Saturday, 6 August 2011

Head Full Of Dreams

Of all the places in England, Canary Wharf is perhaps the last one you might expect Sam Allardyce, "Big Sam" himself, to have made his home, three months shy of his 57th birthday. He loves it there especially, he says, his apartment, where a straight-talking Black Country lad who made his name in Lancashire lives next door to investment bankers. When he last lived in the south of England he bought a house in Sevenoaks. Back in the early Eighties it cost him £59,000 - all he could afford as a professional at Millwall. But the less said of that the better given Allardyce is now in charge at West Ham United. Now he could stretch to something rather more palatial. The pay-offs alone could probably buy him a multi-million-pound home in one of London's more upmarket areas. But after his most recent experiences in football management, at Blackburn and at Newcastle prior to that, he has chosen to rent for a while.

It still sounds like quite a pad. A state-of-the-art apartment 40-odd floors up in Canary Wharf, complete with a concierge service, a residents-only bar on the roof of the building and a fitness centre. Mrs Allardyce appears to like it too and her husband declares it extremely handy for the daily commute to work as well as the pleasant Italian restaurant he strolled to in the evening sunshine for an interview with assembled journalists. "Once all the bankers have gone home it's actually nice and quiet around here," he says.

It is 10 years since Allardyce first won promotion to the Premier League with Bolton Wanderers. It is 20 years this summer since he launched his management career at Limerick with a priest for a chairman and a transfer kitty raised by shaking a tin around local pubs. It is 30 years since he last decamped to London, as a player signed for £90,000 by Millwall. He got to know Canary Wharf when Wanderers played away at West Ham and Charlton Athletic. When it comes to putting down some permanent roots in London, you can hardly blame him for being a little cautious. He has only just embarked on a new adventure as the manager of West Ham and his last two jobs 'went horribly wrong', a change of ownership leading on both occasions to his sudden, unexpected and, most would agree, thoroughly undeserved dismissal. For all the recent upheaval in his life, Allardyce looks well. He is sporting a golden tan which he says is the product of 'six months off courtesy of Blackburn' and his mood is one of optimism as he discusses the challenge he faces at the 'Boleyn Ground'. "Not Upton Park as I always thought it was," he says with a smile.

As usual the story Allardyce has to tell is full of all the stuff that makes football interesting: transfer coups, billionaire owners, brutal sackings and the whiff of betrayal from those around him. Most of all it is about taking on the challenge of restoring West Ham to the Premier League just two years before they are scheduled to move into the Olympic Stadium with a 60,000-capacity. He takes great pride in having built a Bolton Wanderers team that achieved things the club had never done before (qualify for Europe) and he would like to do the same at West Ham, starting against Cardiff City in the Championship tomorrow. Sacked by Mike Ashley at Newcastle and then again at Blackburn Rovers last year by the Venkys Group when they bought that club, does it depress him, being back in the Championship? "It doesn't depress me, because there are times in life when you take the chance to go and do better," he says. "And it went horribly wrong for me at [Newcastle]. But I sit comfortably with it because it was through no fault of my own."

He even displays a surprising degree of insouciance towards that often hilarious but bogus Twitter page, TheBig_Sam. It is with some trepidation that the subject is broached of his alter ego, a satirical account so popular it has more than 66,000 followers. He did take steps to have not BigSam added to its title, leaving followers in no doubt that it really is the work of an impersonator; something that was perfectly understandable given some of the material. It is popular because it captures a commonly-held view of Allardyce with an absurdist twist. It is near the edge but it can be very funny. Only this week the imposter declared that among the drawbacks of living in London were 'snooty Beefeaters' and the proximity he now enjoys to 'John Barrowman'. Secretly, however, Allardyce is starting to laugh along with the rest of us, recognising that it probably does add to his appeal and gives him an almost cult-like status. "I have no idea about Twitter," Allardyce responds until he is persuaded to see the spoof as a back-handed compliment. "Yeah, you've changed my view, that'll do me. Mrs Allardyce reads it a lot. I suppose one day I'll have a look at it. It's a bit like an impressionist doing an impression of you. He might take the piss out of you, but you're happy he's done it."

