Sam Allardyce Should Stick to Project Mayhem and Prozone
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Before Gareth Bale arrowed in his sensational winner at Upton Park on Monday night, Spurs scored the type of goal Sam Allardyce probably spends most nights dreaming about.
When Bale drove a free kick into West Ham’s box, there was a header that ricocheted off a teammate, a possible handball, a misdirected strike by a gangly forward and, finally, a toe poking the ball over the line off the post just out of the grasp of the keeper. In other words, utter chaos.
It’s logical that he would imagine his team scoring Gylfi Sigurdsson-type goals given that his system is designed to achieve mayhem in the opposition’s box.
At almost every single set-piece—apart from goal kicks, though it must be tempting for Allardyce to order it so—West Ham sent their entire team forward to form a line of scrimmage on the edge of the Spurs box. The ball was punted down the field and the same pattern eventually began to emerge. Like a running-back, Bale would then attempt to slice through the home side until an opposition player hauled him down and got booked for it.
When a West Ham player had a few metres to spare in front of him he invariably pumped the ball towards Andy Carroll
At one point Allardyce made a swinging gesture with his arms towards the Spurs box when Jussi Jaaskeleinen was wondering for a split-second if he might try to pick out a pass. There was absolutely no equivocation about what was going on here, even if you’d think no manager would want to draw that much attention to such primeval tactics.
In the second half in particular Spurs faced a ferocious aerial assault. By then the wind was behind West Ham which meant that even those goal kicks were potentially threatening.
So there was already a certain satisfaction in Sigurdsson’s ugly goal before Bale’s majestic strike dished out another kind of justice.
The West Ham manager must wonder why more people seem to be worried about David Moyes’ contract situation than his own. The only one really talking about Sam Allardyce’s contract is Sam Allardyce himself in the Telegraph.
You suspect the one thing Allardyce most admires about himself is his use of ProZone. But now even super-nerd André Villas-Boas says it’s useless. Maybe the evidence of that is irrefutable if you consider that ProZone keeps telling Allardyce to lump the ball long into the opposition box.
In some ways, though, his frustration is understandable. Anyone who can take the unfashionable bit of the Bolton Wanderers team from 2005/2006 (the fashionable bits were Jay Jay Okacha, Youri Djorkaeff, Fernando Hierro and Ivan Campo), transplant it six years into the future and use it as the foundation of a team set to secure Premier League survival probably deserves our respect.
Allardyce, though, must have some sense that sending centre-backs forward to contest Jaaskeleinen’s kick-outs is a step too far, even if he believes it’s the best way to cause the opposition to panic and give away free kicks and horrible goals.
Part of Allardyce probably still thinks he might have a shot at one day managing his country. And there’s no way that tactic would be tolerated when the rest of the world is looking on.
When he took charge of West Ham in 2011, he vowed he would create a team that would play attractive football. “At Upton Park we'll attempt to play the kind of passing game the fans want,” he said. “We will aim to continue the same on our travels, but we'll also be hard to beat.”
He said this as if it wasn’t inherent in his nature to construct teams that set out to terrify opponents.
The novelist Stephen King was once asked why he always writes horror stories. His response was, “Why do you assume I have a choice?”
The same is true of Allardyce. Maybe his flirtation with Okacha, Djorkaeff, Hierro and Campo was the same as how we all like to feel some hope that we can change things about ourselves. But Stephen King will never start churning out romantic novels.
West Ham’s owners view their manager the same way, even if their manager thinks that sometimes his team will pass the ball when they play at home. That’s not a philosophy. It’s more of a concession, but, like a concession made by, say, an alcoholic, it’s one that the concession-maker is incapable of fulfilling.
The owners might also think that even during the disastrous reigns of Gianfranco Zola and Avram Grant at least there was the chance of their team playing pretty football. That’s not a possibility now and they need to decide if they’re okay with finishing twelfth every season.
The Hammers have had a recent coloured history with managers, appointing the wrong one but then generally getting it right by sacking him within a year or two.
If Allardyce is truly self-aware he should stick to the horror stuff and leave the romance to the likes of Bale.
At least then if he does get sacked he can say he remained true to himself.
Follow John Kelly on Twitter @JKelly1882
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