Following a brief and unsuccessful spell with Liverpool, Roy Hodgson’s main focus now is bouncing back with The Baggies.
The managerial merry go-round spun once again this week with Roberto Di Matteo the unlucky victim of his West Bromwich Albion team’s dismal run of form. The 40 year-old Italian can think himself desperately unlucky when considering his excellent early season form which included a stunning 3-2 win against Arsenal at The Emirates. The dismissal came as somewhat of a surprise from a West Brom board who in the past have been far more tolerant of managers with worse Premier League records than Di Matteo. It would seem that the club’s inability to sustain Premier League football has become a growing frustration for the men in charge of the West Midland’s club and to oversee yet another relegation, but this time with a more talented squad, would certainly be perceived as a failure. As a result, the axe fell hard on youthful manager Roberto Di Matteo and was swiftly replaced by Roy Hodgson, a man who will have little trouble in empathising with his predecessor.
A mere six weeks ago Roy Hodgson was dismissed as the manager of Liverpool Football Club. An obvious inability to reverse poor results on the pitch coupled with his thoroughly unconvincing ability to manage a club of such enormity culminated in the experienced manager being pointed in the direction of the Anfield exit. It had all gone so wrong for one of the game’s more likeable managers but as seen again this week, with the affable Di Matteo, football management can be a merciless task and if you can’t win games, being Mr Nice Guy holds little relevance. Hodgson’s calamitous fall from EUROPA League finalists with Fulham to EUROPA League qualification chasers with Liverpool has unfortunately tarnished his reputation within the game. He will now attempt to regain the respect of his peers as manager of West Bromwich Albion.
The replacement of Roberto Di Matteo for Roy Hodgson represents a massive gamble for West Brom but the payouts could be enormous should it prove to be successful. Should the board have stuck with Di Matteo there was no guarantee that he would have been able to halt the team’s awful form. In recent weeks he has cut a forlorn figure in the West Brom dugout, possibly due to a lack of confidence in his own managerial abilities but also, as rumoured, because he felt he could no longer motivate his players. His replacement suffered similarly at Liverpool where it was evident in many of his player’s overall performances and their displays of body language that they did not believe in their manager’s capabilities. On the other hand, at Fulham, Hodgson’s players gave everything for their manager’s cause, often putting in performances which seemed far greater than the individual ability that each player had previously shown to have at their disposal.
West Brom’s managerial change ultimately boils down to which Roy Hodgson decides to turn up at The Hawthorns. If Roy Hodgson of Liverpool reappears, West Brom fans should probably prepare themselves for yet another descent into the second tier of English football. Conversely, should Roy Hodgson of Fulham manifest himself in the West Midlands, there could be every reason to expect the club to stay in the Premier League and push on up the table in future seasons. To the joy of West Bromwich Albion fans, the latter seems more plausible. Hodgson’s greatest managerial success, taking into account the resources available, was at Fulham; a club which is similar in stature and ambitions to his new employers. Clearly he is a man who struggles with the expectations of the top clubs, as seen in the past with Internazionale and more recently Liverpool, but he thrives under the role as the underdog as demonstrated by his remarkable success at Craven Cottage.
West Bromwich Albion may have caused a shock by offering Hodgson a hasty return to management following his Liverpool disaster but in him they have recruited last season’s EUROPA League finalist and LMA Manager of the Year. When the 2009/10 season reached its conclusion, Hodgson was seriously hot property following his achievements at Fulham, touted with potential moves to various clubs and even being considered as Fabio Capello’s successor should he have resigned after the World Cup. With this in mind West Brom have pulled off somewhat of a managerial coup and his miserable time at Anfield will soon be forgotten should he start winning games for The Baggies. Although failure may dictate the end of Hodgson’s lengthy managerial career, success could propel the man into a position where once again he can harbour ambitions of managing his country.
- Paul Richards
The England international’s move to a club placed considerably lower than his former side in the Premier League table remains mired in controversy.