He takes a dimmer view of certain people he has worked with these past few years. The real Big Sam has never been one for ducking a question and he responds with searing honesty, particularly when it comes to the man who succeeded him at Ewood Park. Fiercely loyal to his staff, Allardyce has always shared his success with them. He was delighted to see Mike Forde move on from their time together at Bolton to become performance director at Chelsea. He encouraged Bolton to give Sammy Lee a go as manager when he left for Newcastle. He considered Steve Kean to be another such colleague, having taken him on at Blackburn when he was an out-of-work coach. Until, that is, Kean was given the manager's job the day that Allardyce was sacked by Venkys. Venkys were advised by the TV rights group Kentaro, whose affiliate company also happened to have Kean as a client.

Allardyce says he has not heard from Kean since he called the Scot to say that he and his assistant, Neil McDonald, had been sacked. So how will he feel when he next encounters Kean on a touchline? "Since then we have never spoken," says Allardyce. "But I would say the thing is firmly in Steve Kean's court." Does he believe Kean already knew the job was his when he called him that day? "He'd have to have done wouldn't he really," he says. "Only he knows when he wakes up and looks in the mirror. But other influences must have told them to sack me because I never met them (he means the new owners, Venky's). They were sacking Neil at the same time as me and I was saying, "Why? Why are you sacking him? Neil needs to take over. He's been a manager. If you don't like Sam Allardyce's face, fair enough. But here's the man". Pushed on what really happened at Blackburn behind the scenes, he said: "I have to be careful what I say. Confidentiality issues. But you all know the answers to that. I can't repeat it. It was sad."

He was enjoying life at Blackburn. He pays tribute to Kenny Dalglish and the late Jack Walker for what they created but says he, too, made a significant impact at the club. "They [the Walker family trust] were desperate to sell Blackburn for many, many years and my satisfaction comes from the fact that I created so much interest in the club again," he says. "I know it sounds like I'm blowing my own trumpet but I might as well. Mourinho does it all the time and everyone fucking loves him, so why shouldn't I? I created such a vibrant football club that there were four or five [groups] who wanted to buy it having never previously shown any interest. Based on the fact that I was producing profit with results. It wasn't the best – Arsenal's profit ratio is so massive and obviously Manchester United sold [Cristiano] Ronaldo for £80m – but our profit ratio was fantastic. The year we finished 10th [2009-2010, his only full season] we made a profit rather than a deficit having [previously] kept them in the Premier League. We won the Premier League that year. I know that sounds strange. Chelsea won the league that year but we did far better. We sold £33 million worth of players and spent £14 million and still finished 10th." It was the same at Bolton. When I left Bolton I made a net profit after eight years. That was not even including Nicolas [Anelka] because I left before he was sold."

Allardyce’s methodology came to fruition with Wanderers where, over an extraordinary period, he took the club from what is now the Championship to regulars in the upper echelons of the Premier League. Consecutive finishes of eighth, sixth, eighth and seventh put into perspective the relative success last season of Owen Coyle, who guided Bolton to 14th. As he explains his philosophy, it quickly becomes obvious that the narrow caricature of ‘Big Sam’, the clogging old-school centre-back who promotes long-ball football and the physical intimidation of opponents, is nonsensical. "It comes by the media putting my photo in the paper with me shouting," he says. "It gives a skin-deep image of what I am. My real ingredient for success was to marry the academic to the practical. We wanted to break new ground in football. We would do it and not tell anyone because they would think they we were all off our heads, arrogant or completely insane.

"I put together heads of staff with the same desire and ambition in their fields that I had. I was the educator of football, coaching and tactics. The head of medicine was the head of his field. The head of sports science and fitness was the head of his field. The doctor was the head of some alternative medicines if possible and, of course, you had the sports psychologist, which was key on every level. All those created what we called the cog. By the end at Bolton, people were listening and saying, ‘how does he do it?’ It was very nice to sit back and manage a club with less worries, less anxieties than before. The last four years it was a well-oiled machine."

