Sam Allardyce: English football’s Mr ‘If’

Date published: Wednesday 14th October 2015 12:39

Calling Sam Allardyce a very good football manager shouldn’t be controversial, but his own bitterness overshadows his ability…


Self-confidence is a vital tool in football management, a comfort blanket when abuse is being screamed in your direction by thousands of people. There are many more foes than friends in football. Sam Allardyce has turned it into an art form.

The excerpts from his new autobiography are a lengthy testament to that. Sold by The Sun as an insight into the manager, they merely reiterate what we already knew about the man. We are told why, actually, only a PowerPoint presentation stopped him getting the England job, why he got the better of Rafa Benitez, Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho. Allardyce accuses them all of bitterness in turn, each time launching an enormous boulder around his glass palace.

Allardyce saved his most outspoken words for West Ham supporters, who he says have been “brainwashed” by the club: “As soon as I was appointed West Ham manager in 2011 the big debate was whether I would follow the ‘West Ham way’. Fans were being brainwashed into thinking that, historically, the club had a particular style of play which was akin to Barcelona, which was potty. I once called the supporters deluded and I stand by that.”

Until now, we had been treated to a steady dribble of Allardyce’s gripes at his lack of promotion, punctured by that still-memorable quote in September 2010: “I’m not suited to Bolton or Blackburn. I’d be more suited to Inter or Real Madrid. I’d win the double or league every time.” He stayed at Ewood Park for another three months, got sacked and then went to West Ham.

“Working with players, no matter how challenging, is what I’m best at,” Allardyce said during his first press conference as Sunderland manager yesterday. “It’s an addiction, that’s what my wife keeps telling me. I can’t leave it alone. I think it’s what I was put on the planet to do.” Earth should be forever grateful to whichever higher being facilitated his birth.

Unfortunately, self-confidence turns mouldy when left out in the sun, particularly unrequited self-confidence. Allardyce is now not the chippy, chirpy chappy touting himself for the biggest gigs – that 2010 quote was uttered with at least half a tongue inserted in cheek – but the bitter, acrimonious man who feels the game is against him.

Allardyce has now replaced Harry Redknapp as English football’s ultimate Mr ‘If’, cruelly ignored by those in the most power. He is David Brent the salesman, lying on his bed in a motel bedroom, muttering to camera. “They’ll come to me and say ‘You were right all along, you were the right man for this job, you’re the best man for this job. Will you come back?’ I’ll be like, yeah sure how much money have you got? Because this is going to cost you, this is going to cost you.”

For all of Allardyce’s desire of the highest-profile jobs, it’s worth pointing out that he hasn’t even come close. Since leaving Notts County in October 1999, he has been appointed by five different clubs. Their position in the Football League ladder when Allardyce took over: 29th, 13th, 19th, 20th, 19th. Forget the Champions League, he’s never even been appointed by a club in the top half.

Allardyce can talk of maltreatment and conspiracy theories until there are no enemies left to call out, but the reality is far different. There is no mystical anti-Allardyce force blocking him from the boardrooms of the elite, no guards at the gates told to look out for a ‘big lad carrying two types of chips; some in a bag and one on his shoulder’. One football club owner could feasibly cut off his nose to spite his face, but every single one? Over a ten-year period?

As is fair, Allardyce must be praised for the manner of his work. He improved Bolton, he improved Blackburn and he improved West Ham. He is not a bad manager, the opposite in fact, drawing praise from the majority of players who he works with. Does that mean it is his own personality or managerial style that stops him from progressing?

Allardyce may resent his reputation as a purveyor of substance over style, but it’s a well-established tag. Like Tony Pulis, he is the go-to guy for Premier League survival, the man to put out fires rather than set a league alight. Like Pulis, he has never been relegated. He’s the perfect choice for Sunderland’s dire situation, and that’s meant as a compliment.

Furthermore, there’s nothing wrong with what he does. The damaging result of Allardyce’s bleating about his lack of progress is that it undermines his achievements. Constantly reminding the world what you woulda, coulda, shoulda been takes the focus away from what you are.

Now entering the autumn of his managerial career, the bitterness is unbecoming from one of England’s most effective managers of the last 15 years. Just like Harry Redknapp became ‘Arry, Sam Allardyce has become Big Sam. Statler and Waldorf are sat in the theatre, angry about the world changing but refusing to change with it.

Keeping Sunderland up would be yet another Sam Allardyce success story. It’s a shame he will follow it by saying he could have done better than Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool.


Daniel Storey

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