When Sam Allardyce took charge at Upton Park in the summer of 2011, the reception from the West Ham fans, at best, was lukewarm. After having to endure a farcical season under Avram Grant, in which the team finished bottom of the league with a ‘save our season’ billed match in November, spirits were low and questions were immediately raised about Big Sam’s style of play being in contrast to the ‘West Ham way’. What a lot of people had missed however, which was correctly pointed out by Allardyce, is that West Ham haven’t played the West Ham way in about ten years. The nearest comparable style of play was under Zola, which resulted in a seventeenth position in the table, the waste of £10 million on Savio (although this fee was never fully paid), and ultimately, the dismissal of the tiny Italian.
During the 1-0 win at Peterborough last season, the away fans defiantly cried out: “We’re West Ham United, we play on the floor,” a chant that has continued into this season. While the course of West Ham’s stint in the Championship was littered with loose long balls aimed at either John Carew or Carlton Cole, promotion is a prize that is blind about the method of success.
I imagine the thoughts of the neutral seeing West Ham come back to the Premier League were something like “so you can hoof the football back to front in the Championship and put a few past Barnsley, try that in the Premier League”. While calling West Ham hoof ball merchants is an unfair tag, the acquisition of Andy Carroll with his glorious ponytail (and some footballing ability) sidled up with the experience and prowess of captain and good mate Kevin Nolan, West Ham sit a point behind 4th in the league. Allardyce can be sitting at home right now gladly telling everyone to shove their Barcelona tiki-taka football up their arse.
There is a skill in playing to your strengths and Allardyce has certainly utilised all of his tactical and transfer acumen to build West Ham into a respectable Premier League side
Prior to Allardyce’s arrival, West Ham had tinkered with the management set up for about ten years with varying degrees of success. Glenn Roeder took us down, Alan Pardew acrimoniously left Reading to steer West Ham to promotion at the second attempt through the play-offs. West Ham’s first season back in the Premier League, and Pardew’s first ever in management at the top, was an undeniable success. A strong mid table finish with the high profile 3-2 win over Arsenal in their last season at Highbury, coupled with the FA Cup final appearance; it was going swimmingly indeed for the Hammers.
Cue the debacle of the 2006/07 season, the list of demeanours include: the Tevez/Mascherano affair, the sacking of Pardew, Icelandic biscuit billionaire Eggert Magnusson taking over the club and the signing of Roy Carroll. Alan Curbishley came in and somehow avoided relegation thanks to Carlos Tevez and the final day 1-0 victory over Man United at Old Trafford. As mid table mediocrity seemed the inevitable future for West Ham, Curbs resigned in protest of the board and Gianfranco Zola was appointed. A similar story unfolded, good first season, poor second season, ergo, sacking. In this inatance however, p*rn gurus David Gold and David Sullivan had taken over and wanted to appoint a manager who could steady the East London ship. Avram Grant anyone? Thought not.
Allardyce therefore did not have much of an act to follow after the toad from toad hall, I mean Avram Grant, was sacked before the end of the season with relegation already confirmed. Yet he wanted to restore good voice to the Upton Park support, and HAD to achieve promotion; secured with aplomb thanks to mohawked nomad Ricardo Vaz Te. Unfortunate with his departures at both Newcastle and Blackburn, Allardyce had a point to prove and he has gone about rebuilding his reputation with gusto. West Ham’s latest 4-1 win over Southampton has added credence to Allarydce’s direct style of play. I am not denying Allardyce plays long ball football, because he does, and quite obviously. The most successful pass completion for West Ham last weekend was Jaaskelainen to Carroll, completed eleven times. West Ham only had 38% possession and only completed 192 out of 283 passes. The same day Arsenal completed 587 out of 699 passes and had 72% possession against Norwich with no success to show for it. This isn’t to say West Ham are a better team than Arsenal. They’re not. There is however, a skill in playing to your strengths and Allardyce has certainly utilised all of his tactical and transfer acumen to build West Ham into a respectable Premier League side.
Allardyce’s job at West Ham is not complete. There is still the small business of making sure West Ham are competing in the top flight again next season as well as convincing some of the West Ham faithful to his football, a job he most likely will never accomplish. West Ham play Stoke City on Monday November 19th under the lights of Upton Park. You would only be lying to yourself if you think you won’t love it.
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