The marriage between Bolton and Allardyce seemed rock solid. Upon agreeing a 10-year contract, he even talked about retiring when it expired. Yet having guided the club to third, behind only Manchester United and Chelsea, at the beginning of 2007, he lost faith in the board’s ambition. Bolton chairman Phil Gartside has previously alluded to Allardyce’s desire to spend more time with his family but the new West Ham United manager wants to set the record straight. "Bolton, at the end, had an opportunity to finish in the Champions League but didn’t want to take it, so what’s the point in staying?" Allardyce said. "As much as I loved the club, it was impossible for me to stay. We had 39 points after 21 games. We were ahead of Arsenal, ahead of Liverpool. We needed to spend some money to give us an opportunity to finish in the Champions League and I was turned down flat and told that we don’t want to finish in the Champions League."

Asked what he needed, Allardyce said: "About two players. I said to the chairman, 'If we just put more into our squad now we will get in the Champions League. We’ll finish fourth or third. All we have to do is have a mediocre 17 games and we are going to finish in the Champions League. These players are too fatigued to carry on because we have got a smaller squad than Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea.’ Their reaction was: 'Well, we’re safe, we’re happy with that’. That was it. I went home and said to [my wife] Lynne, 'That’s me finished’. She didn’t believe me, nobody believed but, believe you me, when Sam makes his mind up, there is no turning back. I tried to stay loyal. I had to keep it quiet at that particular time because of my love for the club."

Rather more short-term adventures were to follow. He is understandably defensive about his record with both Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers following sackings after seven months and two years respectively. In truth he has had some rotten luck with takeovers. "You always expect change in every business that is bought for millions of pounds," he says. "You become an unfortunate bystander; the product of new owners who didn't quite stick to what they said they were going to do. For that reason it doesn't depress me. There are times in life when you take the chance to go and do better, like I did at Newcastle, and through no fault of my own it went horribly wrong. I'm actually all right with Mike (Ashley). There was no problem. At least he said in the end what he should have said in the beginning: 'I wasn't the one who picked you so I didn't really want you'. I’m only remembered at Newcastle for one fan jumping up in one game that the TV keeps showing, but in the first 10 games I was the best thing since sliced bread. Anyway he settled the contract and I left, bitterly disappointed."

At Blackburn, the challenge was doing a troubleshooting job. "Walk into a football club, in the middle of December, in the hardest period of the season, drag them out of the bottom and get them to survive," he says. "Then take them beyond what they expected. The proof of the pudding is what happens to a football club when you leave. What happened to Limerick when I left? They went down. What happened to Blackpool when I left? They went down. What happened to Notts County? They went down. What happened to Bolton? They nearly got relegated. What happened to Newcastle? They got relegated. What happened to Blackburn? They nearly got relegated."

West Ham were relegated before he arrived and it is his job to do for them what he did for Bolton; not just guide them back into the Premier League but keep them there. So how will he revive the club? "I'm me," he says. "And I run a football club based on my structure, my model. My model has been developed over many years and I know that model works if everyone supports it. I have to get everyone believing in the expertise I own in that particular area. People will always question you in this job but I have the answers to make them understand what I am doing. The most important thing is to make West Ham believe they are winners. The team on the field in particular. They are paid to win, in this case over a marathon season of 46 games. They are not paid to play football and see how it goes. They need to be adaptable. Successful teams are able to change within a game and from game to game. We will give the players the opportunity to win and over the last 10 or 11 years it has worked. I have a huge amount of confidence in the methods I have developed. I'm going to try and get them back in one year. We will try our best. At this stage, a few days before the start of the season, you are always very apprehensive about what you've got. But all the indicators so far are looking OK."

Confidence is not something Allardyce lacks. Not now after the long struggle up through the hierarchy with Blackpool and Notts County to Bolton and certainly not since he established himself over nine years as a Premier League manager. And confidence is exactly what a beleaguered West Ham needed after last season's dismal relegation. "I came here because I want to experience something new, something I've not done for a long time - I am fighting to win this league," he states. "I hope the players have the same determination and desire I do. It is a different challenge but it excites me that the emphasis is on trying to win promotion rather than the lack of ambition in the Premier League of, ‘lets just survive’," he says. "I can’t bear that, it drives me mad. My life has been about winning, not surviving.