Predicting the course of football is a virtually impossible and quite frankly pointless task. Often, if followed closely, trends emerge within the game. Barcelona, for example, will win nearly every match that they play, this due to the fact that they currently boast one of the most formidable teams of all time. So when it came to contemplating whether Barcelona would overcome the might of Spanish second division outfit Real Betis, you would have been verging on insanity to suggest anything other than a Catalonia triumph, especially considering the fact they demolished the same team by five goals at the Camp Nou just a week earlier. As it happened, Barcelona contrived to lose this game by three goals to one, a result which included a penalty missed by the best footballer on the planet. As previously stated, predicting football is pointless. This largely because just when you think you have it sussed, Darren Bent moves from European hopefuls Sunderland to relegation threatened Aston Villa. It’s a funny old game.
Bent’s swift departure from the Black Cats followed his shock transfer request on Sunday night. When participating in his first interview as an Aston Villa player, the striker indicated that he had been made aware of the interest shortly after the Tyne-Wear derby and immediately mustered the desire to force the transfer through. This decision alone seemed incomprehensible to Premier League enthusiasts for a plethora of reasons which all seemingly culminated into one. With Sunderland performing considerably better than Aston Villa in the league whilst clearly showing serious ambitions of European qualification the only feasible explanation remaining suggested that Darren Bent had been lured to Villa with the prospect of greater financial rewards. When Bent was inevitably accused of this in the same interview, he was quick to cite his transfer to Tottenham Hotspur in 2007, a decision he had made despite the tantalising wages he was supposedly being offered to join West Ham United. So if Bent was not enticed away from The Stadium of Light by the superior wages on offer at Villa then why did he make the move?
A large degree of the surprise surrounding this move can be attributed to the fact that Darren Bent appeared truly settled whilst playing his football for Sunderland. For long periods he seemed as if he was thriving within a team where he was clearly one of the more talented players, much as he did during his earlier years as a professional footballer at Charlton Athletic. The club rescued him from a less than convincing spell at Tottenham Hotspur, where he was often weighed down by the high expectations of being the club’s most expensive player and was overshadowed by the exquisite talents of Dimitar Berbatov. It was ultimately Harry Redknapp’s mismanagement of the player which signalled the end of his time at Spurs, a mistake which his new employer Steve Bruce was keen not to emulate. Bent was made the centre of attention at Sunderland, employed as the primary source of goals and often rewarded with the captain’s armband as a consequence of his influential performances. Bent went on to repay his manager’s faith in him by notching 32 goals in 58 appearances for the Black Cats. It remains baffling that he would opt to leave the club whilst it was still doing so much to enhance his own career.
Bent’s prolific goal scoring record eventually earned him a recall to the England set-up. On a personal level, the player’s talents were being recognised and heralded on the international stage for the first time in his career. His return to the England squad provided him with the opportunity to get his first goal for his country, which came last year in a qualifier against Switzerland. His club were writing their own success story too. Sunderland were proving to be a formidable team in the Premier League, with an impenetrable record at The Stadium of Light and the highlight away from home of thumping Chelsea 3-0 at Stamford Bridge. Bent’s career was at an all-time high and with the glass ceiling removed, he seemed destined for more successful days in the North East. His departure to a club of a similar stature rightfully left a bitter taste in Steve Bruce’s mouth.
Reflecting upon his time at Sunderland it is hard to detect an obvious reason for his departure, especially to a club who are deeply mired within a relegation battle. Bent has stated that he feels Aston Villa are lying in a ‘false position’ but whether that is the case or not, if they remain in the same form they have been in since Gerard Houllier’s arrival as manager they will drop into the Championship. If the player truly thinks that he is making a positive move to Aston Villa then he must be lacking any sense of logic. Although Villa may one day return to the top six of the Premier League they must now face a rebuilding period, repairing a squad which has aged and lost a considerable amount of talent. Sunderland on the other hand are far more equipped for a European challenge which only serves as yet another perplexing factor in the player’s decision to move.
Overall, the transfer does not reflect well on Darren Bent. He shows little remorse for leaving the club that revived his career in a less than favourable state. His comments about joining Aston Villa because they are a bigger club are misplaced and his claims that he has not moved for the increased salary are disingenuous. Steve Bruce revealed the club had talked him out of a move to Fenerbahce in the summer; a club who notoriously hand out high wages to any mercenary willing to leave Europe’s elite leagues for high payouts. The fact that they targeted Bent, and were almost successful, reveals a lot about the character of the player. Conveniently, it also brings to a halt any inquest into why a player of Darren Bent’s quality would swap a team of European challengers for a dejected group of relegation candidates.
