Allardyce should stabilise Sunderland but needs board’s backing
Sam Allardyce has become the fifth different permanent manager of perennial Premier League strugglers Sunderland in just over two-and-a-half years, but is up against it with Coral making the Black Cats 7/2 outsiders to stay up.
Returning to work less than five months after being told his contract would not be renewed by West Ham United, who cast Big Sam aside like soiled gloves once he re-established them as a top-flight team, he is now back in the Northeast with unfinished business.
Allardyce spent the 1980/81 season on Wearside as a player and had a brief stint on the coaching staff under Peter Reid in 1996. It is clearly this previous time at Sunderland, however brief, that struck a chord with supporters – the overwhelmingly majority of which wanted him to come and save their team. Their wish has been granted.
Turning Bolton Wanderers into Premier League mainstays helped cement Big Sam’s reputation, yet working for the Black Cats’ bitter rivals Newcastle United damaged it. Both there and at Blackburn Rovers, he worked for new investors that remained aloof from fans.
With the club deep in relegation waters, Sunderland chairman Ellis Short is very lucky that he is not reviled like his neighbouring counterpart on Tyneside, Mike Ashley. He also comes across as very defensive in the club statement released upon Allardyce’s appointment.
“I would like to assure our fans that once Dick [Advocaat] made us aware of his intention to leave, [sporting director] Lee Congerton oversaw an organised and structured recruitment process, that bore very little resemblance to what has been described in the media,” said Short.
“For example, this was a very popular job, proactively sought after by a large number of managers – contrary to much of what has been portrayed. The process was made easier by the fact that Sam was such an obvious choice.
“The other misconception is that Sam had to be persuaded to join us; nothing could be further from the truth. From the very beginning, he understood the importance of this job and showed great enthusiasm for the role and a desire to be part of moving this club forward.”
Mackems ire could easily and no less vociferously be directed towards owner Short and the Black Cats board, with Martin O’Neill, Paolo Di Canio, Gus Poyet and recently departed Advocaat all occupying the Stadium of Light dugout in that relatively short space of time alluded to above.
Changing coach has scarcely improved fortunes throughout Short’s time as Sunderland supremo to date. If the old adage about Black Cats and nine lives were true, and each managerial change since he assumed full ownership in May 2009 is one lost, then they’re six down.
Energetic Irishman O’Neill, the Latin tempers of Di Canio and Poyet, and ‘the Little General’ Advocaat were not all bad managers. What these Allardyce predecessors have all lacked is proper backing by Short, who has a net worth of £1bn.
For the record and any Black Cats accountants or financiers reading, around £25m was spent this past summer on five permanent transfers. There’s also undisclosed loan fees for three other additions, but this amounts to modest investment in a Premier League squad by modern standards.
Half of the eight arrivals on Wearside were made with the aim of shoring up the defence, yet a worrying average of over two goals per game (18 in eight) have been conceded under Advocaat, whose U-turn about retirement is now cast by hindsight as a mistake.
Big Sam is going to have to address this weakness at the back quickly, and get the kind of performances out of captain John O’Shea that O’Neill now elicits from him on international duty with the Republic of Ireland. Ageing and injury-prone legs abound, but there are definitely dogged displays in them.
Scotland target man Steven Fletcher should get a run in Sunderland’s side now, as Allardyce traditionally favours a physical striker, while there’s Ola Toivonen or the diminutive Jermain Defoe to play off the knockdowns offering different threats.
Jeremain Lens provides width, with fellow summer signing Fabio Borini likely to continue there, and we may see Sebastian Larsson moved back to the flank under Allardyce, who likes wide options to produce plentiful supply.
It will be interesting to see who gets the nod in the engine room with Yann M’Vila catching the eye, but he’s one of several options there. As novelty bets go, where’s the harm in a cheeky fiver on Big Sam signing free agent and midfield acolyte Kevin Nolan before February 1st at 2/5?
Further cheques need to be written and cash splashed come the winter, but it’s Congerton who remains responsible for recruitment. Him having the final say on transfers was certainly something that frustrated Poyet.
Allardyce must try to cultivate a better relationship with the Black Cats sporting director than the passionate Uruguayan, if Sunderland are to defy their status as odds-on 1/6 favourites for the drop.
With Big Sam making his Stadium of Light debut in the Wear-Tyne derby against old employers Newcastle, and a first game in charge away at West Bromwich Albion, this presents the perfect chance to start his tenure as Black Cats boss strongly and prove himself all over again.
Special odds of 16/5 are on offer for derby day delight on October 25th being Allardyce’s first win in charge of Sunderland, while they are 3/1 chances to finish above the Magpies this term.