Sam Allardyce outburst revives style over substance debate at West Ham
“I’ve never been in a place where I’ve won and got booed,” said West Ham United boss Sam Allardyce after seeing his team beat 10-man Hull City at home.
There is a touch of media sound-bite about this quote, but it also opens up a debate which lies at the core of modern football. Is the beautiful game in danger of losing its attractive qualities to an absolute emphasis on earning results?
Allardyce is priced at 33/1 with Coral to be the next Premier League manager to leave his post and, although he is under contract at Upton Park until 2015, he could be forgiven for considering his future because of jeers.
Losing three in a row before tackling the Tigers, supporters voiced displeasure at the difficulties West Ham experienced in breaking the visitors – a man light for three-quarters of the fixture – down.
For Hammers fans, however, there are a few home truths that need to be told. Criticism of the customary direct style under Big Sam is their prerogative, but dissenting voices on this issue were few and far between when he earned promotion back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.
Predecessors Gianfranco Zola and Avram Grant tried to play a more possession-based game, but relegation was the result. More recently still, the majority seemed happy enough as Allardyce won the Premier League’s Manager of the Month award for February.
West Ham have endured a raw deal with injuries this season too. At stages of the campaign, Big Sam has had to play without a striker and was subsequently unable to field any centre backs.
Based on those facts, even the most optimistic supporters are getting airs above their station by thinking the club should be any higher than mid-table. Fans’ frustrations, however fickle their basis may be, are understandable, though.
It is easy for football experts to judge the situation dispassionately. The Hammers are a side that have seldom been able to hold onto to the fruits of their Academy of Football in modern times.
Mark Noble is a notable exception to that rule, though, and his penalty kick – won by rumoured Liverpool target Mohamed Diame – got West Ham on their way to a win that took them six shy of 40 points.
That total looks more than enough to ensure a third successive top-flight term as Allardyce already enjoys a nine-point gap on the relegation zone. Coral make the Hammers massive 20/1 outsiders to go down now as a result.
However ill-advised it is to criticise your own supporters, former Bolton Wanderers, Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers boss Big Sam certainly inspires loyalty in his players.
Veteran Finnish stopper Jussi Jaaskelainen, club captain Kevin Nolan, Irish utility man Joey O’Brien and Portuguese forward Ricardo Vaz Te are among his faithful retainers.
In Allardyce’s first season with West Ham in the Premier League, they finished 10th. A repeat performance this term is the best they can hope for realistically. Take odds of 7/1 with Coral on the Hammers ending the campaign in the top half.