SIZE OF HIS HEAD – physically, not metaphorically. You just cannot imagine Man Utd, Chelsea etc being managed by someone whose bonce is so disproportionately large. The aesthetics just don’t work.

      3. ARROGANCE – put simply, Big Sam rubs people up the wrong way. His claim that he was as capable of managing Real Madrid as Mourinho. The Allardyci comment (which I don’t think was meant to have a comic angle but was in Big Sam’s mind a legitimate point). The fact he effectively labelled Newcastle’s fans thick (accurate or not, in any profession insinuating your customers are not the brightest is unlikely to be a wise long-term career move). His consistent claims that he considers himself as or better qualified than other contenders for the England manager’s position.

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