A few short hours after the dismissal of Slaven Bilić, the appointment of Sam Allardyce as Albion’s new Head Coach was confirmed. For the reasons I explained in my comment piece yesterday, I think the decision to remove the Croat from his post was the wrong one but, given that has happened, what of his replacement?
“Big Sam” as he is known (I was going to say “affectionately known”, but I’m not sure how much affection there is towards him!), evokes an immediate reaction from most football fans, and it’s safe to say that it is not universally popular. However, when looking at his managerial record, it is difficult to argue against his appointment as a short-term fix for club in Albion’s position.
Like Tony Pulis, he can boast a record of never having been relegated from the Premier League, although he did suffer relegation from Division Two with Notts County in 1997 before bringing them straight back up the following season, but unlike the Welshman, he achieved four successive top eight Premier League finishes when he was in charge of Bolton Wanderers including a European campaign in 2005/06.
His Premier League firefighting skills have only been called into action at three clubs. At Blackburn Rovers in 2008/09, the club were 19th in the table when he took over from Paul Ince and he guided them to a 15th-placed finish. He stayed at Ewood Park for a second season, finishing 10th, before being replaced by Steve Kean in December 2010 following the Venky’s takeover.
In October 2015, Allardyce replaced Dick Advocaat at Sunderland with the Back Cats in 19th place with just three points from their opening eight games. It was a close run thing as he struggled to turn things around quickly, but they finished 17th with his former club and local rivals, Newcastle United, being relegated instead.
His third rescue job was for Crystal Palace when he replaced Alan Pardew in December 2016. The Eagles were just outside the relegation zone in 17th and Allardyce, who had only been given a contract until the end of the season, guided them to a 14th place finish before announcing his retirement from football management in May 2017.
He reversed that decision when offered the Everton job in the December of that year. Having been in the bottom half when Allardyce was appointed, the Toffees finished the season in 8th place but he was never popular at Goodison Park, ostensibly for the style of football, and he left in the summer of 2018.
His longest spell at a club other than Bolton was at West Ham United. He took over at Upton Park in the summer of 2011 with the Hammers in the Championship and won promotion in his first season beating Blackpool in the Play Off Final. Despite three mid-table finishes in the Premier League, he was never popular, with his style of football cited as the principle reason, and he left at the end of his contract in the summer of 2015.
There is no doubt that, when you look at the results he has achieved over the years, Sam Allardyce is a successful manager. He was famously one of the earliest proponents of sports science in English football, and certainly one of the first English coaches to employ such analytical tools in the Premier League, but his brash personality turns many people off him and he has a reputation for playing long ball football.
Whether that reputation is fair is up for debate. His teams are certainly defensively organised and he does advocate a level of pragmatism, but he has been known to embrace flair players in a way that Tony Pulis never did with Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff stand-out examples from his time at Bolton Wanderers.
José Mourinho famously described his West Ham side of employing 19th century football, although if the Portuguese was up on his tactical history he would know that the game was far more attack-oriented in its early days, but his meaning was understood.
Personally, I think he will use whatever tactics he feel will give his team the best chance of success – the current Baggies squad is hardly equipped for the long ball game, so it will be interesting to see how he sets the team up.
This is, of course, a return to the Hawthorns for Allardyce. Brian Talbot appointed him as a player-coach in February 1989 and he made one senior appearance for the Baggies, coming off the bench to replace John Thomas in a 5-1 home defeat by Newcastle United in the November of that year. He initially coached and played for the reserves before being promoted to the first team coaching staff in the summer of 1990. He was dismissed, along with Talbot, following the FA Cup defeat by Woking in January 1991.
His first management position was as player-manager of Limerick City in the League of Ireland. He was apparently offered the job after the chairman went down the FA registered coaches list in alphabetical order, but it was a good decision as Limerick were promoted in his one and only season in charge. Spells at Blackpool and Notts County followed before his “break out” move to Bolton Wanderers replacing Colin Todd – he won promotion in his first full season, defeating Albion in the play-off semi-final in 2001, and keeping them in the top flight for the next six seasons before resigning to take up the top job at Newcastle United in May 2007.
As with Blackburn, Allardyce was ousted following a change of ownership – once upon a time, Mike Ashley was popular on Tyneside helped by his decision to replace Big Sam with Kevin Keegan in January 2008.
While he reportedly had a dream to manage the club he supported as a boy, Wolverhampton Wanderers, once a manager, his nirvana was the England job. He came close in 2006 when the FA plumped for Steve McLaren, but he finally got his wish a decade later after his successful season at the Stadium of Light.
That dream was curtailed after just one game, rather unfairly in my opinion, following the sting operation by the Daily Telegraph, but the fact that he was appointed does put him in the top bracket of English coaches even if he could never be described as popular.
That episode did little to dispel the impression that there is something slightly dodgy about Allardyce, originating from his days at Bolton when claims were voiced on BBC’s Panorama that agents paid him illicitly via his son, Craig, in return for the club signing players. He has always denied any wrongdoing and boycotted BBC interviews for a time.
Allardyce the manager is undoubtedly successful but his football, or at least its reputation, may not be to all tastes. Allardyce the man is perhaps hard to like, and his “connection” to Wolves will make that even more difficult for many Baggies fans even if he suggested in his press conference today that he watched Albion just as much in his childhood.
And what of Allardyce the Albion manager? With Bilić, I felt the club had the chance to build something long term that could ultimately bring everyone connected with West Bromwich Albion together, but the owners obviously felt differently. Furthermore, from what I have read in the past couple of days, the breakdown in the relationship dates back several months, and perhaps a long term future for the Croat at the Hawthorns has been unlikely for some time.
Post Bilić, we once again have a short term horizon and Allardyce is probably one of the best short term options available. As the Irishman says in the old joke when asked for directions, I wouldn’t start from here, but here we are.
Big Sam has a proven track record at keeping clubs in the Premier League but, for the club’s decision makers, that is the only outcome that will justify this week’s decisions. I am unconvinced as to whether he can achieve much more at this stage of his career.
While I remain upset at Slav’s dismissal, the whole club must move on and, while I can’t see myself singing Big Sam’s name, just as I never sang Pulis’s, I will continue support the team if not the current ownership.
Moreover, Premier League survival will mean that the club is more likely to be attractive to new owners and that is something all Albion supporters can get behind. Survival is now imperative, it may even be more likely, but I still think the club is in a worse place today than it was on Tuesday.