West Ham: Big Sam's Blame Game Is Toxic, When Will He Accept Responsibility?
“You can’t shirk your responsibilities,” says West Ham manager Sam Allardyce in his weekly column for the Evening Standard. It would be easier to take such a statement at face value if he hadn’t spent recent weeks shifting the blame to anyone other than himself.
Granted, West Ham’s injury problems have played a huge part in the club finding itself one point off the bottom of the Premier League table going into tomorrow’s game at Cardiff. Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Ricardo Vaz Tê, Ravel Morrison, James Tomkins, James Collins and Winston Reid have all missed huge chunks of the season, and the presence of just two or three of them over the Christmas period might have made a difference.
However it is difficult to sympathise with a manager who, following the defeat at Fulham on New Year’s Day, said “I saw Alan Curbishley after the game at Fulham and I know he says the training ground at Chadwell Heath plays a part in the injuries...” – regardless of whether or not he has since proceeded to take supposed responsibility.
It’s entry-level political rhetoric to float an excuse while denying reliance on it, and this is an approach which the manager has also taken with regards to his players’ performance.
For example, he publicly asserted after the same game that there was “something wrong with [Kevin Nolan’s] mentality, before later stating “it was dealt with internally [and] I won’t be saying any more about that particular issue.” Regardless of what people think of Nolan and his behaviour that afternoon, to publicly admonish a player while hiding behind the façade of behind-closed-doors punishment is cowardly at best.
Such contradictions are hardly likely to paint a picture of unity to the current squad, let alone those who Allardyce is looking to bring to East London. John Heitinga has already turned down a move despite not playing a single Premier League game for Everton this season, explaining "You have to be convinced that you are taking the right step and I was not.”
This would be manageable if the manager hadn’t similarly alienated the team’s youngsters, throwing five debutants into the side against Nottingham Forest and regretting the fact that “they have not been able to stand up to the pressure” as if that was a surprise.
Even allowing him the excuse about injuries (and that’s being generous), beginning the season with only three centre-backs and two senior strikers is unforgivable. This is Allardyce’s third season at the club and he has signed 44 players (including loans) over that period. This is his squad, no doubt about it, and if it’s not good enough or not deep enough then it’s his fault.
Of course Allardyce’s attitude is by no means unique – Alan Pardew is a particular fan of blaming others, as noted by David Norris on Twitter. However fans can be forgiven for losing patience in a manager who seems to always have a single identifiable excuse at hand (even if he publicly claims they’re not excuses), even after results which clearly illustrate that the problems are many and wide-ranging.
It is as if Allardyce is treating responses to defeat like Panini stickers, and rather than playing the injury card every week he feels the need to get some mileage out of some lesser-used fallbacks (not fullbacks, he’s used plenty of those) like the captain, the youth team and even the training ground. It remains to be seen whether, if he ever gets as far as the Big Sam sticker, he flourishes it or returns it to the back of the pack unused.
Tomorrow sees West Ham travel to the Cardiff City Stadium in the knowledge that three points could lift the team out of the relegation zone. However the demoralising defeats at Forest and at Manchester City will leave Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side comfortable in the knowledge that their opponents are there for the taking.
Doubtless an away win will see Allardyce regurgitate his trademark self-congratulatory spiel (who can forget his “it’s fantastic when a plan comes together” line after the first of many false dawns at Tottenham in October), but if things don’t go to plan then will we see him accept responsibility? Who knows.
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