Roker Ramble: Is Big Sam Punching Above His Weight?

Dan Istitene

Sam Allardyce has long been labelled as a "long-ball merchant" - however is West Ham's good form so far this season reason enough to re-assess this judgement?

As Kevin Nolan netted the only goal of the game yesterday afternoon, refusing to mark the emotional moment with his trademark chicken-dance celebration out of respect to his former employers, West Ham would go on to take all three points to prolong their impressive start to this season. A remarkable eighteen points from eleven games, for a newly promoted side especially, is a fantastic achievement. However is Sam Allardyce finally proving people wrong or simply punching above his ample weight?

Let's not beat around the bush. "Big Sam" has forged a reputation over his managerial career as being somewhat of a long ball merchant and setting up his sides to get the ball into the final third as often as possible to exploit the "skills" of the likes of Andy Carroll. Of course this is nothing new as West Ham earned promotion last term employing the same system but utilising the likes of John Carew or Carlton Cole as the target man and Ricardo Vaz Te to bring the flair before the summer acquisition of Andy Carroll.

It is no secret that the West Ham fans were somewhat sceptical of Allardyce and his gameplan and a percentage still have their reservations. Chants of "We're West Ham United, we play on the floor" were clearly audible last year and have continued into this term. However as West Ham currently sit sixth in the Premier League table, just two points off a Champions League spot, is it about time that Allardyce received some plaudits for his side's endeavours so far this year? There can be no question that Sam has used all of his tactical nous and has put together a respectable Premier League side with some shrewd transfer dealings and will no doubt be feeling pretty smug at the moment.

There is a current trend that has developed in football as of late that attempts to dictate how the game should be played and of course Barcelona's tika-taka is the style which is lauded above all others. Sure, when Barcelona are playing at their best, most Sundays for example, then they are a joy to watch and the technical ability on the ball they display is certainly easy on the eye. However this is not the definitive way to play football. Yes, it is an extremely glamorous style of play that perfectly suits the squad Barca have at their disposal but surely it would be ill-advised to expect Allardyce to install such tactics with his West Ham squad?

I would also argue that whilst it is undeniable that Sam Allardyce sides favour the direct approach it would be unfair to label their style as "hoof-ball", there's a bit more to it than that. With a midfield of Mark Noble and Mohamed Diame in holding positions and the likes of Ricardo Vaz Te, Kevin Nolan and Matt Jarvis ahead of that pair West Ham can boast plenty of attacking intent and goals from midfield, something Kevin Nolan has become known for.

This season as well I have seen more of a "pass and move" style come in to compliment the direct balls that West Ham favour whenever I have watched Allardyce's outfit with Carroll receiving the ball into his feet almost as often as to his noggin. This makes perfect sense when you look at the players behind him who can be very clever with the ball at their feet.

I also believe Allardyce is still paying the price for his comments in 2010 with regards to being able to manage Real Madrid and would walk away with the league titles year in, year out if he was afforded the opportunity to manage one of the world's biggest clubs. Remarks which transformed Big Sam into a figure of fun and the butt of all jokes in the footballing world.

However were Allardyce's comments as ridiculous as they first sound? Well, most possibly, however there are some statistics that seem to show that the big fella's style isn't such a mismatch for the European giants as we first thought.

Earlier this season, October to be precise, Opta released some figures relating to the number of long balls played by teams in their respective leagues. With any attempted pass which measured twenty-five yards or more constituting a long-ball. The figures made for interesting viewing:

  • Real Madrid - 67
  • West Ham - 65
  • Barcelona - 59

Startling numbers given the styles of play attributed to the three highlighted sides!

Of course it is still early days and whilst West Ham's start to the season should be applauded there is still a long way to go both for the Hammers and for Allardyce as he continues his quest to dispel the myth which continues to plague him.

So what do you think? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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