This Season Is Make or Break for Sam Allardyce at West Ham

Matt Clough@@MattJCloughFeatured ColumnistAugust 6, 2014

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - APRIL 26: West Ham fans hold up a banner to West Ham manager Sam Allardyce during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United at The Hawthorns on April 26, 2014 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

Few managers in the Premier League have laid their cards on the table this transfer window in quite such an emphatic manner as West Ham United's Sam Allardyce.

It's a bold policy from Allardyce, made all the more daring considering his last major roll of the dice. His £15 million club record signing Andy Carroll from Liverpool has yet to pay off.

Enner Valencia, signed from Pachuca for £12 million, epitomises a change in style for Allardyce in the transfer market.

At Bolton, he made his name for managing to find diamonds in the rough with virtually no budget. His specialty was recruiting well-regarded players in the twilight of their careers—such as Jay-Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff and Fernando Hierro—and squeezing some final quality from them.

Of course, such a policy didn't always pay dividends. Numerous players arrived and departed the club without making any impression. Several big names, such as Mario Jardel, failed to live up to their sizeable billing.

However, Allardyce is now working under considerably more scrutiny. Co-chairmen David Gold and David Sullivan have so far stood by their manager in the face of almost unanimous criticism from the fans, but if West Ham's Premier League status appears to be under threat, they won't take any chances.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 03:  Sam Allardyce the West Ham manager looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Tottenham Hotspur at Boleyn Ground on May 3, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

In between leaving Wanderers and joining the Hammers in 2011, Allardyce's managerial career stalled somewhat. He was sacked by both Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers, although he was hardly given a fair crack of the whip at either club. Both were subsequently relegated the season after dismissing him.

Despite these twin setbacks, Allardyce's faith in the systems that had served him so well during his tenure at the Reebok Stadium—both in the market and on the pitch—remained unshaken.

However, at West Ham, and with the knowledge that failure with the Irons could well spell the end for his career as a top-flight manager, he's had little choice but to adapt.

His playing style has been met with widespread derision, as have other relics of his time at Bolton.

Several of his key playing staff—including Kevin Nolan, Joey O'Brien and Jussi Jaaskelainen—are now at the club as well, with mixed results. Jaaskelainen lost his place to Adrian midway through last season, and Allardyce's faith with club captain Nolan has jarred with many of the Upton Park faithful.

Valencia's signing is a risk considering his lack of proven ability. While his record for Pachuca and the Ecuador national side are good—he gave a strong account of himself at the World Cup—he doesn't fit into the mould that Allardyce has proved so adept at signing.

While at Bolton, Allardyce signed numerous players with little pressure if they didn't work out; Valencia is both young and costly.

With the striker already set to miss the start of the season, per the Daily Mail, it appears that the cards are stacked against Allardyce. The question is why he's playing this game in the first place.

Throughout his time at West Ham, he's been bullish in his refusal to bow to the demanding fanbase. However, a look at his transfer policy shows him doing just that.

His record in the market at Bolton is little short of remarkable, but it's easy to ignore the flops thanks to their non-existent fees and low wages. At West Ham, there's an expectation to sign big names, which requires big money.

Allardyce will only get a couple of bites at the cherry each window—the scattergun approach which worked before simply isn't applicable.

Nor is the style of player Allardyce has preferred in the past. His tactics—frequently referred to as bullying and long-ball—have attracted the ire of the fans since his arrival in East London, and not playing "the West Ham way" is directly tied into his need to focus on youth.

The club is not only famous for playing attractive, passing football, but they are also renowned for their academy.

If the club isn't producing talent of its own, the very least that the fans want is to see a group of young players in the side. Allardyce's aforementioned age preferences have been kicked into touch, despite their relative benefits in the modern game.

Wanderers were always aware that their team had a shelf life. They knew that they'd need to replace certain positions and in roughly what time frame they'd need to do so. Southampton are currently a perfect example of how a team of young, exciting talent may not be so beneficial after all.

Had Allardyce stuck more rigidly to his guns, he would more than likely be out of the job by now.

However, what West Ham are left with is a compromised force, a talented manager trying to blend tactical styles which are largely incompatible and operate a transfer policy which simply doesn't lend itself to his skill set. Something has to give this season.


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