If the two men in charge of West Ham sack Sam Allardyce at the end of the season (and it’s being reported as being more than likely) it will spell the end of the reign of a most bullish and divisive manager. Big Sam’s been there since 2011 and his time at West Ham could only really be described as successful. In his first season, playing in the Championship, Allardyce secured an instant Premier League return for the Hammers, something only 15 of the 61 teams that have been relegated have managed since the Premier League began. He has fashioned a tough team of warriors, a rugged bunch who play a brand of football that you might, with words that damn with faint praise, call “traditionally English”. The supporter-generated vitriol that has met Allardyce’s methods, often raining down from the stands even in victory, is seemingly the main reason for his projected dismissal. He plays ugly, if effective, football and West Ham’s fans are sick of it, and they want someone new.
Please…please…no more long balls.
Who then? Malky Mackay is available, looking on with pity and disdain at Cardiff’s whimpering relegation and Vincent Tan’s new red jersey tucked into his trousers. David Moyes would be welcomed happily to the Boleyn Ground, to be sure. Whoever Sullivan and Gold decides on, they will be expected to keep West Ham in the Premier League next season, and to send the team out to play attractive football. Such an expectation will not be easily fulfilled by the new gaffer, not least because the team, as it stands, is completely geared to play the way Big Sam wants it to. Sam has spent the last 3 seasons moulding the squad into a group capable of doing only a few things well; defending deeply, funnelling the ball to the wide areas, and creating opportunities for the well-statured striker to knock down crosses or long balls for Kevin Nolan to kick into the net. They mainly just do the first one of those things well; Nolan is the top scorer this season with 7 goals. At one point, the moment just after Ravel Morrison scored what would be the club’s Goal of the Season, it looked like maybe there would be at least one player in the team who wasn’t just a purpose-built cog in the Big Sam machine. Morrison is a player able to see a way through a defence from central midfield, by either splitting them with a pass or a mazy dribble, instead of looking to immediately ship the ball out wide. Allardyce made sure that Morrison didn’t disrupt the master plan however, shipping him off to QPR on loan in January.
What would the new manager be able to do, when the club has just spent 15 million pounds on Andy Carroll? What kind of joga bonito would they be expected to instantly instate when the temptation to lump it to Carroll remains? James Collins is not what you’d call a ball-playing centre back. Mark Noble is more hustle and bustle than Xavi Hernandez. You couldn’t find more perfect examples of “traditional wide men” in Matt Jarvis and Stewart Downing. And even though he’s not a striker, Kevin Nolan ain’t no ‘false 9’ either. The Big Sam machine cannot be retrofit to play possession, passing football, not without major investment and the switching out of more than half of the starting 11, including the record signing. That won’t happen in one season, so, effectively, the new incumbent (if Allardyce is sacked) will be asked to do the near impossible. It’s hard enough to stay in the Premier League, let alone to do it with an Allardyce team that’s been told not to play like an Allardyce team. The ingredients for an effective counter-attacking team (in the Real Madrid mould … Ha!) may be there in the already sturdy defence, and a midfield capable of quickly surging forward with intent in Mo Diame, Morrison, Jarvis and Downing. But Carroll, of course, has no place in such a set up.
Actually, he’d fit right in at Barcelona, yuk, yuk, yuk!
West Ham have been hamstrung by their own success. They’ve prospered under Big Sam but that prosperity has come at the cost; the implementation of a structure that enforces Allardyce’s playing style. If Allardyce is sacked, that structure will not be easily dismantled by whoever takes the job. And yet to play attractive football, the thing the fans in claret and blue crave so desperately and the reason for the last bloke’s sacking, the gruelling and expensive deconstruction of the Allardyce machine will be the first task given to the new manager.
Still, it’s not as terrifying as David’s last job was.
It smacks of self-righteous over-eagerness. When West Ham move into the Olympic Stadium in 2016, they want to make the transition as an established Premier League club that plays the game pleasingly enough to fill the ground every weekend, all this is understandable. But there’s still two seasons to go till The Boleyn Ground is knocked down and West Ham pack up and leave. Allardyce was a means to an end when he was hired, what’s one or two more season of dire football if it ensures Premier League status (which it almost certainly will) for 2016? He signed a two year contract extension last season, so it might be wiser to at least let him see out his contract, thank him for his good work, and save paying the severance package. A club should always listen to their fans, but, with one eye on 2016, Gold and Sullivan ought maybe to block their ears for now.