- Paul Richards
Kenny Dalglish may signal new hope for Liverpool fans, but it will be a scrap to recover the ground lost this season.
When Roy Hodgson’s usual Friday press conference was cancelled last week, it was an ominous sign for the 2010 LMA Manager of the Year. Twenty-four hours later he had been replaced by Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish, hoping to turn his former club’s fortunes around. For many, the new manager’s first game in charge, away to the Premier League leaders in the FA Cup third round was essentially a write-off. However, in a game of very little football and several major refereeing decisions, Liverpool showed enough to suggest they can recover.
Of course, the game was over after two minutes. Daniel Agger clipped Dimitar Berbatov’s ankle as the striker approached the byeline, the Bulgarian lost his balance, Howard Webb pointed to the spot and Ryan Giggs cooly converted. Many called for a dive, but the forward is not known for his dishonesty. It was a soft-goal to concede, a rash and unnessesary tackle by the defender, but despite the early set back Liverpool played well in the opening period. Pressing United high up the pitch, it was a tactic that effectively stifled United’s midfield, until Steven Gerrard made another rash tackle on the half hour mark and saw red. Their opponents a man down, United comfortably passed the ball for an hour with no real need for any cutting edge.
Would a team under Hodgson have fared any better under such circumstances? Whilst far from outstanding, the Liverpool players performed to the standard expected of a team that still contains some world-class players. Particularly in defence, there was a competency about the side that was absent under the previous manager. Whether this was down to the boost of a new manager, the fear of being humiliated by their arch-rivals, or simply the replacement of Paul Konchesky with Fábio Aurélio, is difficult to call. One thing is for sure: a defeat for Dalglish is considerably different to a defeat for Hodgson. Dalglish is blessed with the approval of the Liverpool fans, something that Hodgson never experienced. There is something of a similarity to Alan Shearer taking charge of Newcastle in 2009. To an extent, it doesn’t matter what Dalglish does - there is a feeling that the man who won three First Division titles is the best thing for the club. Nobody could do a better job, even if they are relegated.
If distributed correctly, Liverpool have a first eleven capable of finishing in the top six, if not the top four, but their squad still lacks depth and coping with this will be Dalglish’s hardest challenge. Whether he still has the guile to spot a player in the modern transfer market remains to be seen. He may choose instead to attempt to spark some life into some of the talented but ellusive players already on the Liverpool books, namely Ryan Babel. His introduction in the second half against United was one of instant impact - the Dutchman was physical, direct and the clearest goal threat Liverpool posed all game. He has a new chance under Dalglish. That said, he had a new chance under Hodgson, one that he did no appear keen to take. And he’ll have to quit moonlighting as a photoshop artist.
- Jack O’Halloran
Blackpool continue to upset the odds as they work to prove that the team bears more importance than the individual.
The rise of Blackpool football club was initially viewed as somewhat of a phenomenon. Most fans of the game have simply treated their ascent to the Premier League as a footballing anomaly, the likes of which will probably not occur again for many years. However, the minnows from the seaside have made it to 2011 without ever falling into the relegation zone and have regularly forced themselves into the top half of the table, with early season highs of second place. The Tangerines are currently sitting pretty in thirteenth place, joint on points with the almighty Liverpool. With a few games in hand over their nearest rivals Blackpool are looking very well placed to upset the odds and survive the threat of relegation. It is now time to abandon any preconceptions made about the lack of quality at Blackpool Football Club for irrelevant reasons such as the size of their stadium and lack of a prestigious history. Ian Holloway has built a very effective team at Bloomfield Road.
The Blackpool success story has arrived as a consequence of the imbalance of wealth which exists within English football. It is true that certain clubs, such as Manchester United and Liverpool, have always had more money available for the acquisition of players; however the sheer enormity of wealth which has been bestowed upon Chelsea and Manchester City in more recent years has caused an overly inflated market within English football. With seemingly average players, such as James Milner, moving to the top clubs for fees which in the past would have bought you any player in the world, it had become obvious that it would be virtually impossible for the smaller clubs to acquire talented individuals for anything that even remotely resembled value for money.
