Everyone has their opinions, everyone has their hopes and dreams pinned to one Penny Dreadful that is our very own Victorian charade. This has been well covered – I wrote a piece earlier this month in fact when this debacle first hit the headlines - but today, we speak of something altogether different and yet wholly the same.
What does Sam Allardyce bring to a team?
Fitness. Allardyce has been a keen and avid purveyor of hard fitness regimes coupled with cryotherapy since the early nineties. The benefits of this method have been proven beyond scientific doubt and become particularly evident when Sam brings in players with injury records. Kaboul, Kirchhoff, perhaps even Defoe, gradually became sharper, faster and more consistent players under Allardyce's regime, shocking more than a few of their detractors in the process.
Strategy and Statistics. Sam's love of statistics is well-documented. Many are in two minds as to the effectiveness of the use of data in team selection or tactics; all players are human and humans have the potential to have bad days, good days and days where they look better or worse than they traditionally are. However – when applying the use of data analysis to an overall projection for a season (it is based on points, after all) it enables one to set achievable targets, something that is very desirable for a team struggling with performances, identity and stability. In the annual relegation battle he cut his tenure up into several chunks of five or six games – each chunk required a certain amount of points that totaled over 38 in the long run. This helped the team focus, helped him focus and allowed them to stay stronger and more resilient mentally when they took a bad beat or made a mistake: "Don’t worry, we need four points from three games and we’ve still got two to go, so don’t get downhearted just yet."
Transfers. Obviously its early days and everything’s up in the air at the moment so, whilst we’re all desperate for movement in the market, I won’t touch on this too much just yet but its still worth a mention. In his past transfer dealings with us we’ve found him to be very astute and not afraid to take a little gamble on an older player or one with a bad injury record. He has an eye for talent as evidenced by signing Khazri for us, Sakho for West Ham, Jay Jay Okocha at Bolton, etc. and seems to be a straight shooter with his personal dealings. (Note: this last opinion is subject to much change and furious anger if he leaves for the England job.)
Defensive-mindedness. As we know Big Sam was a centre back in his playing days and has always espoused the need for a solid defence to build a team from. He works with his defenders personally and protects and believes in them even when they make their own gaffes, and we’ll all agree we can use Van Aanholt's recent coming-of-age, as it were, as evidence for this. Sunderland have struggled with our defence pretty much since we started relying on Wes Brown and John O’Shea to keep the goals out. It’s actually rather embarrassing even having to write that, but it’s true and if one man noticed that more than any other it was Big Sam. Expect much more of our defence if he stays as manager in the season to come.
Old school? No. Long ball football? If you’ve ever played FIFA with Andy Carroll in your squad, it’s essentially a guaranteed goal, every time. But not without someone of that aerial ability in the box. A lot has been said about Big Sam’s tactics in this regard and I personally couldn’t disagree more. In fact, under Allardyce's tenure I’ve seen a lot LESS of us hoofing it up field in a desperate bid to clear the lines/catch a breather. The amount of times we’ve all seen John O’Shea do it in the last four years is incalculable. West Ham fans complained about it all the time, but they booed him when he won so... yeah. I think the man himself sums it up best;
It rankles with me at times that I have to remind people what I have done. You have to accept it for what it is. If you start talking about it too much, you just get labelled big-headed, people go ‘He’s blowing his own trumpet again, what’s he on about this time?’ but if no one else is going to talk about it, you have to talk about it. You have to fight your own corner.
The lingering long-ball sh*t, the old style, all that rubbish that’s never been me and never been a part of what I am.
To play for their country is supposedly every footballers dream. I can understand it, even though I personally haven’t particularly followed England for a while now, because they’ve been crap. But yeah, it’s an honour, I can imagine having that feeling. So it stands to reason that every manager would consider it to be as honourable leading their national team. We simply can’t fault him for wanting it.
That being said – really!? It’s nothing more than a boot to the gut of every SAFC fan who has seen the gradual incline of quality, in fitness, in transfers, in potential, in stability. We suffer for the Football Association? Well, it wouldn’t be the first time, would it?
The reality of working directly for said Football Association is the inherent fact that when it comes time to pick your team, to "make your mark" as it were, if you think they’ll be doing anything other than slamming a piece of paper with the most internationally marketable players on it and saying ‘Go on then lad, off you go, bring the World Cup back for Queen and Country!’ you’re just a gullible fool. I’m sorry to say it, but it’s just fact isn’t it? Two players went to the Euros for England off the back of their form. The rest star in shampoo and deodorant adverts.
So for the above reasons it would be with great regret and sadness that I would see Big Sam go, both for Sunderland AFC and inevitably for Sam himself. That job is nothing more than a poisoned chalice. Stay with us and who knows? One things for sure – if he stays, he has the chance to bring us out of anonymity and into fierce competition. He has the chance to lap up the loyalty and love of generations of some of the great football fans on this planet. If I were in his shoes, I know what choice I’d make.