The last time I bore witness to Sam Allardyce at close quarters, it seemed like every sinew was curled into a sneer.
West Ham had lost heavily to a Yohan Cabaye-inspired Newcastle at Upton Park, his Hammers had played appallingly, and he was being questioned about what was going wrong at the place that proudly proclaims itself the ‘Academy of Football’. His contempt was not so much thinly-veiled as loud and proud and ready to mingle. It was almost an affront that a man with his CV and experience should be held to account by anyone, not least by people who hadn’t ‘played the game’.
This week, Allardyce had to swallow a bit of that pride as West Ham issued a statement co-signed by him which called for more “entertainment” from his team next season. Despite a bit of ridicule from the usual bores – Richard Keys argued they’d be “entertaining all the way to the Championship” from his social media soapbox – it was a laudable attempt to try to wrestle back a bit of momentum after a damaging season. They even managed to sneak the fact that their demands had been informed by supporter “feedback” fairly high into the statement, which is quite progressive for a Premier League club.
What I don’t understand is why Allardyce is still there if entertainment is so high on the agenda. Everything about the man and his background suggests one thing, so do we really expect that he will be able to produce something that is the polar opposite given six weeks over the summer?
There is more than £1billion sloshing about the Premier League in TV and prize money to be claimed, but when it comes to managerial appointments, too many clubs still cling to the old ways. They appoint a manager, they don’t match a manager’s CV to the job-in-hand.
Too many Premier League appointments are made for entirely the wrong reasons. Too often clubs look to hand the keys to someone whose CV shows degrees of success without considering the story behind those results. Often they completely misinterpret what the CV says.
Take Newcastle, for example. Alan Pardew is far from a bad manager, but his style, approach and mentality jar with the recruitment that they seem to want to do this summer. I can’t escape the feeling that for where Newcastle are in the summer of 2014, he is just not the right fit.
Ayoze Perez will arrive next summer, a promising talent with an Iberian outlook and experience of playing solely in Spain’s second division. He is quick, plays off the shoulder of a forward and will need to be coaxed into the Premier League.
At Newcastle, Perez will meet Pardew, whose preferred striker target last season was Darren Bent.
He is a manager who saw Moussa Sissoko, a midfielder who is best running on to the ball from deep, and turned him into a very ordinary right-side midfielder.
David Moyes was seen as the right appointment for Manchester United because of his long service to Everton, his dynasty building and his friendship with Sir Alex Ferguson.
But it was disastrous from the start, because a club with a commercial revenue of £450million did not do proper diligence on their manager search.
West Ham have fallen into the same trap. Allardyce was always going to arrive at this crossroads.
His style, his approach and his mentality has been defined across years of working in the game and it is one that jars with a club whose supporters cling proudly to an identity.
Football clings to its old ways. Last week, Newcastle confirmed Pardew would remain with a single line from Fan’s Forum minutes, but there was no explanation of why he was the right man for the summer rebuild or whether he’d been asked to justify – in detail – why the players coming in will be best served by him as manager.
Stability, faith, continuity: football loves these sentiments, but do they actually equate to success?
Manchester City quietly married their project with a man they felt suited it, and it worked. Manuel Pellegrini underwhelmed and some asked what he could do that Roberto Mancini couldn’t, but he ended it with two trophies.
Much is made of their monetary advantage, but good judgement helps too.