Blackpool have indirectly profited from this over-inflated tranfer market. The financial constraints which existed within the club meant that entering such an expensive market would be hugely inadvisable. Consequently, the club were forced to work with the resources which were already internally in existence. The Blackpool transfer policy was now directed towards assembling and uniting a team of players whose individual talents were not glaringly apparent but collectively, their stock was much higher. Their team was initially tipped for relegation into League One in the 2009/10 season. This was largely due to the fact that they had appointed a manager, in Ian Holloway, who had recently overseen the demise of Leicester City but also because they had not strengthened their squad as significantly as their league rivals.
Ultimately, these supposed faults manifested themselves as strengths. Ian Holloway had learned how destructive a negative approach to football could be and had reinvented himself upon an attacking philosophy. As for the team, a few clever additions such as Charlie Adam and David Vaughan were added to a core of familiar players with limited football ability but a great team ethic. The value of persisting with a familiar unit of players was ultimately proven as Blackpool gained promotion by, rather ironically, beating a team of talented individuals in Cardiff City, to gain promotion to the English Premier League.
As the average player continues to command extortionate amounts of money in the transfer window ‘the Blackpool effect’ will become a lot more frequent within the game. Only the seriously rich will be able to attract the real game-changing players therefore it would not be such an awful idea for the lesser teams to follow the blueprint of Blackpool’s success. In fact, a similar transfer model has been put into place at both Leeds United and Norwich City. Following relegation into League One, both of these clubs refused to press the panic button and splurge in the transfer market in an attempt to gain the upper hand in a league in which both clubs were significantly larger than the majority of their rivals. Instead they retained the core of their team and gained promotion back into the Championship, continually growing in strength by remaining loyal to their starting eleven. Neither side made massive changes in the build up to this season and both now find themselves on the cusp of a return to the Premier League.
Whether Blackpool can be considered pioneers of this system is obviously debatable. I am definitely not suggesting that they invented the concept of ‘the team’ as since the initiation of football, highly effective teams have been recording success throughout the game. However, the current trends that exist within the English game suggest that success is directly related to a clubs outlay on talented players. For Blackpool to have crafted a team of players whose individual talent should be seeing the majority of them playing no higher than The Championship, to be competing with some of the best players in the world is truly commendable. A real victory for teamwork and comradeship and it is a welcome change to applaud the merits of a united group rather than the exceptional individual. Blackpool may just have instigated a shift in emphasis away from the importance of having great individuals and towards the importance of having a great team.
- Paul Richards
Roy Hodgson’s tenure as Liverpool boss is on life support, and a 2-1 home win against Bolton is by no means a panacea for his ills.
Six disappointing months since the departure of Rafael Benitez, no remnants now remain at Liverpool Football Club of the early optimism and promise granted by new ownership, new management and new recruits. Indeed, Roy Hodgson’s appointment was received with much fanfare in post-Benitez euphoria and this blog (and this writer) was no exception.
It all seemed a good fit - Liverpool were in decay, slipping from a second-place finish in 2009 to seventh in 2010, and it was Hodgson, the architect of Fulham’s recent European triumphs, that was brought in to stop the rot and restore Liverpool to their position amongst England’s elite. The caveat, though, was that Hodgson would not be afforded the small fortunes imparted to Liverpool managers past; his shrewd man-management and maximisation of marginalised talents were the motivators behind his appointment.
Since, Hodgson has appeared to be out of his depth, struggling to align the crucial cogs within the club and unable to grasp the system with which his squad might work best. With success on the pitch becoming increasingly infrequent, confidence has drained. His fostering of talent is conspicuous in its absence in nearly every performance this season. His subtle man-management has come to nought.
The nadir of his reign came last week with the 1-0 defeat to Wolves, where the Anfield faithful watched the likes of Gerrard, Torres and Cole fall to a side bottom of the table and previously unable to muster a win against Liverpool in 27 years. Coming from behind on New Year’s Day to beat a troubling Bolton side has given Hodgson a brief respite, but the result is not fooling anyone. Something at Liverpool does not compute and the new owners now have a short window in which to commit to a decision on Hodgson’s future.
