“It’s not if you win, it’s the way you win.” Johan Cruyff
“I don’t give a shite.” Sam Allardyce
It’s always been an odd fit, Big Sam as West Ham boss, a Faustian contract the club signed at their lowest ebb. Never mind about the aesthetics I’ll get you promoted he promised, and then delivered (just). Now after two years of survival and little else the club is in a holding pattern while they wonder if just surviving is enough.
The most fascinating thing about the criticism of the rudimentary nature of his team’s playing style has been Allardyce’s utter distain for it. To Big Sam any questioning of style over results seems completely alien. It’s as if he can’t even get his head round the concept. His job is determined solely through results, the table is there in black and white if anyone wants to question him. And it says he’s done his job (his complaints about West Ham having an undeserved reputation for attacking, easy on the eye football have some truth to them, although just because they haven’t seen any for a while doesn’t mean they can’t expect to see their team at least attempt to do it).
Stoke of course were in this position a year ago. Tony Pulis was delivering survival season on season with an increasingly expensively assembled squad and supporters progressively more frustrated by the style of play. Mark Hughes was brought in with the brief of playing more attractive football and they’ve just finished the season with their highest ever points tally. This isn’t to say it would work that way at West Ham. It might just be as likely they’d plummet again without Big Sam’s sobering influence. It’s a risk either way.
Looming in the background is the 2016 move to the refurbished Olympic Stadium. When they’re calling that home they’ll have 54,000 seats to fill every week. Tough to do with the functional football they’ve been playing, pretty much impossible to do outside of the Premier League.
Big Sam might rightly point out that his job thus far has just been to keep West Ham up, one he’s done comfortably. He might get one more season to prove that he can do this while getting his team playing more football (in fairness to him at this point in his Bolton career he did bring more flair in, although this is relative). More than likely he won’t care.
The most important factor in top level football is perception. You’re either a club that’s going forwards or backwards. The best you could argue for West Ham at the minute is that they’re a club standing still. And with a stadium move to plan for and paying fans disgruntled that might just be enough to make a change.