For the third season in a row, it’s mission accomplished for Sam Allardyce. He has returned West Ham to the Premier League, he has consolidated their position and he has ridden out a storm, caused in no small part by a catastrophic injury crisis that threatened to send them straight back down. With a hard-fought 2-1 victory at the Stadium of Light, Allardyce has proved, once again, that when your back is against the wall, when the skies above have darkened, when your adversaries have drawn their plans against you, he is the man to whom you turn. He must be sacked this summer.
Perhaps ‘sacked’ is the wrong word. Perhaps, if we might take a nod from the showbiz pages, it’s time for a ‘conscious uncoupling’. David Sullivan can present Allardyce with a painting of a beautiful bird, stretching its wings for freedom and then allow him to spend three months in his flat, knocking out an album full of maudlin, sub-Jeff Buckley songs like, “Big Man (We Never Got You Fit)” and “The Ballad of Modibo Maiga.”
Allardyce never felt like the right man for West Ham in much the same way that fire never seems the right treatment for an open wound. But in 2011, the Hammers needed to be cauterised or they risked bleeding out entirely. The hilarious-if-it-wasn’t-so-serious mismanagement of the Icelandic consortium, highlights of which included a long-term £85,000pw deal for a clearly shot Freddie Ljungberg, holed the club beneath the waterline. Predictably, the new owners’ decision to entrust the repairs to Avram Grant ended with a wet thump and a puff of sand on the seabed. West Ham could easily have gone the way of Leeds United or Coventry City. That they didn’t is largely due to Allardyce’s skill and experience.
Dragged up via the play-offs, Allardyce’s success was built on traditional themes of physical strength, kicking the ball really hard and playing percentages. It was a style he sought to augment in the top flight with the recruitment of Andy Carroll and the decision to put Kevin Nolan in his orbit, looking for knock-downs. And it worked too. West Ham, unusually for a newly promoted team, never finished the week lower than 14th. This season, however, was terrifying. The first third of the campaign was spent screaming that there were no fit strikers, the second third was spent crying over injured defenders and the final third was grim, hand-to-hand combat and the gimlet-eyed collection of dead man’s points.
This is not what the fans signed up for. No-one supports West Ham to feel the heat of vicarious success, you support them out of obligation derived from birthright or location and that decision is supposed to be vindicated by a feeling that the club is playing the game properly. Some of the football this season, the 2-1 victory over Hull being a case in point, has been horrid.
Doubtless, these fans will be told to be careful what they wish for, but we have seen at Everton and at Stoke how the right manager can bring a change of style without compromising the existing structure. Why shouldn’t West Ham fans aspire to more?
With the Olympic Stadium secured, this club has a chance to change its stars. There are thousands of floating enthusiasts, unaffiliated kids and armchair supporters who could be lured into Stratford with cheap tickets. There are corporate boxes that can be crammed with prawn sandwiches and braying idiots in shiny suits who waffle through the start of the second half and only deign to return to their seats when they’ve stashed enough complimentary white wine in a takeaway coffee cup. But West Ham won’t get to live this glorious dream of modernity if Allardyce is still there playing smashball with his rock trolls. It’s time for a change.
Don’t feel guilty. At some point in October, a reasonably sized Premier League club will panic about three consecutive defeats and Allardyce will be invited to get the old band back together. He was merely the price that West Ham had to pay for their mistakes in the past. But now it’s time to look to the future. And that future doesn’t include him.