It all looks rather bleak, but the decision is not a clear one. Hodgson has cut a helpless figure on the touchline and in interviews this season, but he is not fully culpable for all of Liverpool’s misery. The quality of the squad he inherited had long been under a sustained period of dilution due to scattergun transfer policies, both with the inflow and outflow of players, and Benitez’ deficiency in buying suitably. How Hodgson would love to turn back the clock and have Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano in his side. Instead, his budget constraints have forced him to scour for players in much the same fashion as he would have at Fulham. Enter Paul Konchesky, Christian Poulsen and Milan Jovanovic who are all well below the standard expected of Liverpool. Admittedly, Joe Cole and Raul Mereiles have shown promise, but Hodgson has yet to get the best from them.
Hodgson’s future ultimately depends on the board’s propensity to push the panic button. If relegation is a genuine fear, wholesale change at the top may be the preferred option. However, this seems unlikely. What does seem likely is that Liverpool will continue to perform at their current rate, which is strikingly similar to how Fulham performed under Hodgson’s stewardship. Hodgson’s footballing philosophy looks ill-suited to the global aspirations of a club like Liverpool, but for now, the club would be shooting themselves in the foot in dismissing him. Some transfer funds this month may help Hodgson in implementing his vision at Liverpool, but either way, he deserves until the Summer to prove whether this is possible or not.
- Ciarán McManus
Could Edin Dzeko prove to be the final piece in the Manchester City jigsaw?
With a limitless war chest of transfer funds, it is no surprise that Manchester City have become the first team to make a serious move in the soon to open January transfer window. Equally unsurprising is the position targeted for improvement. As a consequence of a supposed lack of firepower at Eastlands, City have made a move for one of Europe’s most sought after attackers. Despite a multitude of strikers including Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor and Mario Balotelli, the team have only managed 32 goals this season, 7 less than pace setters Manchester United, having also played two games less than The Red Devils. This total looked far less convincing before an awful Aston Villa team visited Manchester on Tuesday and were soundly beaten by four goals. With the second best defence in the league it comes as no shock that City enter the transfer market with their sights solely set upon attacking reinforcements.
Currently, Carlos Tevez would appear to be the only player with the capacity to produce the goals which could fire City to the Premier League title. Other players such as Emmanuel Adebayor and Mario Balotelli are capable of exhibiting the occasional flash of brilliance but becoming overly reliant upon them could prove an unnecessary risk, especially given the fact that the funds are available to recruit a more reliable source of goals. Had Tevez actually followed through with his desires to leave the club, City would have been seriously lacking in potency, a fear which has spurred the club into transfer action, looking initially to the talents of Wolfsburg’s explosive Bosnian, Edin Dzeko. Should the club secure his services, Manchester City would have acquired a player of true quality and massive potential.
For those who do not follow the Bundesliga, or the Bosnian national team for that matter, Edin Dzeko is a fantastically talented player, capable of scoring a variety of different goals. He does not specialise in being a powerful target man nor can he be pigeon-holed as a tricky pace-man. Such is the unique talent of this man he can offer all of the above. Dzeko, with both his head and feet, is a finisher of the highest order and certainly warrants the reported 35 million pounds price tag. His scoring record speaks for itself with a highly impressive 66 goals in 111 games for VFL Wolfsburg, an all time record for any Wolfsburg player, and 17 goals in 31 appearances for Bosnia and Herzegovina. These are all factors which have contributed to a list of accolades for the player including: Bosnian Footballer of the year twice running, Bundesliga Players’ Footballer of the Yearand even a prestigious Ballon d’Or nomination in 2009. Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that he has achieved all of this at the mere age of twenty four. Edin Dzeko is a player with the world at his feet.
Perhaps an equally exciting aspect of Edin Dzeko is that his ability does not end with his exquisite capacity to score goals. He sports a combative style, high on work rate and bravery, largely as a consequence of his early career playing as a central midfielder. Carlos Tevez aside, Manchester City are lacking this work ethic at the top end of the pitch and whilst Mario Balotelli claims himself to be the second best player in the world, incidently behind only Lionel Messi, his abhorrent lack of enthusiasm will only serve as a hindrance to his own ability in the intensity of the Premier League. Dzeko’s seemingly imminent addition to the Manchester City squad will bring fierce competition to Eastlands with the emphasis heavily falling upon Roberto Mancini to unite a rogue group of talented individuals. If he can do this, Manchester City will have to be considered as serious title contenders. The idea of Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko in the City attack will be a fearful prospect for all of their rivals. The impact of such an efficient pairing could very much be the catalyst for high profile purchases throughout January. The question now is; who will flinch next?
