By Philip Benton @paolobento
Sam Allardyce is not a bad football manager, he never has been. A quick glance at his CV and it’s no coincidence that his former clubs have fallen from grace since his departure, just ask any Bolton or Blackburn supporter. Which is why the two Daves’ decision to firstly appoint and secondly keep faith in Big Sam at West Ham is one well justified.
The problem Big Sam (I wouldn’t say that to his face) has always had is a perception that his football style is negative, but if you delve into the detail you’d find that isn’t actually true. When you’ve signed the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha, Yakubu and Nicolas Anelka you can’t be accused of not having real flair in your team. Allardyce organises his style of play around his players and if the stars in your team happen to be Kevin Davies, Kevin Nolan and Rahad Jaidi then you wouldn’t expect to see them playing tiki-taka.
At the start of this season, Big Sam was one of the bookmakers’ favourites to lose his job despite having guided West Ham to promotion at the first time of asking and comfortably keeping the club in the Premier League for successive seasons. The West Ham fans are a demanding bunch (I should know being one myself) and calls for his head were judged not on results but on a style of football which was not akin with the ‘West Ham’ way despite injuries to key players forcing Allardyce’s hand.
Allardyce has been unfortunate in recent transfer windows that he has never been backed 100% in signing the kind of players he wants to provide real quality and depth to a relatively small squad. This pre-season was different with Big Sam able to bring in nine players during what proved to be a busy summer with real exciting talent added to the squad including Enner Valencia, Cheikhou Koyaté and perhaps the stand-out purchase, Alex Song.
Last season, the injury of star striker Andy Carroll was a massive blow to a team built around the then 24 year old but similar circumstances this season have if anything galvanised the squad with new strikers Mauro Zarate, Diafra Sakho and Enner Valencia all getting on the scoresheet early in their West Ham careers.
A switch in tactical formation has brought out the best in Stewart Downing with the 30-year-old excelling in his new role at the tip of a diamond midfield, with many surprised at the lack of a recall to the England squad. There has been a style and swagger to the West Ham victories this season over Liverpool, Crystal Palace and QPR as a well as a thrilling draw at Hull with West Ham fans witnessing the kind of football they crave, winning AND entertaining.
There is much optimism in the air around Upton Park these days with the forthcoming move to the Olympic Stadium in 2016 starting to generate genuine excitement in West Ham supporters revelling in their new-look side. You could argue that Big Sam has been lucky that all his new signings have gelled quickly and started so promisingly but credit where credit is due. It might be a lesson to some club owners that sometimes backing the manager, both on the pitch and in the transfer market, can let them build on their initial groundwork and achieve real success.
Football supporters (and West Ham fans in particular) are incredibly fickle so a couple of bad performances could swing opinion back to thinking it’s once again the ‘dark ages’. Big Sam can just hope that his dreams of managing West Ham at the Olympic Stadium, unlike the club’s famous anthem, don’t fade and die.