Monthly Archives: July 2014

Big Sam’s Days are numbered

After guiding West Ham back to the Premier League, keeping them up, and then avoiding second season syndrome and cementing their place in the league for a second year running, for most managers it would be a shock to see themselves leading the sack race before the season has even begun. Especially considering other managers have lost the majority of their squad, and other managers have yet to dip in to the transfer market. But is it just Big Sam that will be shocked, or the wider footballing ether as well?

Over the past 3 seasons Sam Allardyce has guided West Ham up through the Play-Offs, finished 10th in his second season, and then 13th in his third season in charge, some 7 points clear of the drop. During this period of time he has spent almost £71m on transfers, including £15.5m for Andy Carroll who has scored only 9 goals in 39 appearances for the Hammers – with the vast majority of those (7 in 24) coming when he was on loan at the club.
At this point, you may say that he may have spent a significant amount of money, but he achieved his goal of getting West Ham promoted and then keeping them up – last year he was even given a new contract. So why all the noises for him to be sacked?

West Ham fans have a vision/culture which sees them believe that they won the World Cup in 1966 themselves and that they have the “West Ham way” – ask a West Ham fan what the West Ham way is and they will struggle to tell you, but that is besides the point. Is it fast flowing attacking football? Is it a tactical master class, passing the ball around opponents? Or is it building from the back and getting the ball wide? One thing is for sure – it is not the hoof-ball tactic enjoyed by Allardyce.

West Ham fans will have got behind Big Sam when he signed Carroll on loan in their first season back in the big time – a big star (remember Liverpool laughably paid £50m for the Geordie) on loan to get them the goals to stay in the big league. And to an extent it worked. But he did have his injury problems, and for most managers, to have those problems during a loan spell would be enough to put them off a permanent sale – but not Big Sam. In his eyes Carroll was the centre to piece to his hoof-ball master-class – a strapping big centre forward who wasn’t afraid to put it about. It might not have been what many saw as “the West Ham way” but it was definitely the “Big Sam way”.

Twelve months down the line from signing Carroll, seeing him miss the majority of the season through injury; come back in to the squad, get sent off; and back to another injury putting him out for 4 months – and the horizon looks significantly bleaker for Big Sam. Couple this with him saying that Ravel Morrison, a young skilful, if at times frustrating, midfielder who many would say could fit the mould of the “West Ham way”, has no future at the club, despite the owners and fans alike calling for him to be given more game time, and it is no wonder his back is against the wall.

So how has Sam tried to get himself out of the corner? Well for a start he has admitted that they needed more firepower (remember, he spent £15.5m on ONE striker last season who got him 2 goals) – so he has splashed the cash and signed World Cup star Enner Valencia for a reported £12m. Ask the majority of West Ham fans, or any other Premier League fan for that matter, who Enner Valencia was before the World Cup and they wouldn’t have had the foggiest – yet 3 games on the big stage later, Big Sam has splashed the cash again (an unwritten but commonly known rule of football is never sign a player on the back of a tournament).

His reasoning for buying more strikers (add Zarate to Valencia) is that according to his statistics, they created enough chances last season, but the 40 goals they scored, shows they just didn’t put enough of them away. This reasoning is also ultimately the reason why he likely won’t be at the club much longer – his love of statistics. Cold, hard stats. As a manager, Allardyce plays the percentages: if you put the ball in the box ten times, more likely than not, at least one of these times will lead to a goal scoring chance. So how do you get the ball in the box more often – lump it forward; long throw-ins; and goalkeepers taking free-kicks on the halfway line. Definitely not “the West Ham way”. Allardyce will argue until the cows come home that his game is not solely based on lumping it long, and in his press conferences, he will argue that his side have played the ball around and rarely pumped it long. However, if you ask the West Ham fans, their opinion will be different. Mine most certainly was when he was at Blackburn – it had become a chore going to Ewood watching a game were the best you could hope for was a flick on from a 30 yard throw-in ending up in the back of the net. A lot of people say sacking Allardyce was the Venkys biggest mistake at Blackburn – I disagree, the timing was the biggest mistake, sacking him was one of their better decisions. The football being played at Ewood now is far better than the days of Big Sam Okay, so we may be in a lower division, but in the long run, the entertainment value is definitely worth it, and should we get back to the top flight we will be in a much better position.

So, West Ham face a dilemma – in 2016, in two seasons time, West Ham move in to the Olympic Stadium. They have an option: they can stick with Allardyce who will play dreadful football but most likely keep them in the top flight until the move; or they can cut their losses now, bring someone new in and build a side to take entertainment to the Olympic stadium. The latter is a gamble, but the former could be a gamble that West Ham have enough fans left to fill the Olympic stadium.

