Is this the last roll of the Allardyce?
When Slaven Bilic was relieved of his duties at West Bromwich Albion before Christmas, the club were quick to appoint Sam Allardyce. Seen as a safe pair of hands and a master at avoiding relegation, Allardyce’s approach has always been substance over style. This often divides fans of the clubs that he manages as the football is often a tough watch but it is hard to argue against results. However, with Allardyce having barely any impact at all since taking over at West Brom, perhaps the club made a mistake.
Allardyce’s most influential selling point prior to this season was the fact that he had never been relegated from the Premier League, but if he gets relegated this season, as it appears he will with a whimper, could this job be his last in the Premier League?
Football’s Evolution Leaving Defensive Managers Behind
When Pep Guardiola first joined Manchester City in 2016 there were doubts from the English media over whether his style would work in the Premier League. The Premier League was seen as too physical and too aggressive for his tika-taka stylwe, made so famous from his time at Barcelona, that it couldn’t possibly work in England. Almost five years later and Guardiola and his Manchester City side have made that very notion seem ridiculous, winning the Premier League twice, the FA Cup once and the EFL Cup on three consecutive occasions. In fact, in the 2017/18 season City cemented their place in football history, becoming the team to win the Premier League with the highest points total in Premier League history, ending the season woth an astonishing 100 points. Thus emphatically debunking the myth that the style that was so successful in Spain and Germany wouldn’t work in England.
Guardiola’s success has resulted in a huge shift in culture in English football and he is perhaps the most influential import into the Premier League in its history, possibly with the exception of Arsene Wenger. He has proven that you can be successful in the Premier League playing a brand of football that wasn’t previously thought possible in England. This culture shift has been embraced by football fans and they now have a certain expectation to be entertained by their side. Defensive football to stay in the league isn’t seen as enough and the manner in which a club plays is often the most important aspect to fans. The sides at the lower end of the table are adopting this mentality as well as the Premier League superpowers, with the likes of Southampton, Fulham and Brighton all playing an attractive brand of football while trying to stay in England’s top flight. This evolution in culture is paving the way for exciting, innovative coaches and, subsequently, defensive-minded, negative coaches are being left behind. This is exactly what looks set to happen with Sam Allardyce.
Allardyce’s crowing glory has always been that he has never been relegated from the top flight. He is often the first man clubs turn to when they are in trouble and the threat of relegation looms over them. When Everton were on a dismal run in 2017 and found themselves inexplicably close to the relegation zone they turned their attentions to Allardyce. Allardyce did the job he was brought in to do and led Everton to an eighth placed finish. However, the style was deemed unacceptable by the Everton faithful, who regularly vocally displayed their dissatisfaction. Allardyce left the club at the end of the season and may have appeared hard done by from the outside but, considering the players he had at his disposal, Everton recorded the fewest shots in the league, were 19th in terms of shots on target and 16th for passing accuracy in his time in charge. Everton fans demanded better.
Style or Substance
There is often the argument in football of style or substance. Jose Mourinho is a prime example of this, as someone who has achieved major things at the top of the game. His sides have rarely been an enjoyable watch and have often adopted a pragmatic approach, which in the past has led to trophies. Ultimately, when the result of the defensive approach is the top trophies such as league titles and Champions League trophies it is accepted. However, the problems arise when the success tops. Mourinho has not evolved with football at the top level and was sacked by Manchester United following growing discontent at the style of football. He was not playing the ‘Manchester United Way’. While this may seem arrogant from a fan base who have not won a title since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, it is perhaps fair when you consider his tactics relied heavily on the influence of divisive figure Marouane Fellaini.
Now at Tottenham, Mourinho has taken one of the most exciting teams to watch in the country and turned them into a counter-attacking, defence-oriented side. This would be acceptable if it was just in the big games, or if the results were coming, but they are not. Tottenham play this way against almost every side in the Premier League. They will go 1-0 up and sit on that lead until, as has all too often been the case, they concede late and don’t have enough time to turn the tide of the game. Players like Harry Kane, one of the best strikers in world football, are being asked to defend for the best part of 90 minutes. Mourinho was brought in to win trophies, and he may do that with the EFL Cup, but his side sit 8th in the league at the time of writing and are out of the Europa League. He has failed to adapt his style and has taken the club so far backwards from where Mauricio Pochettino had worked so hard to get them to; combining an attractive, high-pressing style while ensuring Champions a league football year on year
Allardyce is the alternative to this. He is the Mourinho figure at the other end of the table. Perhaps over the years he is less to blame for his style than Mourinho due to the lesser resources he has had available to him at the clubs he has managed. Ultimately though, he is a substance over style manager and his job description has often been to keep the club in the Premier League no matter what. As referred to previously, this is no longer enough for the majority of fans.
Now at West Brom, he is at a side that have never been renowned for their style of football. He took over from a well-liked manager in Slaven Bilic, who deserved more time after getting the club promoted and subsequently not being backed in the transfer window by the board. Allardyce came in and was immediately backed in the January transfer window. Striker Mbaye Diagne was brought in on loan, while midfielders Robert Snodgrass, Okay Yokuslu, and Ainsley Maitalnd-Niles also joined the club. Yet Allardyce has had almost no impact at all. West Brom are ten points from safety and look set to go down with a whimper. The football is terrible and so are the results. The Baggies have won two league games in his 16 in charge and didn’t even get to enjoy the usual new manager bounce that often occurs when a manager comes in, with a 1-1 draw with Liverpool in his second game in charge the only notable result.
If, and likely when, West Brom are relegated, Allardyce will no longer be able to boast his record of never being relegated from the Premier League. It is difficult to see where his next Premier League job could come from due to his lack of impact at West Brom and the fact that football is moving further and further from his arguably outdated methods. Allardyce’s crowning glory came in July 2016, when he was appointed England manager after the nation’s shock Euro 2016 exit at the hands of Iceland. However, this lasted one game, with Allardyce leaving the role by mutual consent following allegations of malpractice. He has an 100% win record to his name, as England beat Slovakia 1-0 thanks to an injury time winner from Adam Lallana. However, if the manner of the victory was a sign of things to come, then England fans were spared potentially years of uninspired performances.
With failure at West Brom almost inevitable, it is difficult to envisage Allardyce having the appetite to continue in the job, even if the board allowed him the opportunity. He had previously retired in 2017 but was enticed out of retirement by the prospect of the Everton job. The man who has managed eight Premier League clubs becomes too expensive a gamble for clubs. His Premier League relegation escape acts have lost their guarantee and the short-term nature of his appointments become too risky without that, especially when you consider the division of the fanbase through the direct, often turgid, football. This looks to be Allardyce’s last role in the Premier League but, if a club finds themselves in trouble around December time next season, don’t be surprised to still find his name linked.