Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Art Of Reinvention

Sam Allardyce is often mocked as a manager with ideas above his station, writes Paul Doyle in this morning's Guardian, so it perhaps surprised his detractors when he agreed to descend to the Championship to take charge of West Ham. True, he was unemployed until the relegated east London club came calling, but for a man who was once interviewed for the England job and who last year suggested he could win doubles with Real Madrid or Internazionale every season, if only they were savvy enough to look beyond his reputation and hire him, there must have been a temptation to wait for an offer from a better-placed club.

Allardyce says that belief in his own abilities and reassurances from the owners convinced him that he can put himself and West Ham back to where he believes they belong. He has been given a two-year contract and says he expects the club to be challenging for a position in Europe by the time that expires. "I've taken a risk by losing my Premier League status, which I'd built up over 10 years," he said. "I don't want to spend too long in the Championship. Without sounding too arrogant, my experience and expertise as a manager is trying to bring clubs together and get a team spirit and togetherness, to get back into the Premier League at the first time of asking."

If not, then certainly before moving to the Olympic Stadium in 2014. Then it is a question of challenging for honours and qualifying for Europe. You have to admire the self-belief of a man, notes Jon West in the Independent, who established Bolton as top-flight perennials but was subsequently hired and fired by Newcastle and then Blackburn. Especially as the Hammers flirted with disaster under Gianfranco Zola two seasons ago before embracing it whole-heartedly with Avram Grant last term. "It's a difficult task but it can be achieved and at a club the size of West Ham it needs to be done as quickly as possible," he admitted. "The team must be back in the Premier League when it moves into the Olympic Stadium. My ultimate goal is to be in the top half of the Premier League searching for European places or cup finals as I did with Bolton, although that is a long time off."

Allardyce's employers, David Gold and David Sullivan, plus the vice-chairman Karren Brady, often made life difficult for his predecessors by publicly criticising the team, but Allardyce says the backing of Sullivan in particular was one of the main reasons he took the job. "They're going to be no worse and no better than any owners I've worked with before," he insisted. "And I don't have a problem with Karren Brady having a column in The Sun. I spoke with David Sullivan at length about what we wanted to do and how we needed to do it. I believe the owners will give me the support I need to help the club be successful."

They have already demonstrated their backing by forking out £4m to reunite Allardyce with Kevin Nolan, the midfielder who worked with him at Bolton and Newcastle, and also by giving a contract to Abdoulaye Faye, the former Stoke City defender who has also worked with Allardyce before. Those arrivals go some way to offsetting the loss of Mathew Upson, Thomas Hitzlsperger and Demba Ba, plus the raft of players signed on loan last season. "They've supported me on the financial side by purchasing Kevin and giving Abdoulaye Faye a contract to come here," Allardyce stated. "I was impressed with the way they went about getting Nolan. There was no messing about. I mentioned it might be worth trying to sign him and two weeks later he was here. Every relegated club needs a kick-start and make sure we are not out of the Premier League for long as that could be a catastrophic disaster."

Allardyce hopes to persuade Scott Parker, Carlton Cole and Rob Green to stay but admits that given the cost of relegation, they may be sold if suitable offers are received. His first demand is no-nonsense, straight-talking from West Ham's England trio. Allardyce needs decisions quickly from his top stars and wants them to look him in the eye and say whether they still want to be with the Hammers. "In the middle of all the mayhem going on here, I need Scotty, Greeny and Cole to be honest with me," he said. "All the speculation is around those three - but we haven't had concrete bids for any of them yet. I don't want to talk to them on the phone. I want them to look me in the eye and tell me what they want to do. They might walk out of the office and say they don't really fancy working for me because I've got a northern accent. If that's the case, we'll sell them. But we can only do that if someone bids for them. But they're not going to be pinched. There's no fire sale at West Ham."

The newly-appointed Upton Park boss still faces losing up to 15 of the players who led the club to relegation, according to the Sun. "Other than that there is no rush to sell anyone else," Allardyce said. "We will probably look at moving some of the players on because their desire is to play in the Premier League. From a financial point of view, it suits us to lose that financial commitment because the drastic loss in revenue is what we all have to face at West Ham. It certainly suits the owners, who've got to really back up with their own money to help us try to get back in the Premier League. We will try and get as good a squad as we can. There's some very good players at the club. If we all want to work together and go in the right direction, we can give it our best shot and hopefully that will be enough next season."

