The Strange Idea Of Sympathy For Big Sam

Nick Miller doesn't want to feel sorry for Sam Allardyce, but if Davids Gold and Sullivan continue their game of brinksmanship he might have to. It's a tricky situation for all...

Last Updated: 31/07/14 at 09:52 Post Comment

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Sympathy is an odd thing. In theory, you should feel the same whenever anyone loses their wallet, or twists an ankle, or has their house burgled - these are human misfortunes, you are a human being, you should recognise that misfortune is bad in all cases. Of course it doesn't work like that, and if Racist Jim from down the street suffers a mishap of some description, you're going to feel differently than if the same thing happens to your sister.

So it's rather confusing to feel something approaching sympathy for Sam Allardyce. This is a man who has, for the past 15 years or so, produced some of the most ugly and needlessly aggressive football that we have had the misfortune to see. A man with such a high opinion of himself that he seems utterly baffled that he doesn't have one of the biggest jobs in the country, and who treated West Ham fans with no little contempt last season when they were impudent enough to ask for more than the gruel he was feeding them. And it's probably best not to get started on his agent.

In summary, he's a man difficult to feel sorry for. However, the pangs of that most unwelcome feeling have started over this summer, as West Ham have gradually undermined Allardyce to such an extent that it's looking more and more difficult for him to do his job, and that he now looks like an emasculated version of his former self. A little like the Disney version of 'Aladdin', when Jafar turns Princess Jasmine's pet tiger into a tiny cub. Don't argue - it's exactly like that.

Davids Gold and Sullivan spent some time at the end of last season mulling over whether they should dismiss Allardyce, which seemed to present two clear paths: either get rid of a man who brought ugly results and bring in someone who might make Upton Park a slightly nicer place to visit, or stick with their man and his methods. Instead, they chose mystery option number three, which was to keep Allardyce in place, but ask him to change everything and produce entertaining, attacking football.

It was slightly surprising that the big man didn't flounce out there and then (just imagine Sam flouncing - he'd knock at least two pictures off the wall and perhaps break a light fitting), but presumably a large neon sign saying 'PAYOFF' started flashing in his head, and instead it just feels like he decided to wait around to be sacked.

Gold and Sullivan wanted a change, but out of some sort of odd loyalty, or perhaps even just to protect their proud reputation as men who don't sack managers, they didn't. Instead of actually making a change that might be effective for the club, they have just tried to alter the way their manager has gone about things for his entire career, and have only succeeded in completely undermining him. Call it ambitious, call it loyal, call it a refreshing change to simply ripping things up and starting again, call it perverse - the one thing it certainly is, is bloody weird.

The choice seemed simple: if they didn't want Allardyce, they should have binned him and found someone they did want, but it now seems as if this is some giant game of chicken, that Allardyce and his employers are staring each other down to see who will break first. It's being played out in the media too, with stories strategically leaked about contrasting attitudes to Ravel Morrison, about the style of play, that nonsense about David Gold favouriting someone's tweet and with various arch comments made by both parties.

By far the funniest of that latter category came when Allardyce said, about this new fancy attacking style of play, that it "seems to be what's demanded in the game now", as if entertaining football was an outrageous, modern and needlessly flamboyant concept. It made him sound like an old man peering inquisitively at an iPod, mumbling something about having only just got used to those Walkmen things. You half expected the nice people from that Barclays advert who teach the old boy how to use Skype to pop up and explain how a fluid 4-3-3 works, without a 6'4" centre-forward.

Pretty football just doesn't suit Sam Allardyce. It isn't him. It's as if West Ham have started dating Courtney Love but asked her to take elocution lessons and maybe put that bottle of Jack Daniels down. Gold and Sullivan knew what they were getting when they appointed Allardyce, and if they didn't then they certainly do now.

Allardyce is being asked to stop doing the job he's been doing for his whole career and has achieved relative success with, and start doing one with which he's entirely unfamiliar. Oh, and if it doesn't work, he's sacked. To expect that to work is simply unrealistic, and that's why it's becoming increasingly plausible to feel sorry for him. But not for too long, obviously.

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