A throw of the Allardyce - Part One

Posted by Peter Thorne

Premier LeaguePA PhotosIs West Ham just a launching pad for Sam Allardyce?

Welcome to the West Ham column: the blog that likes to argue with itself!

Following the remarks about Sam Allardyce by my ESPN partner Vinny, my immediate response to the question ‘Where are West Ham going under Sam Allardyce?’ is ‘Probably nowhere, but should we be surprised?’

You see, although this isn't a particularly popular opinion right now, I see West Ham and Allardyce as a better fit that many think. The cramming of a square peg in a round hole perhaps - but a fit nonetheless.

In the red corner we have West Ham United; a team with a glorious past - though less glorious than many would have you think - a club with a strong tradition and history, a side rooted in an area of London that exudes a solid and vital no-nonsense, working-class ethic, with a footballing ideal that many neutrals have some understanding for and feeling of. It is understood that West Ham try and do things the right way, but this way is likely to see you on you knees in the mud and your face in the dirt a good deal of the time.

In the blue corner, Sam Allardyce; a man with strong self-belief and someone not given to nonsense and hyperbole, a man on nodding terms with tradition and history, but a practical man who thinks there are certain ways to do things and gazing into a dreamy past is not one of them. He is pragmatic, taciturn and not given to outside influences.

But both these opponents need each other currently. Hammers fans may dream of another Greenwood/Lyall combination - although history shows that wasn't always a road paved with gold either - but they just don't have the profile or clout to attract that type of person currently. Sam Allardyce on the other hand has the opportunity to take a middling type of club, looking for growth and expansion and make a name for himself that he currently doesn't have (although he probably thinks he does).

Unquestionably, each would survive without the other - might conceivably even be better off - but both could learn a bit from each other too and, providing a bit of bending ensues, it doesn't neccessarily need to be the poor fit it sometimes seems.

Of course, much is being made in the media about the fact that Allardyce hasn’t been offered an extension to his contract, but we shouldn't read too much into that at the moment. The club claim the manager is happy with the current situation and there's been little leaked to suggest that isn't exactly the case. If West Ham finish in mid-table then I'm sure the board will be reasonably satisfied with the season's outcome, even if some fans have clamoured for a little - some a lot - more.

It's likely the owners will then be trying to illicit a bit more in they way of entertainment for next season but I suspect Sam will readily agree to that if he can get the players he wants. Sam may have his fingers crossed behind his back as he says it, but my guess is even if he and West Ham aren't obvious bedfellows, Sam realises that the Hammers represents a really golden opportunity for him. Like it or not, what Allardyce did or didn't do at Blackburn or Bolton doesn't much matter, but it is the likes of Newcastle and West Ham were he will be later judged, and he really needs to make a statement at Upton Park and, were Sam to leave, it's difficult to see him managing at the very top level elsewhere.

If I was sitting on David Gold's right shoulder at season's end though, I think I'd be asking some questions about the players Allardyce has already signed and which he has not then used.

Players were purchased and abandoned with scant regard in the Championship season and I think most fans - although slightly uncomfortable with the shedding of performers such as Sam Baldock and Nicky Maynard - were of the mind that perhaps they had been found wanting in terms of what would be expected in the Premier League and jettisoned while they were still saleable. In truth though, there had been little visible on the pitch this season to suggest that they couldn't have, at the very least, provided some type of option from the bench.

Both players had been bought, we assumed, with an eye to the future and the possibility that they could 'step up' but it didn't seem, from the terraces at least, if they had been given much opportunity.

When the gulf between the top of the Premiership and the Championship is so big though, the supporters were prepared to go with the flow. But again this season, Madibo Maiga and, more puzzlingly, Matt Jarvis have been benched to allow a system of play that doesn't seem to suit anyone. In the case of Jarvis, a £10m winger with a startling number of successful crosses, the man has often had to watch while his role was taken by what used to be called 'utility' players shoring up a midfield that still seems static, contributing little to a blunt attack and unable to keep a clean sheet at the back. When the key element of a fast and accurate winger is usually to hit a big bloke at the front, the lack of opportunities afforded to Jarvis are puzzling.

It was no secret that Allardyce wasn't able to get all the players he wanted in the transfer window and I'd assume he's been telling the board he needs a couple of full-backs and a creative player with a bit of speed but, again, if it was my money, I might ask why this wasn't looked at before the season began and well before £10m was spent on a player warming a Recaro seat somewhere. Similarly there have been a number of loans that seem to have been discarded early - I've a feeling Chamakh won't be muddying his boots much this spring - and there is an undeniable feeling that we're just lobbing players onto the pitch and hoping someone will come up with something we weren't expecting.

It's unlikely the fan at home or in the stand will ever find out quite what the full machinations are of Sam's mind but I'm pretty sure the owners will make it their job to find out and this is probably what will decide if Sam Allardyce has a future at Upton Park.

I don't think anyone is completely happy about every aspect of this season - the away results are rather ironically a throwback to the times that Sam would have us believe we shouldn't be looking back too - but, providing things don't get worse before season's end, it needs to be remembered that the Premier League is neither an easy place to return too, or stay in.

And West Ham United know that better than most...

(To be continued)


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