Allardyce signed a two-year deal on around £1m a year but admits he is unlikely to see that out if he fails to get Hammers back up this season. "I only think one season, because there's no point in thinking any further," he admits. "In this league you don't get much more than one season. Recent history tells you that. My life expectancy at West Ham United is 1.2 years. If I get past that I’m well above the average. Around 50 per cent of the managers in this league will lose their jobs. It's why you have to look at the first year first. Then if you're successful you can think what you'd do in two to three years, or three to five. But you can't until you get in that position. You can't think beyond one season. That's not depressing. That's an actual fact. Some people want to live in their perceptions. But I live in the real world. Football lives in the world of perception rather than reality. Only those of us who are realists survive."

So it starts again, this time at a club that inspires great loyalty in its support despite the absence of any sustained success since the 1960s and no top-flight league title in their history. West Ham is a club for the incurably romantic and in that sense Allardyce fits right in because, as befits his nickname, he does like to think big. "This team have to be ready to move and create a new history. To remember the past but to have people talking about the current time. Which is what people talked about at Bolton with the new Reebok [Stadium] legacy. It was not just about Nat Lofthouse. Now, the kids will talk about Anelka, Djorkaeff, Hierro, Campo, Okocha, Candela, Speed, Gardner. It's a modern day legacy. No one finished higher on a consistent basis than we did. If you look at the difficulties in our time compared to [the 1950s side], it was a greater achievement. So creating the new modern day history, for me has to go with the new stadium and not forgetting Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. Not forget Alvin Martin or Tony Gale from the time when I played – they might not have won anything but it's the highest they have been since – and look to create a new modern day history."

These are strong opinions, and not everyone will agree with Allardyce but the man is past caring about that. He wants to be successful. He is an old-school manager with a modern twist; someone who has long embraced sports science and all it has to offer in the search for that something extra. While he was delighted with the 'highly qualified and in the right areas staff' he encountered when he arrived at Upton Park, he has brought McDonald with him and there will be further new additions to the backroom team. He feels they will be more crucial than ever in keeping his players strong and focused over a gruelling season. He expects a lot of his staff and they tend to feel loyalty back to him.

Lee Richardson, once a player and then a manager at Chesterfield, is the club's new sports psychologist. "I'm very interested in Lee because he's been a player, a coach and a manager who now has an honours degree in sports psychology," says Allardyce. "So it's the first time I've found a sports psychologist who actually has a proper football background - who has been there and done it all. If he's any good he should be one of the best. I've always felt football in this country doesn't focus enough on the psychological side of the game, when the only reason you play at the highest level is because of what's between your ears."

If you really want to know how much of an impression Allardyce has made at Upton Park though, ask some of the people who see him at work every day at the club's training ground. Ask Shirley, who has been helping to prepare the lunches for the players ever since Trevor Brooking was in his prime. "The other day Sam walked into the restaurant when the young players were queing for their food. He shook their hands, one by one, and talked to them. It reminded me of John Lyall," she says. Ask Jimmy, who has been helping out with the coaching as long as anyone can remember. "Sam reminds me of John," he says. "He's a football person, he has football values and he treats people the right way."

Yes, there are some fans who will still need convincing that Sam's style is the right one for West Ham but, if his team begin the season well and keep winning, their numbers will dwindle. "I treat people like human beings, like the way I would like to be treated," he says. "That's my style. I have no desire to shy away from anything or not answer any of their questions. I believe a good relationship with the players and staff prompts discussion, communication. As a manager you have the knowledge and experience to answer those questions. As a player I asked questions that some of my managers didn't like to be asked. In my younger years some of the questions were daft but I would never have learned if I hadn't asked. That was my learning process."

