Sam Allardyce was hired to get West Ham back to the Premier League and, to his credit, he did just that. Club owners David Sullivan and David Gold would have been aware of the reputation of Allardyce’s teams but clearly felt he was the best man to get the team promoted. Now they are back in the top division, Sullivan and Gold will also expect Allardyce to keep them there and re-establish them as a Premier League mainstay.
With a mixture of academy graduates and Premier League veterans West Ham have a squad more than capable of surviving in the Premier League, and it is likely both the owners and the fans will share this belief. Allardyce’s challenge is therefore arguably less about staying up and more about winning over the supporters. Certain sets of fans believe they are entitled to a style of football of a certain quality, and as ridiculous as this may be, it doesn’t disguise the fact that some clubs will be more tolerant of ‘percentage football’ than others. Allardyce was revered at Bolton where he overachieved with a style not dissimilar to that of Stoke. Like Tony Pulis, Allardyce has always targeted set pieces and direct balls into the box. If West Ham supporters grudgingly accepted Allardyce’s philosophy last season when the focus was on gaining promotion, this year patience may wear a little thin.
The frustrating thing for the fans is how quickly Allardyce has assembled a team in his image. In Kevin Nolan, Matt Taylor, Abdoulaye Faye, Ricardo Vaz Te and Jussi Jaaskelainan, Allardyce has brought in a core of ex-Bolton players to carry out his game plan. West Ham has a long tradition of producing technically sound players through their youth academy, and when last season’s squad included David Bentley (albeit briefly), Henri Lansbury and Ravel Morrison there seemed little reason not to attempt a more cultured style of play. However, the fact that no attempt was made to retain either Bentley or Lansbury and Morrison has been farmed out on loan after a solitary appearance in six months suggests that Allardyce is happy sticking with what he knows.
In a sense, Allardyce is in a no-win situation. If he keeps the club up comfortably, the fans are likely to want to see a more entertaining style of football. If they face a battle for survival people will question whether his direct approach is worth suffering if it doesn’t deliver success. Yet Allardyce has always had faith in his own abilities and aspires to manage at the highest level, so one would expect him to want to play a more expansive style once he has the players capable of doing so. This is not to say that West Ham have at this stage yet, but with their successful academy they are probably more likely to get there than Bolton or Blackburn were. With his reputation damaged by premature dismissals from his previous two jobs and the majority of the Premier League embracing possession football, this may be Allardyce’s last chance with a big club.