- Paul Richards
Arsenal’s performance hints at a corner turned, but is offset by Chelsea’s slump starting to look serious.
This was, in fact, the second time this season that Arsenal have put three goals past a title-chasing rival, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that this feat makes the Gunners the clear-cut favourites for the title. But their 3-0 demolition of a Manchester City side at a one-man disadvantage for the best part of 85 minutes in October told us little about Arsenal’s title credentials.
You could pass a similar, if perhaps harsh, indictment on the Gunner’s performance yesterday evening when a Chelsea side far removed from the double-winning powerhouse of last season capitulated under sustained pressure from sprightly opposition. Carlo Ancelotti’s team looked as good as it ever does on paper, with the vital vertebrae of Frank Lampard slotting back in to the tough spine of the team and Didier Drogba seemingly up for tormenting Arsenal’s backline once more, but despite the deep reserves of experience possessed, Chelsea’s well of mental fortitude remains dry.
Mainstays John Terry and Ashley Cole performed solidly, but Chelsea lacked confidence in all areas of the pitch, with the physical presence of both Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel being nothing more than ghostly. That they were outplayed by an immensely talented but ultimately lightweight midfield trio of Jack Wilshere, Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song is telling. Arsenal dominated possession in the midfield, but were gifted the ball as often as they won it.
With their best team not up for the task, Chelsea’s plan B, or C for that matter, was never forthcoming. For all of the club’s past riches, Chelsea’s bench was a sorry sight, consisting of four yet-unproven academy players and no recognised striker down to both Nicolas Anelka and Daniel Sturridge picking up late injuries.
Whilst Ancelotti may yet get Chelsea’s season back on to a stable trajectory with some shrewd man-management and a purchase or two, it seems safe to say that Chelsea are no longer the best team in the country. They are now merely amongst a small handful of the country’s best teams, which includes but is certainly not topped, not yet anyway, by Arsenal.
Despite Chelsea’s failings, it should be remembered that Arsenal still had work to do in beating tough and hardened opposition so effortlessly. This was perhaps Arsenal’s most Barcelona-like demonstration yet; Chelsea were pushed and pressured into unforced errors and sloppy passing in every area of the pitch, mistakes on which Arsenal swiftly capitalised. Dropping the lackadaisical Andrey Arshavin to the bench paid great dividends as Theo Walcott stepped up and justified his selection from a starting berth, using his threat and pace to pin back Ashley Cole and put him under constant duress. The dynamism and work rate of the entire side was maintained to the final whistle, where it seemed a possibility that they may crumble after conceding.
The challenge, though, that Arsenal now face is to foster their new found swagger so that it may still be present on April 30th 2011 when Manchester United visit the Emirates, and going on Arsenal’s recent history, the challenge they face may be just as monumental as the one faced by Chelsea.
- Ciarán McManus
Sam Allardyce’s exit suggests that style is becoming increasingly more important than substance in the modern game.
The Barclays Premier League, with its vast array of sublime talents and physical competitiveness, is a marvellous spectacle for millions of people around the world, however there is little escaping some quite shameful events which have tainted England’s elite league competition this December. The month began with ominous forecasts of heavy snowfall. The inevitability of such weather should instantaneously alert every football loving individual to the almost incomprehensible fact that the football may indeed be called off. That it did, in numerous instances, and as a result we were presented with the truly hideous side of the game. Whilst footballs everywhere remained stationary ‘Pantomime Season’ got into full swing as Chris Hughton was inexcusably dismissed from Newcastle United, Carlos Tevez demanded out of his £300,000 a week job and finally, experienced manager Sam Allardyce got the axe as ambitious new owners demanded more from an already overachieving Blackburn Rovers side. The decision to terminate the contract of a man who had achieved positive results during his time at Blackburn Rovers is both remarkable and perplexing.