He also appears to be bonding with two 'British owners' who are also 'fans', the Davids - Sullivan and Gold. Allardyce wants to see a new training ground built; something he considers every bit as important as the planned move to the Olympic Stadium. He credits Sullivan with helping him recruit Kevin Nolan, the new West Ham captain and a player who represents quite a coup for a Championship club and signed in anticipation of Scott Parker's probable departure. "It can sometimes be agony trying to sign a player but David Sullivan moved like the wind to get the deal done," says Allardyce.

But how did he persuade Nolan to even consider dropping down a division? "I think it's past history," he says. "Kevin was bitterly disappointed that I didn't take him to Newcastle. It was virtually impossible at the time because of the animosity between me and Phil Gartside (Bolton chairman). If I'd tried to buy him the price would have been £12million, simply because it was me. I thought I only had an outside chance of getting him here but I was aware there was a bit of discontent because of what appeared, from a distance, to be Newcastle's lack of appreciation towards him. Kevin felt no loyalty to Newcastle United for what he had done there. We are a people business."

Allardyce thinks their past relationship counted for a lot. "I was the manager, at Bolton who really started him off, brought him through," he says. "So there's some mutual respect there, built over those years. Our understanding is something we built because he was a young lad when I came in to Bolton. I was a younger manager totally obsessed with making Bolton Wanderers a successful club. All those values he has taken away with him, but when he sought some loyalty back [at Newcastle United] it wasn't there. If you take a footballer for granted you will find that he will not be very happy and he will do one of two things. He will either leave or he just won't be as committed as he was before."

At the same time Nolan liked the idea of a new challenge. "It's a different challenge," thinks Allardyce. "There was a tremendous commitment from him. That's the element that's most exciting for me. It is what he is going to demand from the players and making sure we get out the division at the first time of asking. He has just experienced it at Newcastle. They got 102 points and he scored 17 goals [in their Championship winning season, 2009-2010]. So when he's telling [West Ham team-mates] what it takes to get promoted, how are they going to argue with him? Carlton Cole can't argue with him. Scott Parker can't argue with him. Robert Green can't argue with him. Kevin can say to them, 'To get out of this league we are going to have to do this and if you don't do it you're going to get a shock. You will find out it ain't so easy'. That's one of the big pluses for me."

Despite the financial problems and the psychological difficulty of rebounding instantly from relegation, Allardyce accepts West Ham's status in the division. "We are the favourites, the big boys in this league and I have told the players that," he said. "Everyone wants your scalp, you are going to have to live up to your reputation from day one because they are going to want to turn you over. They are all going to play better, they are all going to play their best and try their hardest when they play against us." Allardyce believes his new-look West Ham cannot afford to lose more than eight league games all season. Any more and instant promotion back to the Premier League will be gone.

Allardyce has moved into Upton Park determined to toughen up the feeble Hammers who lost a staggering 19 matches under Avram Grant last season to finish rock-bottom of the Premier League. They did not manage to win a match until the end of September. He raised alarms at fitness levels of the players he inherited when he took over on June 1 and now he is determined to forge a ruthless streak in the dressing room to add mental toughness to physical strength. "If I have a concern, it is about growing a winning mentality," he says. "They've not had one at this club over the past couple of years because they've lost more games than they've won. If we are to be successful and go back up then we can't afford to lose more than eight matches out of 46. If you lose 10 or 12 then you're unlikely to go up automatically. Teams have got away with it in the past but it would take a really low points total for it to happen."

The first thing Allardyce wants to do is focus on making Upton Park a place where people come and have fear when they walk out of that tunnel. "If we can do that then the fans will take it on because they get excited and create an atmosphere that intimidates teams when they come here," he insists. "When that happens you get on a roll. But once you achieve that then you have to have to make sure you're not a soft touch away from home. You can't just go away, lose, and talk about how well you played or how unlucky you were. If you end up saying you were unlucky too many times, you're not unlucky... you're just bad!

