Friday, 16 October 2015

Big Sam: The Right Man

In the era of super-agents and multimillionaire teenagers, it often feels like the Premier League is a weird nation all by itself. That's why the appointment of 'Big' Sam Allardyce as Sunderland manager is one of the most sensible decisions we've seen in a while.

Just eight games into the campaign many felt the club was already drowning in the choppy waters of relegation. Last season's saviour Dick Advocaat has left to return to the peaceful sanctuary of retirement, even sporting director Lee Congerton was rumoured to have his life jacket ready earlier this month. The Black Cats were in dire need of a new man - and for once - Ellis Short has picked the perfect one in the shape of the former West Ham boss.

Were it not for the arrival of the charismatic J├╝rgen Klopp in Merseyside the previous day, we would all be hailing the former defenders return to the managerial hotseat. A move that could dramatically alter the trajectory of the Wearsiders.

They currently sit 19th in the table and the only part of that which will please the Sunderland faithful, is the fact that the team below them are neighbours and local rivals Newcastle United. Although they are only there because of goal difference. Even the bookmakers continue to class them as favourites to start next season in the Championship, pricing them at 11/10 to finish bottom of the pile. Which would be the nightmare scenario for all involved with the new TV deal kicking in next year.

Allardyce takes the job after his unceremonious sacking by the Hammers in May. And while his new team need a boss with the nous to navigate the worlds most competitive league, he also needs a fanbase who will back him - and possibly, more importantly - one who want him there. Despite having taken the Londoners back to the top flight, the 60-year-old never really had the backing of the Upton Park faithful. They saw his result-driven style as the antithesis of their self-proclaimed West Ham Way. Many outside the club felt it was a harsh assessment, but it wasn't the first time he found himself at a club with unsupportive fans. The least said about his time at St. James' Park the better.

That said, it is ridiculous to expect him to suddenly turn the squad into world beaters. He may be many things but I don't have Sam down as a magician! The Stadium of Light houses a football club whose problems have been visible and multiplying for several years, and somewhat naively Short and his board have sat and watched it happen. Yes, Allardyce's welcome to the club is aided by the fact that he both played and coached there in times gone by, but that will count for nothing if they continue to struggle.

They had a win ratio of 26% in 2013/14 which shrank to 18% the following campaign as they won just seven games, the same as bottom club Queens Park Rangers. Of their last 84 league games they have lost 39 and it was only their ability to draw that kept them eating at the top table last season.

Now that his players are back from international duty, you can be sure they'll all have been made aware of how life will be in Sam's World. Hopefully they won't have to give up their ketchup this time.
His first game is against a club managed by another manager known for his relegation prevention techniques. But he won't take Tony Pulis' side lightly even if they have only scored six goals this season, in comparison to Sunderland's eight. Allardyce will be hoping for at least a point in the Midlands, but he may feel the result is secondary to the performance of his team. In their eight games until now the work application at times, has been unacceptable for a professional football team with fans leaving early to ensure their feelings are known. Big Sam will not settle for half measures.

He's known as a man who believes in a high work ethic and it's fair to assume he will be paying close attention to whatever data the analyst shares with him. It is key the players know that at the final whistle or maybe even half-time their boss will know how far they have run, how many tackles they have failed to win and where they were on the pitch. They will have nowhere to hide. There will be no excuses anymore and the bad apples will swiftly be pressed into juice. But that is exactly what this squad of overpaid misfits, failures and mercenaries need in order to repay the 45,000 supporters who deserve far more than the dross they have been subjected to for months.

For now they have a steady hand at the helm. Someone who understands the Premier League and more importantly, someone who knows what it takes to keep a team in the top flight.

Safety is a long way off for a team that hasn't won a game this season, but there aren't many who would bet against Allardyce keeping them up. For a start, he won't want a northeast relegation on his CV if he is to finally get the Real Madrid job!

Whatever may be; they have got the right man for the job at hand and I personally hope he gives the Stadium of Light faithful something to smile about, because they damn sure deserve it.

With the fans behind the team, the players getting their heads out of their rears and the board backing their new man in the January transfer window, well it may not be such a bad season after all.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

The Beautiful Hypocrisy

I'm beginning to wonder if in ten or 15 years time we will be discussing the career of Raheem Sterling as a cautionary career tale for all young footballers. As I previously did here about Nile Ranger, or how many in football discuss the many, many curious transfers of nomadic former French international Nicolas Anelka.

Because, as of right now everything about a fledgling career that was looking extremely good is being diminished with each passing fan comment, journalists tweet and ex-players column. No one is doubting the winger's obvious talent or the difference he made at times to a stuttering Liverpool side but all that work that was applauded on the pitch is quickly being whitewashed by his behaviour off it. And should he fail to meet the potential that was discussed when he was a teenager at Queens Park Rangers, minds more astute than my own will recall this period in his career.