When I evaluated Sam Allardyce’ s tenure as West Ham manager after his departure on the final day of last season, after my initial euphoria, I found it hard to really hold any bad feelings towards the man. In short, he had done a job.
I was never a fan of Allardyce. I hated his arrogance and his stubbornness in team selection (one word; Nolan). I hated his belief that victory could only be achieved through his incredibly depressing style of football, and realistically, I don’t think he ever really took a shine to us either.
However, that being said, he did secure us promotion at the first time of asking, he did keep us in the Premier League and consolidate our squad, and ultimately he built a foundation for us to push on under more imaginative and dynamic leadership, which we have found with Slaven Bilic.
With a few notable periods of optimism, nobody really enjoyed his time at the helm, but realistically he did what was asked of him. It was his time to go, certainly, but on balance when you look at the state the club was in when he took over and compare that to now, his achievements are clear.
However, all of that good feeling has been quickly thrown out of the window, as Sam has decided to act with his usual integrity and class and have a pop at the club to sell a few more copies of his new book.
Reiterating his claim last season that West Ham fans are ‘deluded’, he went on to say that we expected a style of play ‘akin to Barcelona’, that we were trapped by the idea of the famous ‘West Ham way’, and finally again stating his usual mantra that we, as fans, still wouldn’t be happy if we played ‘fantasy football and lost 5-3 every week’.
The basic premise of Sam’s argument is that we expected far too much from him. We should have been happy with the style of football that he was serving up, and we were deluded to expect anything more. If we had our way, and attempted anything more imaginative, we would surely have lost every week, and we wouldn’t have been happy then, either.
I really think it is that simple in his head, play his way and win, though the wins may be ugly, play our way and lose, and face certain relegation.
The major issue with this argument is that we were playing his god awful brand of football, but we were still not winning.
The only team that had worse form than us in the second half of last season was rock-bottom QPR. We won a total of three games from Christmas to May. As much as Sam was responsible for the first half of that season, he was responsible for the second, and the performances were unacceptable.
Were we ‘deluded’ to want more than three wins in 21 games? Should we have been happy to play an atrocious style of football, with an uninterested manager slumped in his chair on the sidelines? Personally, I am glad our owners had the courage to say that we expect and deserve more.
I am tired of this false dichotomy that Sam and his friends in the media spew out every season, that for smaller clubs the choice is between playing poor football and winning, and playing attractive football and losing.
It took our new manager one game to prove this point. On the very first day of the season, Billic proved that it is possible to play expansive, counter attacking football whilst remaining defensively solid. The season since then has not been seamless, granted, but it is evident that we are moving in the right direction.
I am delighted that Sam is back in management already, because we now have an opportunity to give him a good old West Ham welcome back to Upton Park on the 27th of February, and we have an opportunity to show him personally what the ‘West Ham way’ really is, when we thump his struggling Sunderland team in a display of attacking excellence.
Having said that, knowing West Ham as I do, we’ll probably lose 1-0.
Still, onwards and upwards.