Bigmouth strikes again

September 24, 2010 § 3 Comments

“I’m not suited to Bolton or Blackburn, I would be more suited to Inter Milan or Real Madrid. It wouldn’t be a problem for me to manage those clubs because I would win the double or the league every time. Give me Manchester United or Chelsea and I would do the same, it wouldn’t be a problem. It’s not a problem to take me into the higher reaches of the Champions League or Premier League and would make my job a lot easier in winning it.”

Oh, Sam.

Of course, It’s not the first time that Allardyce has asserted his own magnificence, or railed against a pernicious system that keeps him out of the dugout at Giuseppe Meazza. A while ago he grumbled “If I were called Allardici I would get more respect and would be offered bigger jobs”. And that’s just in public; presumably he’s far less circumspect away from the microphones.

It’s easy to laugh. Can you imagine him in a big continental job? He’d probably let his whippet piss on the corner flags at the Bernabeu. No wonder the entire of footballing society has been convulsed in one gigantic LOL ever since he opened his mouth and committed one of the great cardinal sins of British society: saying that you think you’re better than everyone else thinks you deserve to be.

Forget his blowhard manner and his comical girth; the only legitimate way to judge a manager as a manager is to look at his record. (If you would prefer to judge football managers by their appearance, feel free to amble off to another blog. Don’t let the door hit your arse on the way out). And Allardyce’s record is, however you shake it, pretty impressive.

First, Blackpool. Taking over a team that only avoided relegation from Division 2 on the final day of the 1993/94 season, Allardyce flirted with the upper reaches of the table for three-quarters of the 1994/95 season, before eventually finishing a comfortable 12th. The following season they spent most of the time at the top of the league, before a late wobble left them in the playoffs; Allardyce was then sacked, a touch bizarrely, after a 3-2 aggregate defeat against Chris Kamara’s Bradford City, who went on to win promotion.

Next, Notts County. Allardyce took over in 1997 with the team rooted to the bottom of Division Two, and was unable to avoid relegation. However, the following season Allardyce not only took them straight back up, but did so breaking Football League records for the earliest confirmed promotion (March 28) and largest points margin (17, from second place Macclesfield Town).

Then, Bolton. This one you’re probably familiar with, but let’s recap briefly. Taking over in October 1999, he took Bolton into the playoffs in his first season, then back into the Premiership the following term. Two seasons of avoiding relegation were then followed by four seasons of what – given Bolton’s vanishingly small working budget – can only be described as colossal overachievement: 8th, 6th, 8th, 7th; seasons peppered with any number of aristocratic scalps.

Then Newcastle. While Allardyce was derided as a failure, it should be stated that making a valid footballing judgement on a manager after 24 games is not only impossible but also, if you’re a chairman, grotesquely irresponsible. It seemed at the time that Allardyce was the unfortunate victim of some ill-informed grousing by fans, gleefully amplified by a giddy car-chasing media into the ears of a ignorant buffoon hopelessly in thrall to gesture politics. Of course, Mike Ashley’s stewardship of England’s most delusional football club has been exemplary ever since, so this might have been a carefully considered decision.

The grousing by the fans was, of course, based around his style of play, and this is what lies at the heart of all the abuse levelled at Allardyce. His teams, as everybody knows, are throwbacks to a Neanderthal era of football; direct and reductive thugs who first inhibit then bully better teams. A team built in their manager’s image, built around elbows, knockdowns and intimidation.

Like all caricatures, there’s an element of truth in it, and you’d never mistake Allardyce’s Bolton for Wenger’s Arsenal (they’d be the ones winning, for a start). But three points in mitigation. Firstly, a team’s style is determined as much by their circumstances as by their intentions. Fortune allowing, wherever two sides attempt to play the same kind of football, the better team will win. So to beat a better footballing team, or a team assembled with access to much greater resources, you need to maximise your own strengths while minimising theirs; ask them questions they’re uncomfortable answering.

Which gives rise to the second: if you have the chutzpah to do it well, and to beat a few big teams, they’ll bitch. It might be considered that the opprobrium Allardyce gets from his supposed betters is a measure of his success; after all, they wouldn’t bother if he wasn’t causing them a problem. If you’ll allow a moment of triteness, whine comes from sour grapes.

Besides – and this is my third point – no team containing Jay-Jay Okocha will ever be anything less than delightful.

Simply put, Allardyce has incredible self-belief, but it’s self-belief that can be backed with a record of success wherever he’s been given time to shape a club. He’s effective at taking a football team and getting that team to over-perform, relative to their resources. Looking at the heart of what he says – that if he was in charge of a club that had the resources to win trophies, he would win trophies – it’s hard to disagree on any other basis than ‘he plays rubbish football’, or ‘he’s fat’. And rubbish football is very often winning football. Ask Otto Rehhagel, or Jose Mourinho, or Alf Ramsey.

Mind you, they weren’t cursed with being a fat man from the North. So there you are, Sam, pipe down. There’s nothing more repulsive to British sensibilities than a working-class lad with a loud mouth, talking about himself. It’s just not on.

Sam Allardyce’s final league positions


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