Style vs Substance: Why Sam Allardyce Might Never Get the Recognition He Deserves

COS columnist Tom Victor wonders what Big Sam has done to deserve such an alarming lack of respect.

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When Blackburn Rovers owner Venkatesh Rao announced the shock dismissal of manager Sam Allardyce a few days ago, the decision came with a qualifier which will most likely make painful reading for the former Bolton and Newcastle boss.

It seemed the recent run of four wins from seven games was not enough for Rao and his brother Balaji, who expect a more exciting brand of football than that doled up by Allardyce’s charges on a weekly basis.
While his team have scored 22 goals in 17 games this season – five more than predecessor Paul Ince managed before being sacked at the exact same stage of the season two years ago – it would seem that Allardyce’s reputation precedes him.

A simple-but-effective style won him plaudits in keeping Bolton in the Premier League on numerous occasions, and relief at avoiding the drop also made his rescue mission at Ewood Park in 2008 all the more bearable.
But the 56-year-old boss, who cut his managerial teeth in the far less glamorous surroundings of second-division Blackpool and third-division Notts County, was almost a victim of his own success.
Success with Bolton (where he achieved European qualification for the first time in the club’s history) earned him a move to Newcastle, where he was dismissed for refusing to abandon the playing style which had served him so well throughout his career.

Then, after rescuing Blackburn from near-certain relegation, a minor miracle in itself, he has been expected to perform more miracles with little money to spend and a squad which could well be deemed relegation fodder in different hands.

What’s more, his future destination remains uncertain, with a poll on a fansite of likely suitors West Ham revealing that 78% of supporters would be opposed to the idea of ‘Big Sam’ replacing Avram Grant in the Upton Park hotseat.

What has Allardyce done to warrant less support than a man who has led his team to two league wins from 17, averaging less than a goal a game, and who relegated a Portsmouth side for whom no player scored more than five league goals over the course of a whole season?

True, West Ham fans pride themselves on championing a positive brand of football, and for many of them the stigma attached to Allardyce’s reputation is even less desirable than relegation. But for too many there is a tendency to look upon Big Sam as little more than a caricature of his former self, ignoring the fact that people can (and do) change.

The football press have always been keen to create media personae of managers to make them out as distinct characters, and often the managers themselves play along for a while.

To name but a few, Jose Mourinho is the admired-yet-victimised Bond villain of a coach, Arsene Wenger is the ‘professor’ who champions style over substance, and Harry Redknapp is the honest cock-er-ney wheeler-dealer transfer wizard.

If not quite rising to the bait, Allardyce has at the very least left it hanging on the end of the hook and glared at anyone who has tried to wrest it away. He is a no-nonsense, old-fashioned, straight-talking boss with an English mentality and a well-hidden penchant for foreign flair (something he doesn’t like to bring up much).
Fair enough, Bolton’s first two years in the Premier League and Allardyce’s first year at Blackburn were all about consolidation and the preservation of top-flight status. In short, he had a job to do and went about it in the manner which he felt would achieve results.

Perhaps as a consequence of this, his name has been associated with no-nonsense protégés such as Kevin Davies and Christopher Samba, but we should not forget some of the other players who have been key to his sides’ development.

At Bolton, Allardyce built a team around Jay-Jay Okocha, one of the most entertaining players to ever grace the Premier League, and later accompanied him with the likes of former Real Madrid duo Ivan Campo and Fernando Hierro – two defenders who could hardly be described as proponents of ‘winning ugly.’

Then at Newcastle – alongside some more workmanlike signings – he brought in the skilful (if ultimately ineffective) Geremi and enigmatic frontman Mark Viduka.

Even at Blackburn – working under a limited budget – he has sought whenever possible to inject some flair into a thin-yet-effective squad: his most successful signings to date include another ex-Real Madrid man in Michel Salgado and two dynamic strikers in Nikola Kalinic and the on-loan Mame Biram Diouf.

Unfortunately we will never know whether Allardyce could have taken Blackburn further with a little more money to spend, as the club’s owners patently do not trust him with the transfer budget they intend to make available for his successor (Diego Maradona?) in January.

After failing to escape the shackles of his prior reputation since leaving Bolton, perhaps we will see him retreat into his shell and take a more comfortable job where survival and long-term consolidation is all that is expected of him.

It may not seem as though that is the sort of thing Sam Allardyce would do, but then again few thought he could turn Bolton into a moderately entertaining top-half side. Of course, some will say he never did that either, but that’s a story for another time.

To read more from Tom Victor visit his excellent blog Pele Confidential by CLICKING HERE

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