Sam Allardyce is an easy man to dislike.
If you support the team he manages, you’ll dislike the way he’s turned your traditional short-passing game into an artillery bombardment apparently designed to eliminate happiness. If you support a different team, you’ll dislike him because he once ordered his players to kick your players until the merest mention of the phrase, ‘fancy stuff’, made them visibly twitch.
If you’re a journalist, you’ll dislike the way he sneers at any tactical inquisition as if he’s Albert Einstein and you’ve just asked him to clarify his views on the three times table.
All of which are entirely viable reasons to dislike him. But they’re not reasons to sack him. And as mind-bogglingly awful as West Ham are right now, sticking with Allardyce is their best hope of survival.
The stakes couldn’t be any higher. Having your snout pulled out of the Premier League cash trough is a traumatising experience for any club, but in West Ham’s case it would lead to problems that would make even the most level-headed accountant cry for his mother. The Hammers are one of a small group of top flight clubs with finances so carefully balanced that last year they had to borrow against future TV earnings.
On top of that, they carry a debt of £70m that must be paid off before they leave Upton Park for the Olympic Stadium. In the Premier League, where squadrons of cargo helicopters dump barrels full of banknotes over every stadium at 9am each morning, that’s a manageable issue. In the Championship, it’s the stuff of nightmares.
The fact that West Ham are in this position is, of course, Allardyce’s fault. Taking off his clothes and watch and laying them across the poker table to back his belief in Andy Carroll was as devastating a decision as it is a mental image. A fully armed and operational Carroll is a wonderful thing, but the Geordie destrier hasn’t been consistently on his oats for three years. Teaming him up with Stewart Downing was an idea that should, in theory, have worked. That it hasn’t is the result of injuries and ill fortune, but that doesn’t relieve Allardyce of responsibility. There should be a reckoning for his misplaced confidence. But not yet.
This, however, is a time for pragmatism, not punishment. Were West Ham to look for a new manager now, they would find a deflated market. Of the leading candidates, Malky Mackay has just taken his leave from a debilitating battle with Vincent Tan and has only four months of top-flight experience. Harry Redknapp has lots of top flight experience, the most recent chunk coming when he was parachuted midway through the season into a Queens Park Rangers side low on confidence and credit rating. How did that one work out? With the calmer posting at West Bromwich Albion still unfilled, the West Ham job isn’t even the best vacancy on the market with ‘West’ in the title.
There was nothing Allardyce could have done at the weekend. After the congestion of the Christmas calendar left the Hammers exhausted and depleted, was he really supposed to field his strongest team for the FA Cup? How many more players would he have lost to muscular injuries? Never mind pulling that crying child out of the stand and into the directors’ box, they’d have been forced to put him on the bench. Even without the League Cup semi-final to contend with, staying in the top flight is so important that the most sensible course of action on Sunday would have been to field training dummies.
Yes, Allardyce’s tactics have been unorthodox this season, but given the lack of strikers and then the lack of defenders, that’s hardly surprising. He’s scrambling for solutions.
The horrible truth is that if West Ham could pick a perfect manager for this situation, it would be someone with lengthy top flight experience, proven tactical acumen and a specialism for defences and set-pieces. As unappealing as it may seem, they already have the best man for the job. Now is not the time to pluck Redknapp out of purgatory, it’s the time to hold your nerve, get players fit and then see what happens when a full strength West Ham is deployed.
The only thing that matters right now is survival. Punishment can wait until May...
Allardyce's West Ham travel to the Etihad Stadium to face Manchester City on Wednesday - check the latest match odds here.
Read more from Unibet columnist Iain Macintosh here.