"We have to have a more determined, resilient structure away from home and that should then grow into better performances and another fear factor into the opposition manager and team. Maybe that needs us to win three on the spin at the start of the season, winning games we don't deserve to win. Winning breeds that confidence. We have to manage any complacency, as well. Players can't think it's easy because they won the last game. The team conceded 26 goals from set-pieces last season. That's too many. The first thing is to avoid giving teams those opportunities, so we have to be more disciplined and organised. It's a big pressure in terms of expectation of results but all I ever heard in the Premier League was 'we can't afford to lose £40million' 10 or 20 times a season or 'it's £800,000 per place'. It's become more about money than entertainment and results. I've told the players 'everybody wants your scalp, everybody wants to turn you over'. We have to be have controlled aggression. On the first day of the season the temptation is to chase around like headless chickens but you have to be calm and controlled, play as a team from the start."

Allardyce says that the club had been 'bleeding' following relegation but, in the form of new captain Nolan, set-piece specialist Matthew Taylor, Joey O’Brien and Abdoulaye Faye, he has attracted four considerable sticking plasters. Free-agent striker John Carew was at Upton Park for talks yesterday and is mulling over a one-year deal. Allardyce said: "We've offered him our terms; he's a quality pro with vast experience, so now it's up to him." There has also been the inevitable link this week to Joey Barton, a player he signed for Newcastle in 2007. "It didn’t work for me and it didn’t work for him because of his unfortunate off-field activities," he says. "He did put those behind him apart from obviously a few silly tweets. It’s a bizarre situation. There are not many players around with that amount of talent available for nothing. But I think it would be impossible from a wages point of view. We are a Championship and not a Premier League club."

You would hardly know that, however, if you looked at the team sheet to face Cardiff City on Sunday. As well as Taylor and Nolan, the midfield is likely to include Scott Parker, Mark Noble and Freddie Sears. They still have Carlton Cole in attack and Robert Green in goal. Allardyce, though, knows that he has players who yearn for a move to the top flight. And, as he surveys the situation at clubs like Arsenal and Tottenham, who are facing disruptive interest in their best players at this most sensitive stage of the season, he is scathing about the transfer window. "Before a club will contact us with an offer, the player will already know," he says. "It is the worst transfer system ever. We are dicing with people’s careers, people’s livelihoods. The panic causes mayhem between the day you come back for training and Aug 31 arrives."

That said, the club insists it will not hold a fire sale despite Parker, Cole and Green, their highest earners, still being at Upton Park, and David Sullivan and David Gold, the co-owners, having to inject £18m of their own money before the transfer window closes to keep the club running. Although there are more than three weeks until the window closes, if any or all of those three players still remain as 1September nears, the club will not allow them to leave under-price. Parker is West Ham's highest earner, having signed a new contract last September that earns him £70,000 a week until 2014, while Green earns around £30,000 a week.

Cole's proposed £4.5m move, plus £1.5m of add-ons, to Stoke City last month was agreed by both clubs but the striker's demand for £40,000 a week, plus appearance money, caused the deal to falter. The wage sought by the 27-year-old is more than he presently earns at West Ham. Aston Villa had a formal £7.5m bid for Parker rejected earlier in the summer and Chelsea's hopes of a loan fell down on the proposed terms. Each retains an interest in the midfielder, as do Stoke, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur. West Ham are yet to receive a concrete offer for Green.

Sam Allardyce's says of the trio: "They are West Ham players and they are contracted to West Ham. Their commitment has to be to the West Ham shirt because that is where their contract lies. Of course, like everybody at this stage of the season, the madhouse is in full flow. Speculation is all over the place on a constant basis which is why this is one of the most difficult periods for a manager in an entire season. All we can do is try and focus on what is the most important thing and that is the Cardiff game on Sunday and for us to try and go out and set a marker on how we want to be by trying to win the game.

"Pre-season before the window shuts is an absolute disaster frankly. It's one long grind, in terms of what you have to try and achieve in a short time," he says. "From the moment you wake up, to the time you go home after a full day here at the training ground, it's always on your mind. You think 'I wonder what's going to happen tomorrow?' Some of my old managers would be absolutely distraught if, on July 1, they didn't have all the players they needed for the start of the season. A total of 16 players have left this club. We need a minimum of 18 outfield players, possibly 20 so we really need to add at least another two players.