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Captain Fantastic or Captain Average?

Steven Gerrard this week retired from international football, and in doing so stepped down from the role as England captain after 114 caps. As the country debates who should be the next captain, and whether who is captain is really important – did Gerrard do a good job? And is the national team captain really that important?

Despite playing for England some 114 times, and captaining the side in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups and 2012 European Championships – with a winning percentage of 62% when he has played – the outcome has never been success. For all those saying he has been a brilliant captain and will be missed in the England side – on what evidence is this based?

Since the relative success of 1990, England have never ventured past the semi-finals of a major tournament (once, in 1996), and since Gerrard made his debut for England in 2000, the national side have never progressed past the Quarter Final stage, and even failed to qualify for the Euro’s in 2008. This despite England fielding the Golden Generation of Gerrard, Owen, Joe Cole, Ashley Cole, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard and to an extent, Wayne Rooney.

Although Gerrard does have, on paper, a fantastic record for England, especially when involved as captain, the problem remains that he has never taken this forward in to a major competition where it matters. Every goal or 10/10 performance against the likes of Luxemburg and Andorra, counts for nothing in a tournament against a Brazil, or an Italy, or a Germany.

Through his retirement, Gerrard may have solved more problems than he has posed. As the end of the Golden Generation approaches with the likes of the two Coles, Owen, Terry and Ferdinand no longer representing the national team, there has been a push from the general public for youth to be given a chance, and for a team to be able to develop and play to a certain style. For Hodgson, replacing Gerrard with someone many years younger would have created media furore. By taking the decision away from Hodgson, he has arguably done him a favour – especially considering whether Gerrard would still be up to the task in 2-4 years. Now the England manager is well and truly allowed to develop his own team to play the way desired by those who reside at St Georges Park.

One problem Gerrard has faced during his career has been his versatility, combined with his performances for Liverpool. The Gerrard of Liverpool could never be left out of an England side, but for England, his performances rarely matched the heights reached for his club side. Throughout his career he has moved about the pitch, from central midfielder, to wide man, to supporting striker/number 10, and finally to the deep lying play-maker role where it was hoped he would emulate the performances seen by Andrea Pirlo over the last few years – inevitably he was unable to do this; possibly due to his inability to go 90 minutes without trying to hit a 90 yard Hollywood pass and destroy all the possession play building up to this (a reason Charlie Adam was quickly sussed out at Liverpool – he couldn’t run, so just ended up trying to ping the ball the length of the pitch; at Blackpool this worked, or at least seemed to on the TV; at Liverpool, more is required). Something else that doesn’t fit with the vision England have for the side for the next decade or so.

Now that the so-called Golden Generation has come to the end of its era, this may well relieve some of the pressure which always seems to be heaped upon the national side – the team travelled to Brazil this year with next to expectations, although this didn’t seem to do them much good either! Hodgson needs to build a team that works together, not a team of talented individuals who don’t quite slot together right. Look at Greece, or Costa Rica, or Columbia – none of them have a vast array of multi-million pound players who demand to be slotted in to the team, yet they went further than England even dreamed of reaching in the World Cup.

Which brings us to the question of who should be the next captain? Possibly a more interesting question would be – does it really matter? In the modern day of football, a manager or coach is constantly barking orders to his troops on the pitch for 90 minutes, following an intense briefing prior to the game starting, where each player is given specific instruction. The role of captain has somewhat diminished almost to the point where he is used mainly for media functions, publicity, and for raising morale on the pitch – they no longer need to be a tactical master or a good communicator (to an extent). So does it really matter who wears the armband? The Italians often hand the honour to the player with the most caps – that shows the unimportance the role now holds for them.

One of the first suggestions I heard for Gerrard’s replacement was Jordan Henderson – he has held the role for the under 21’s in the past, and when Brendan Rodgers does feel the need to issue orders on the pitch, he is usually the conduit. At first, I laughed at the idea, citing deluded Scousers as the source for another attempt at bigging up their players. However, the more I think about it, the more it could make sense. Not necessarily Henderson himself, but another bright-young-thing who has come through the international setup, through the different age levels, and knows the philosophy that the FA want to take forward to the future. If this is to be the case, they need to pick someone and stick with them, regardless of whether results go poorly to start with.

Alternatively, there is always Wayne Rooney, who like Gerrard, Terry, Lampard and Ferdinand before him, has known nothing but failure for England. As Einstein once said: insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results….

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