Monday, 12 May 2014

What next for Sam Allardyce and West Ham United?

There has been growing speculation over recent weeks concerning the future of West Ham manager Sam Allardyce.

The fans have never really warmed to the former Bolton manager, who most definitely does not play “the West Ham way.”

Indeed, many will have been struck this season by the irony of a situation that has seen the most basic limited style of football on display at Upton Park for many a year, whilst the club take every opportunity to plug legacy with images of legends like Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Trevor Brooking.

Allardyce’s footballing style has no doubt annoyed many West Ham fans. It is limited to say the least, hoisting the ball forward as quickly as possible from front to back, either by working it down the wings  or simply hoofing it from the back.

The target is front man Andy Carroll, who has scored two goals this season. What has become ever clearer is there does not seem to be a plan B. This limitation was cruelly exposed when Carroll was sidelined until January. But even since his return more and more clubs have realised that if they mark Carroll out of the game, they have a great chance of beating West Ham.

One of Allardyce’s biggest errors was his failure to provide adequate cover for Carroll. Last summer, he laid off the other big striker Carlton Cole, relying instead on £4million signing Modiba Maiga.

This did not work, resulting in Allardyce’s tactical switch to playing with no strikers. This seemed initially to work, with an excellent victory over Spurs in October.

At the time, the club came to increasingly rely on young midfielder Ravel Morrison, who made an explosive impact on the Premier league scoring some great goals as a result of his mazy runs.

However, Morrison fell out with Allardyce and was sent out on loan to QPR in January, for whom he has since scored a series of spectacular goals.

It was the award of goal of the season to Morrison at the club’s annual awards dinner a couple of weeks ago that seemed to help build the no confidence in Sam Allardyce movement. At the same dinner, co-owner David Sullivan apologised to the fans for the season.

Sullivan is reported to be the individual most dissatisfied with Allardyce among West Ham’s high command. The other co-owner David Gold and chief executive Karen Brady remain loyal to Allardyce.

Sullivan is said to be unhappy at Allardyce’s transfer signings. And he does have a point, Allardyce’s big money signings Matt Jarvis (£10m), Carroll (£15m) and Downing (£6m) have hardly been raving successes. On the other hand the manager has done some good business, bringing in inspirational skipper Kevin Nolan, workhorse Mohammed Diame and keeper Adrian.

Allardyce himself is probably pretty exasperated at the situation. The club finished in mid-table and got to the semi-final of the League Cup  - what’s the problem?

However, the going was always going to get tough for Allardyce when results did not run for him. The Hammers fans don’t like the style of play. The chant, we’re West Ham and we play on the ground has never seemed far away from the lips of many fans.

Many also wonder what has been going on with Morrison. Following a brilliant start, he seemed to fade. The mazy runs died as he picked up the ball but instead of setting off on a run, he turned left or right to pass the ball to someone else to hump the ball forward for the big man. It was as if he had been told not to make the runs anymore.

What is for sure is that something is afoot at Upton Park. The rumours about Gus Poyet, Michael Laudrup, Malchy Mackay and Claudio Ranieri coming to replace Allardyce did not come from nowhere. Many will remember this level of briefing going on before Allardyce’s predecessor Avram Grant  got the chop.

Maybe Sullivan has had enough and he just does not see Allardyce as the man to take West Ham into the Olympic stadium – the team is certainly way short of what will be needed for that stage.

My own bet is that Allardyce will survive but that he is now living on borrowed time. The first bad run next season will see the opposition quickly revive and then the board may act. On the other hand Allardyce himself may just walk away wondering what you have to do to keep the Eastenders happy.

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