"Then, suddenly, there's an offer for one of our players, we don't accept it because it's not enough, the player's upset because he wants to go the club, another offer comes in, we do accept it this time, we think the player's gone but then it doesn't happen - we have all this trauma on a day-to-day basis. For me, when we changed the transfer system it was by far the biggest mistake we've made. If they suggested going back to the old system of signing players throughout the season, I would say yes in the blink of an eye.

"We haven't sold anyone yet for big numbers. That could still happen but it's more difficult, the closer we get to the August 31 because we have to then get someone in quickly. Out of Scott Parker, Carlton Cole and Rob Green, Cole is probably the least likely to go because he's had the opportunity and turned it down. People are aware now that neither David Sullivan nor David Gold are soft touches. There is no fire sale here - yes, they will allow Scott and Rob to go but at the right valuation. The more desperate clubs become though, the more likely it is we will lose them. The window is narrowing all the time now. It's not long until it slams shut for the Premier League clubs."

Then, as Allardyce cheerfully acknowledges a few supporters and wanders past pictures of Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Paolo di Canio, he is distracted by the television debate into whether England are the best cricket nation on earth. "Ahh, the cricket," says Allardyce, pausing for only the briefest of introductions. "Brilliant wasn’t it? And shows what can be achieved if you get the structure right." He then delivers an unprompted critique of the wider failings of British sport and specifically what can be done to improve the fortunes of the England football team. It is fascinating. The central thesis is that we do not value coaching highly enough to make it professional for the many volunteers who teach lower age groups around the country. And, for that reason, young footballers in this country simply do not receive enough quality time with a football at their feet.

Allardyce is also blunt about some of the practices at the top level, especially the reluctance to embrace new technology and ideas. "What I don’t like about football is its ignorance," he says. "It is very loath to want to change. One of the good things Richard Scudamore came up with is the 39th game. I hear rugby is playing the Challenge Cup in another country, American footballers keep coming to Wembley and we are still sat there on our big fat perches thinking, ‘we don’t have to do any of that because we are the best’. We will have a big shock if we don’t catch up. The Premier League is the richest brand in the world and we are still not doing live data; still not putting a chip in the ball, in the lad’s shirt, in the referee and linesman’s shirt and not measuring what they are doing. Australian rules have had it for years."

Allardyce, who refers to himself as 'a teacher', then explains in great detail how different people learn in different ways, whether through listening, watching, participating or reading. His own experience at school, where his dyslexia was not recognised, clearly shapes his philosophy. "I think most of our education system focuses on what people are not good at," he says, "but if you focus on what you are good at, that’s what gives you a particular area to make a living in this country. If you become the best footballer at two or three specific things, you are going to be a good footballer all your life."

Allardyce thinks his modern-day style and modern day outlook on life will suit this club. "Now it's about the psychological more than the physical. If you don't have your mind right, your ability will never shine through. But if your mind is strong you will maximise that ability. I know I don't speak in an East End way but I've always fancied myself and it won't take me long to pick up a few sayings and join in with the rest. I know it's a great football area. I've been spending time talking to people about football here and what a big catchment area it is. But we have to drag the whole place up into the modern era, to move into the new stadium and training ground. We have to be thinking about what type of model we want to be." With that, he gets up, begins attending to the two mobiles that have been regularly flashing - but ignored - during the hour he has been holding court. As his alter ego @TheBig_Sam recently tweeted to an aspiring manager seeking advice for his first game: "Suit, ear-piece, head full of dreams. Sorted". For the real thing, one imagines tomorrow afternoon will be much the same.


Emlyn said...

It all sounds too good. Can't wait for today's game.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely fantastic article! I really have warmed to Sam over the past month and this article just tops the cake. He'll end up one of the club's most highly regarded managers in our lifetime if he's allowed to do his job properly. Watch out all you long-ball merchant na-sayers, you're about to be proved severely wrong, starting this afternoon we dismantle Cardiff City. COYI

Anonymous said...

Amazing post. I never intended to read all of it because it's sooo long but I couldn't stop! Many thanks.


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