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    Big Sam's Big Mouth - Is It Justified?

    Sam Allardyce will make his return to Premier League football this weekend with Sunderland, a club that he represented as a player for one season in the early 80's. Big Sam's arrival coincided with Jurgen Klopp's unveiling at Liverpool so it's safe to say that the appointment flew a little under the radar, but thanks to the serialisation of Allardyce's book this week he has put himself firmly back in the limelight.



    Big Sam has always courted controversy his entire career. He has made some amazingly bold statements during his managerial stints in the Premier League, from his claim that he could manage Real Madrid or Inter Milan, to saying that he was the most sophisticated manager in the Premier League, or even saying that the only reason he would never manage a top 4 club is because 'my surname is Allardyce not Allardici'.

    After his outburst at Rafa Benitez this week, claiming that the Spaniard has nothing to do with Liverpool's amazing comeback in the 2005 Champions League Final, Benitez has hit back, saying Allardyce's opinion is irrelevant as he has won no titles. True, Sam has won nothing major in his managerial career, a runners up medal in the League Cup with Bolton is the closest he came to a major trophy. So how do you measure Sam's success (or lack thereof) in a career which has been full of limited resources and unrealistic expectations?

    In his early managerial career Big Sam had some small success, winning a League of Ireland title with Limerick in 1991 and guiding Notts County back to the old Division 2 at the first time of asking in 1998. However it was when Allardyce joined Bolton, the club where he had spent his best years as a player, that his managerial credentials really came to the fore. He led the club to the Premier League via the playoffs in 2001 by beating Preston North End, the club who had refused him a permanent managers job years before. As we will come to learn through this article, Allardyce doesn't let go of grudges easily so this would have been a sweet victory.


    Sam celebrates taking Bolton back to the Premier League

    It is after leading Bolton to the Premier League that Allardyce's reputation rose dramatically. Bolton were an unfashionable club with little star power or financial muscle but they were transformed into a dominant physical side who were a consistent thorn in the side of the bigger teams. They drew the constant ire of the top managers in the league such as Benitez and Wenger, who constantly criticised Bolton's bludgeoning style of play. Big Sam saw the criticism as arrogance, that supposedly superior managers where just angry that they were beaten by 'long ball' tactics, a term that Allardyce has said he hates more than once. "The lingering long ball s***, that old style, all that rubbish that's never been me or part of what I am", this was Sam's response to the perception of his style of football from others in the game.

    Away from on field tactics, Allardyce led the charge of introducing technology and statistical analysis into the modern game. He was one of the original users of ProZone, a computer tracking system to measure every physical statistic of a players game during a match. He used earpieces to communicate with his coaching staff during games to get real-time analysis of his players performances from different perspectives. He even got his players involved with yoga, pilates and t'ai chi to limit injuries and help with fitness. He wasn't an old school manager who believed fight and determination would be all that was necessary, although these were big weapons in his managerial arsenal, his intelligence and foresight were key in implementing sports science techniques to help Bolton achieve as much as they could on a limited budget. 

    Another weapon at his disposal was a great power of persuasion. Allardyce was able to attract many stars, albeit aging stars, to the Reebok Stadium. Many Premier League afternoons were lit up by the outrageous skills of Jay Jay Okocha or Youri Djorkaeff, the hard hitting tackles of Ivan Campo or Fernando Hierro, or the downright unpredictability of Nicholas Anelka. Not only could Allardyce lure these world stars to Bolton, his man management brought the best out of them and it showed. Bolton had their best ever season to date in 2005, and actually finished level on points with Liverpool who of course were European champions that season. Bolton had 3 consecutive finishes in the top 8 which led to Sam being linked with England, but it wasn't to be.


    Okocha and Djorkaeff led Bolton to Europe for the first time

    McClaren was given the job instead, despite the fact that Allardyce's Bolton had finished above McClaren's Middlesbrough in the League for 3 consecutive seasons. He then went on to an ill-fated spell at Newcastle which lasted a little over 6 months. A terrible run of pre Christmas form combined with the fact that the supporters never really took to him saw Sam sacked, and it would be over a year until he found himself back in work with Blackburn Rovers. Here he rebuilt his reputation again after a disappointing time at Newcastle, saving Blackburn from relegation in his first season, and subsequently finishing in midtable the following year and he kept Blackburn unbeaten at home against the so called 'big 4' of United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, a great achievement by any club. 

    Blackburn then sacked Allardyce in December 2010, harshly in many people's opinion. Blackburn cited ambition as the reason they got rid of Allardyce, they now sit 15th in the Championship after a disastrous couple of years. Careful what you wish for.

    His final achievement was bringing West Ham back to the Premier League after Avram Grant's tenure had taken them down. Like his time at Newcastle, fans had pre-existing opinions of Sam and his brand of football but he led them back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, with the help of his ex Bolton trustees Kevin Nolan, Joey O'Brien and Abdoulaye Faye. Allardyce claims in his book that West Ham fans have been brainwashed and are deluded. Not an unfair claim as West Ham have finished in the top 10 of the Premier League 3 times in the past 10 years, one of which Allardyce achieved.

    Allardyce will now be charged with keeping Sunderland in the Premier League, and at the age of 60 this is likely to be his last job in football, certainly in a managerial capacity. Who knows whether he would have succeeded at a bigger club, other managers with the same level of experience got their cracks of the whip such as David Moyes at Manchester United, Roy Hodgson at Liverpool, and to a certain degree even Harry Redknapp at Spurs. He has always been looked at unfavourably in my opinion, partly because he wears his heart on his sleeve and occasionally puts his foot in his mouth. There is no doubting his effectiveness though, and Sunderland can rest easy knowing they are in good hands for the remainder of this season.


    By Darren Beck (@DarrenBeck13)
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