When football people talk about the great institutions of the British game, then the name of West Ham United deserves to be up there. This is a club that is rooted in its community. You only have the walk around the East End and talk to the people to see the pride that West Ham fans take in their club. They will tell you with a straight face that West Ham United won the World Cup for England.
When you take away the partisan and tribal nature of these fans comments, there is actually an element of truth about the claim. Geoff Hurst, a West Ham player, fired the hat trick that downed the Germans. Bobby Moore, of West Ham United, lifted the cup as captain of the victorious England team. Martin Peters a classy left side, who also scored in the final, was a integral part of Ramsey’s team. The club has also provided England with Trevor Brooking, a wonderful technical player, who sadly has not been able to bring the vision from his playing days to his job of technical director.
The production line didn’t stop in the eighties, however, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard came through in the 1990’s. Jack Collison, James Tomkins and Mark Noble have kept up the tradition recently.
They were all brought up the West Ham way, to cherish the ball, to express themselves and to bring joy to the punters who are parting with their hard earned cash to watch the match. All of these players Cole, Carrick, Lampard and Ferdinand have reached the top of the club game and representing England numerous times, all were schooled at West Ham. When you walk down the tunnel at the Boleyn ground, you cannot miss the sign, West Ham United- The Academy of Football.
It is for these reasons that it is just so wrong that Sam Allardyce is in the seat once occupied by Ron Greenwood and Billy Bonds. Allardyce was hired to get West Ham promoted and he did, just about. West Ham with a budget larger than not only every side in the division but also Athletic Bilbao and Newcastle United, scraped promotion through the playoffs after beating Blackpool in a game where they were out classed and out passed.
To be fair to Sam, he has always played this brand of kick and rush, so West Ham knew exactly what they were getting when they hired the Englishman. His Bolton side, brutally effective at times, were consistently awful to watch.
His brand of football, didn’t matter to Bolton fans, they have not the same culture of passing progressive football that West Ham have. He got a free pass because Bolton fans A)did not care and B) it led to success beyond the wildest dreams of your average Bolton fan. West Ham fans expect more, they expect stylish attacking football. It is for this reason and this reason alone that West Ham fans have not taken to Allardyce.
His spell at Newcastle showed that a big football club with a love for attacking football was only willing to tolerate his industrial style of football for so long. Can you imagine where Newcastle United would be if Sam Allardyce was the manager? Well it is safe to assume that neither Hatem Ben Arfa nor Yohan Cabaye would be wooing the Geordie nation as they currently are. They would not get into any side Sam manages.
The win on the opening day of the season showed that against a poor rigid Aston Villa side, that Sam will not encourage and urge his players to go out on the front foot to try and win the game. The game against Swansea, however, showed the flaw in Allardyce’s philosophy of playing the percentages and hoping to knick it on a set piece. West Ham constantly gave the ball away against Swansea who had the good sense to pass and pass and then pass some more until the opportunities for goals came.
What did Sam do? Did he go on tell his centre backs to move the ball quickly to midfield so they could in turn feed Matt Jarvis or Carlton Cole to feet? Did he tell them to have the courage to match Swansea pass for pass? No, on the rare occasion when West Ham actually had possession, Allardyce watched as his players punt ball after ball at Carlton Cole who either fell over or failed to control and hey presto Swansea had the ball.
It was clear from the numerous times they tried this both against Aston Villa and Swansea that this is Big Sam’s blue print for Premier League survival.
The Fulham game last weekend showed that this pattern is rigidly drummed into the players, with footballers such as Noble now reduced to playing quick long diagonals to the Andy Carroll in the hope of a knockdown to the on rushing Kevin Nolan.
The Fulham game illustrated that this tactic can be brutally effective when a team is unable to stand up to the aerial bombardment but the Fulham also showed that they are poor enough in possession to give their opponents plenty of the ball and numerous good chances.
While the season is only three games old, it is frankly depressing to see a club with West Ham’s tradition attempt to stay up this way. West Ham should have thanked Sam for promotion and then promptly sacked him. If they had moved for a Roberto Martinez or Ian Holloway type manager then West Ham would have tried to survive playing a style that is embedded in the soul of the football club.
Indeed clubs such as Wigan, Swansea and Norwich have proved that survival by style is possible. These clubs are nowhere near as iconic as the hammers yet have sustained themselves in the Premier League in a manner that Ron Greenwood and others would be proud of.
Wigan and Swansea have done football a great service by showing that strengths such as physical strength, tactical rigidity and set piece bombardment are not necessary to stay up in the top division. They have shown us that there is another way forward.
There is no doubting that Big Sam’s long ball tactics will be effective against disorganised and poorly set up teams when West Ham are at home but it is hard to see them having enough of the ball away from home to gain a foothold in these tricky away games. Sadly, it maybe their away record which is the difference between staying up and going down
The style of football one likes is purely a personal thing, you may be happy with your team lumping it, I on the other hand am not. Should results, however, like the one against Swansea continue then it is hard to see a crowd as educated as West Ham’s tolerating Sam for too long.
The argument that Allardyce is ugly but effective will be blown out of the water this season. The two Davids may just have a decision to make come November/December time. I wonder what that Harry Redknapp chap is doing at the moment.