Sam Allardyce’s record in the Premier League is very good indeed. Having gained promotion to the league with his Bolton Wanderers side in the 2000/01 season, ‘Big Sam’ went on to propel his team to a 6th place finish resulting in qualification into the UEFA Cup. High profile players such as Youri Djorkaeff, Jay-Jay Okocha, and Nicolas Anelka joined The Reebok for one primary reason; under Sam Allardyce, Bolton Wanderers looked to be a club that was going places. However, to reflect upon Allardyce’s time at Bolton as simply flawless would be inaccurate. Whilst Bolton Wanderers were extremely difficult to beat, this largely came down to a style of play which was reliant upon physicality rather than talented individuals. This style swiftly became synonymous with Allardyce, a burden which often detracts from the fact that the manager had perfected a system which was consistently earning three points in one of the toughest leagues in the world. This tag would ultimately prove to be his undoing on several occasions to come.
Following extraordinary success at Wanderers, Allardyce was deservedly rewarded with a shot at a big club with Newcastle United, however the timing of his arrival was unfortunate and the pressures of repairing a sinking ship with far too many holes meant it did not take long for Big Sam to be shown the exit door. Expectation is far too often a manager’s biggest threat, a notion which Allardyce is now once again acquainting himself with, just as he did after his ill-fated spell on Tyneside. Newcastle United were on the cusp of a catastrophic demise and ultimately it proved that Alan Shearer, God of the Tyne, could not even prevent their decline. Whilst the Magpies descended into the Championship mire, their former manager was hauling his new Blackburn Rovers team away from a relegation battle, allowing the club to stabilise following a period of uncertainty under the poor mismanagement of Paul Ince. Sam Allardyce was once again proving his top flight credentials in front of fans that were happy to sacrifice aesthetically pleasing football for an extended period amongst England’s elite.
Under Allardyce, Blackburn continued to be a competitive force in the Premier League, regularly grinding out results against their relegation rivals, ensuring that they were never liable for the drop in division. However, in November of this year, the winds of change swept across Ewood Park. New ownership had arrived with the open admission that a very close eye would be kept upon the managerial staff’s performance levels. Instantly, despite an exemplary previous track record, Sam Allardyce’s job was under threat. Ultimately, it was a pair of contrasting winter fixtures which served to justify the termination of Big Sam’s contract.
The Venky’s Group, having assumed control of Blackburn Rovers, felt a fantastic celebration was in order following their new purchase. A decision was taken to muster their close friends and business associates for a rousing trip to Old Trafford with great hopes of witnessing their new team going toe to toe with The Premier League’s most successful club of all time. As it conspired, the new owners of Rovers observed their team being annihilated before their very eyes in a 7-1 thrashing which coincided with five goals for the ever lethargic, Dimitar Berbatov. Sam Allardyce takes pride in his teams’ toughness and impenetrable core but on that day they fell to a Manchester United side, who themselves were struggling to hit top form, with barely a whimper. This became a crucial day in the final weeks of Allardyce’s Blackburn reign and whilst this match represented the first of the metaphorical nails in the coffin, Sam was dead and buried after a return to the Reebok just two weeks later.
Allardyce’s final game in charge of Blackburn Rovers was riddled with irony. A return to the Reebok meant a return to the club where he had once made his name, however since his departure the club had evolved significantly. Bolton Wanderers, under Owen Coyle, had distanced themselves from Allardyce’s traditional and somewhat primitive approach to football and now utilised a high tempo and elegant passing game. Allardyce found himself up against a club, of a similar stature to Blackburn Rovers, but playing entertaining football and climbing the league in the process. Unfortunately for Sam, Blackburn’s owners became aware of this too with the match itself serving as a stark portrait of the two teams contrasting styles. Despite a closely contested 2-1 victory in Bolton’s favour, it had become apparent that Sam Allardyce’s style of football did not match the requirements of his club’s ambitious owners. With his departure, it is reasonable to think that with him leaves an outdated style of football which is becoming increasingly less desirable in the modern game. Perhaps more concerning however though is the totally unexpected nature of the sacking, which is credit to the fine work Sam was doing at Blackburn. Premiership managers beware, nobody is safe.
- Paul Richards