If Parker goes, he said, Nolan is likely to be captain. "He's already guided Newcastle back to the Premier League and I see Kevin as not only a great player on the field, but a great captain off it," Allardyce added. "When you've got Joey Barton almost crying on the TV because he's left [Newcastle] it shows you the respect that he's gained and what a character we're getting in Kevin. He guided Newcastle back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, he was their top scorer last season and he looks after all the players and drives them on. He's not going to come telling tales to me. He sorts out the stuff I do not need to know about and creates the team spirit we'll need if we're going to get promoted. Kevin is the first to let you know if something isn't right and he clearly felt he'd been let down by Newcastle. That allowed us to move in and sign him."

Allardyce wants personnel turnover to be "minimal" because "it's very difficult to change around a club that has been relegated but even more so if you lose 50% of your players because that means you have to bring another 10 or 12 in and you've got a bunch of strangers that you have to mould into a team." Although he has yet to speak to any senior players at the club he admits there was still much to be done. "Before we all get together I've got an awful lot to sort out in terms of pre-season training, staffing, relocation for myself, so I'm going to try and do that before the players get back and then speak to them on an individual and group basis," he said.

Of paramount importance is the need to "reinvent" West Ham and dispel "the negative attitude" that has engulfed the club; to end the perception of the club being a 'soft touch'. West Ham's new manager insisted that no team under his control would throw away a 2-0 lead away from home to lose 3-2, as happened at Wigan to relegate the Hammers to the Championship. Talking about that fateful end-of-season defeat, Allardyce said: "Put it this way, if we are two-nil up away from home, under me I don't think we will lose. If the players understand how you need to change your tactics within a game of football then they will not lose that game again. I think that is their game intelligence, and really they should have said that to themselves on the pitch irrespective of what the manager said."

The Dudley-born Allardyce also revealed the tactics he employed as a visiting manager when his teams went to Upton Park. "When I was a player I always wanted to come and play at Upton Park," he added. "The legacy always impressed me as a young man - Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst and then players like Trevor Brooking and Billy Bonds. It was a pleasure and a privilege to play against players like that although I wouldn't say I enjoyed it too much because we didn't win too many. As a manager coming back to Upton Park, the plan was always to stop the way West Ham wanted to play - the West Ham 'way'. That used to frustrate the fans and the players and then we were able to take advantage of that. Some of the West Ham players didn't seem capable of handling the pressure that we put on them, they weren't able to do what they wanted. Now, I have got to get rid of the hangover which relegation brings and reinvent this football club," he said. "Too often they have had fleeting moments of grandeur and a lot of depression."

Allardyce appears aware that this is also a chance to reinvent himself and to banish what he insists is groundless negativity towards him. He naturally rejects the depiction of his arrival at Upton Park as a culture clash. In fact, writes Jeremy Wilson, it took just five minutes for the tone of Sam Allardyce to shift from sunny optimism to outright indignation.

West Ham United's reputation for a certain style of flowing football had been politely referenced and Allardyce duly seized the opportunity to defend himself. "When did West Ham play the West Ham way?" he said. "It can’t be the West Ham way if you get relegated, and the club’s been up and down like a yo-yo. The West Ham way is about winning football matches and the enjoyment of winning. If the West Ham fans are happy with what they see, they'll come back in their thousands singing and shouting the players' names. I’m in the game to play winning football and entertain the public, and that’s what I do. I have to instill a bit of discipline, magic and creativity to drive West Ham through a very difficult season. Everywhere I’ve been I entertain the public, irrespective of the perception from the media that Sam Allardyce plays long ball. It is only a perception but most of football is run on perception today."

Harsh sackings at Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers have clearly not dented Allardyce’s self-confidence and he also bristled at the suggestion that his speciality had been keeping unfashionable clubs in the Premier League. "I'm only remembered at Newcastle for one [angry] fan jumping up in one game, which TV keeps showing, but in the first 10 games I was the best thing since sliced bread because we had the best start in 10 years. At Blackburn we increased the average attendance by 4,500. Entertainment comes through what your fans tell you. And at Bolton only two of my seven years were about survival so I shouldn't be tagged as a 'survival manager'. I'm a productive manager who breeds success. I've got a vast array of skills and I'll put them to work here and hopefully at the end of the year we'll all be blowing bubbles."

With that, even the England job was not dismissed. "If I get West Ham up and then into the top half of the table in the first season, then you lads will be saying Sam might have a chance for the England job. My ultimate goal is to be in the top half of the Premier League and searching for cup finals, European places. That, though, is a long way off. My only aim at the moment is promotion for West Ham out of this division as quickly as possible. If I don’t do that, then I don’t expect to be here."

1 comment:

Ian Ayris said...

Another top class piece of writing. Intrigued by the reinvention scenario. Bolton became a different team when Coyle took over. There's no doubt fans want a winning team. But it remains to be seen who will have the greater patience - Allardyce or the supporters.

Top stuff, sir.


Copyright 2007 ID Media Inc, All Right Reserved. Crafted by Nurudin Jauhari