Sam Allardyce's return to the Premier League has already revealed a few things about his contribution to the team.
Having been sacked by Newcastle and Blackburn, Sam Allardyce was unemployed for 11 months. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't greeted with unanimous approval when he was appointed to be the saviour of West Ham.
The team had just suffered relegation to the Championship and Avram Grant was the one held responsible. Allardyce spoke to The Guardian about losing 40 players in 12 months, along with the expectancy of getting the Hammers back to the top flight.
I thought, have I done the right thing? It was not very nice, you know. Trudging through all this negativity. Not just from outside but from within the club. All this doom and gloom. Job losses…Every day there were problems.
Nevertheless, West Ham were back in the Premier League at the first attempt, via the playoffs. Allardyce had delivered on all expectations, but yet his detractors maintained he was unworthy of his position.
The West Ham team have defied this so far this year, making a solid start to the season. Allardyce must be given some credit for this continued resurgence, which is worthy of further investigation.
Kevin Nolan has exemplified West Ham's commitment under Allardyce.
When teams are relegated, the plan is obviously to return to the Premier League. The Championship is a difficult league to get out of, and the style of play is different. Teams are more physical and you have to be prepared to fight through games in order to earn points.
However, it's easy to get mired in a Championship mindset, bringing in players who can do that sort of job and get the team promoted.
The problem with this is that as soon as these promoted teams get to the Premier League, they're easily exposed by pace and flair and often end up going straight back down.
Allardyce has more experience than this, and crafted a team in the Championship that was already capable of playing competitive Premier League football. It started with the acquisition of Kevin Nolan from Newcastle.
A proven performer at the highest level, Nolan took what was considered a step down when he arrived from Tyneside. Installed as captain, Nolan had an instant effect on the team. Allardyce explained the importance of his captain to the squad:
He changed the dressing room. He can galvanise a group of players, which is a massive responsibility taken away from me because you don't know what's going on in the dressing room, you've got no idea.
Not that he comes telling tales to me, but you know he's going to promote the fact that he's not come down here to mess about: "I ain't left Newcastle United to come down here and mess about at West Ham. I've come down here to get back up." (Via The Guardian).
This sort of attitude has transitioned to the EPL, and West Ham's determination to stay in games has already served them well. Nolan himself popped up in the 93rd minute to rescue a point at home to Sunderland—crucial in the early stages of the season.
This attitude sometimes crosses a line, as in the 2-1 victory at QPR. Allardyce's side received eight yellow cards in the game—a Premier League first—and were accused of being a dirty team.
This isn't the case, however, it's more that they are totally committed to every game and sometimes that translates into mistimed tackles. Gaining yellow cards in the EPL is much easier than in the Championship and Allardyce needs to make this known to some of his players.
Allardyce brought Nolan in to get them back to the Premier League, sure, but he was also expected to help them stay there.
Building a team on the assumption that they will get promoted is a risky move, but Allardyce knew that he would likely be out of a job if he failed to get them back where they belonged. It was exactly the right strategy which has already been proven this year.
Arsene Wenger has already praised Allardyce's work with West Ham.
Despite being out of work for the 11-month period mentioned earlier, Allardyce taking charge of West Ham gave them a level of respect across the league that isn't usually reserved for newly promoted teams.
It's not an exaggeration to say that the Hammers are capable of beating any team in the league, and each opponent will know that they can't afford to make assumptions about Big Sam's side.
While they don't have the depth of the top teams—so are reliant on their first-team players remaining healthy at all times—West Ham have been able to make up for it with determined performances typical of an Allardyce-coached team.
The route-one accusations will probably never leave him, but the Irons have already shown that they are much more than that.
Ahead of their 3-1 defeat to Arsenal, Arsene Wenger had some very positive words to say about the Claret and Blue:
West Ham have a good balance, they are efficient, they are a good mixture I must say between direct play and playing on the ground. Allardyce has again a very good team and you have to give him credit for that. He has built a good team, well balanced, always efficient and he is a good manager.
Every team in the league knows that West Ham will be a difficult game, and this can in large part be put down to Allardyce. To lose as many players as he did before last season and still lead the team to promotion was incredibly impressive, and commands respect.
It's easy to forget that Allardyce's Bolton were fifth in the table when he left, such is the focus on his dismissals. Indeed, Bolton, Newcastle and Blackburn all went down after Allardyce left, so it's not as if his replacements led teams to glory after he proved incapable of doing so.
Similarly, it's easy to suggest that teams went down because of how he left them, but that's a cop-out similar to how every President or Prime Minister blames his predecessors for the state of the country.
The truth is that good managers find a way to work with the confines of their position. Since he took over, that's exactly what Allardyce has done. In addition to this, he has a proven record in charge of Premier League teams, and other managers know this.
Andy Carroll was brought in by Allardyce as part of a very successful summer signing spree.
No matter how good a newly promoted team is, the manager and owners will always look to bring new players in ahead of the new season. The EPL offers financial benefits unavailable to the lower leagues, but it's important not to overspend.
Allardyce had already demonstrated his eye for the transfer market by bringing in Ricardo Vaz Te, both when he was at Bolton and then again at West Ham. Vaz Te delivered in the Championship and was a key figure in the Hammers' promotion.
In the summer transfer window, Allardyce again showed his ability to make the most of the resources available. The Irons brought in James Collins, Alou Diarra, George McCartney, Matt Jarvis, Modibo Maiga, Andy Carroll, Yossi Benayoun and Mohamed Diame. The combined price for these players: £20.55 million.
The ability to get that sort of value is something that the board will no doubt appreciate, but it's the caliber of players acquired for that price that is most impressive.
Jarvis had an impressive debut, but then suffered a minor injury and hasn't been at his best since. There is no doubting his ability, however, and he should eventually show the kind of form that was on display at Wolves last year. When both Carroll and Vaz Te are in the lineup, he should have no shortage of targets.
Carroll was not given enough of a chance to succeed at Liverpool, and Brendan Rodgers wasn't prepared to wait any longer. His hamstring injury was testament to his lack of match fitness, but Allardyce brought him in because his skill set lends him the ability to make a real contribution to the season.
The combination of experienced Premier League players and young talent brought in made a statement about Allardyce's intentions for the season. Although some of it can obviously be put down to the desire to save his job, the players now at Upton Park are not indicative of a simple survival plan.
Allardyce has assembled a team that will compete in every game this year. The next couple of months will be crucial, however, as the Hammers play Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Everton, Newcastle and Liverpool during that period.
Whatever happens, there's no denying the strides that the team has made since Allardyce took over. The team looks organised, committed and determined; attributes that will serve them well over the course of the season.
The odd defensive lapse still remains, and more injuries could yet prove costly, but West Ham have proved under Allardyce that they are a true Premier League team.