Somewhere in a cellar in southern France, a bedraggled Damien Comolli ceases his fevered scribblings and cocks his head to one side. All around him, the walls are filled with incomprehensible algorhythms, rambling sabermetrics scrawled on the bricks in an unholy cocktail of his own bodily fluids.
But for now these numbers mean nothing to him. The only thing that matters is this: Someone out there is attempting the experiment again. Someone out there is going to cross the streams and link Stewart Downing with Andy Carroll.
It seems quite implausible that anyone would be crazy enough to try and recreate Liverpool’s £55m folly so quickly, but the funny thing is that Sam Allardyce might actually be able to pull this off.
Under Kenny Dalglish, Liverpool always seemed to be a team caught between two stools, capable of playing mesmeric passing football, as they did shortly before an unfortunate defeat to Arsenal, but more suited to a direct game they didn’t seem to believe in. Allardyce has just one stool and it has his name on it in brass letters along with the slogan, “Whatever it takes.”
This is not to dismiss the Hammers as a hoofball outfit. Anyone who saw them last season will know that they move the ball between their own lines with comfort and composure, waiting patiently for their forces to take up their positions. Then when the time is right, they strike, twatting the ball either into the channels for a quick wide man, or straight down the middle for the head of Carroll. They are well coached and extremely effective. They play to their strengths. For all the snide remarks, this was a newly promoted team and it was never in any danger of relegation. If anyone can get make the Downing-Carroll axis work, it’s Allardyce.
Sure, Downing still has an alarming habit of running into his full-back like a short-sighted dog into a set of patio doors, but he’s got a cross on him. And yes, Carroll is as resilient to injuries as a paper napkin is to acid rain, but he’s still phenomenal in the air. Allardyce won’t mix his messages, he will drill the pair of them to within an inch of their lives. Are you brave enough to bet that he won’t find a way to make them click?
In fact, the more you look at West Ham, the more you wonder if they could be the surprise package of the season. It’s worth reminding ourselves at this point that the definition of a surprise package has changed profoundly in the last ten years. Since the deluge of Champions League money tore the Premier League asunder at the fourth place mark, there’s only ever a surprise when someone other than Tottenham gets within visual range of fifth. With that in mind, West Ham should consider sixth or seventh to be a Very Good Thing. And they could do it too.
They’re solid at the back, they’ve got strength in depth and there are bewildering rumours that Ravel Morrison has suddenly dropped his attitude and started to play to his potential. Razvan Rat is an excellent signing and we’ve all forgotten about little Joe Cole. In a sub-league where Everton are in transition, Liverpool are compromised from within, West Bromwich Albion will no longer be underestimated and Swansea are distracted by Europe, a team like West Ham could do very well indeed.
It is, of course, this kind of thinking that did for Dalglish and Comolli. There is a reason why the £55m folly is now a £21m punt. But Allardyce has pulled off bigger tricks than this. It’s prosaic, it’s old-fashioned, it’s thoroughly English, but by thunder, it might just work.
West Ham host newly promoted Cardiff City in their Premier League opener this Saturday - back the Hammers at 1.90.
Read more from Iain Macintosh here.