West Ham rearguard action required if Allardyce is to redeem club and career

Defence secured a point at Chelsea, but a more adventurous approach is needed


He’s a bit of an odd bloke, Sam Allardyce. A couple of us once ventured into a late-night conversation between him and Phil Brown in a hotel bar in Durham – drink had been taken – in which the first question on taking a seat was: “So what’s the most important touch in football?”

Not really expecting this to be the topic of such an animated chat at this hour, in this place, the obvious “first touch” was offered hastily in return.

“Yeah, all right,” said Allardyce dismissively. “And what about your last touch?”

It was 1-0 to Big Sam, which is just how he likes it.

But it made you think, and it’s always there in those moments when it seems like the only thing to do is to hoist yourself up onto the bandwagon and harrang Allardyce.

Part of our problem is reducing sportspeople to one dimension and Allardyce is more than punt-it-up-to-the-big-man.

How much more is a question? There are times when you need to remind yourself that this is the manager at Bolton Wanderers who had Jay-Jay Okocha, Fernando Hierro and Ivan Campo in the team. It is the manager Gary Speed would publicly praise repeatedly and continue to do so privately.

Nutrition, pilates, prevention rather than cure, these are methods Allardyce was employing with a zest at Bolton. Elsewhere among British coaches lip service was being paid.

Allardyce’s style worked at Bolton, though at a price. His success – under Allardyce Bolton finished sixth in the Premier League in 2005 and seventh in 2007, bringing European football – earned him the Newcastle United job. On day one at St James’s Park Allardyce spoke of “cultural change” being required at the under-achieving club. Everyone nodded.

Such was the disarray at Newcastle, Allardyce could have said anything, which is why when it came to talking about playing negatively away from home, there was less attention paid to this comment: “If that means spoiling the opposition, then that is all that counts. Winning and entertaining is great, but we have to win.”

Impatient Newcastle
This sentiment turned out to have a greater resonance

in Allardyce’s team than cultural change did at the club. It was a misunderstanding on his part. He thought that because Newcastle had not won anything for decades and consistently punched below their weight, the club and its fans would settle for pragmatic short-term solutions, for spoiling. Allardyce lasted eight months.

The end came not long after a 1-0 defeat at Wigan, when travelling fans delivered the ditty: “We’re shit and we’re sick of it.”

Now at West Ham, Allardyce is in a comparable position. He has been in situ there two years eight months, guided the Hammers to promotion and to 10th place in their first season back in the Premier League.

However, he has also questioned the idea of the West Ham way.

We know what this is, as do West Ham fans and they turn up wanting to see it. They chant: “We’re West Ham, we play on the floor”, but Allardyce has described it as “a bit of a delusion”.

It has made for some uncomfortable moments at Upton Park, yet as West Ham prepare to host Swansea City this lunchtime, Allardyce is chipper. His team may be third from bottom of the division and have the pressure of the Olympic Stadium upon them as well as the usual survival problems, but West Ham have just nabbed a point at Chelsea with tactics that Jose Mourinho called “19th century”.

This prompted the Hammers’ boss to caper his way through the post-match press conference at Stamford Bridge.

Clever tactics
Allardyce beamed at Mourinho’s complaints. And while he did not repeat his Newcastle line

: “If that means spoiling the opposition, then that is all that counts”, it’s what he meant.

Because of Mourinho’s pot-kettle moan, Allardyce has emerged looking the smart spoilsport and few do looking self-satisfied as well as he.

The point won at Chelsea took West Ham’s tally away from Upton Park to 10. At home, where they have not won since November 30th, the side have nine points.

It’s not so easy to spoil your way to success at home. And the stage has passed for many Hammers when, after the latest long punt from Jussi Jasskelainen has landed on the opposition’s 18-yard line, they see the reason.

Which is why, after the happy-clappy journey from west to east London on Wednesday night, Allardyce and West Ham need to perform convincingly against Swansea today. He must add a dimension; the side need to create, not just spoil.

If they don’t, and if Swansea rediscover some of the passing fluency of last season, then Stamford Bridge could turn out to be the highlight of West Ham’s season, not its turning point. And Sam Allardyce may have had his last touch.

Cutting quenelle: Clueless Anelka comes up short on remorse
There is a desire to be angry with Nicolas Anelka. And of course, initially, anger and agitation were there. When first informed of the shocking meaning of Anelka’s quenelle gesture/tribute/celebration/ whatever, you could hardly be anything but angry.

But reading further reports from France this week about comedian M’bala M’bala Dieudonne and his followers, such as Anelka, the anger was overtaken, if not replaced, by a heavy sadness. Monday was Holocaust Memorial Day, an occasion that should heave with sorrow and compassion. What was Dieudonne doing? Sniggering?

When Nicolas Anelka joined Chelsea he happened to do so when Avram Grant was manager. What would Anelka and his mate Dieudonne say now to Grant, whose family in 1941 fled from the Nazi invasion of Poland and ended up in a forest in Russia where Grant’s father buried his parents and five brothers and sisters after they died of starvation and cold?

Would Anelka be able to say that he and his mate are just standing up against the administrative class in France?

How rebellious.

Grant might struggle to believe that. The former Chelsea boss has slapped Anelka gently over the gesture: “I don’t know if he’s thought about it. Sometimes Anelka didn’t think too much.”

But others might need to be a little harder. On Tuesday Anelka said of a possible departure from West Brom: “Why should I leave my club and England? I’m happy here and I did nothing wrong.”

Avram Grant knows that is incorrect. Anelka did something very wrong and should have already received a lengthy ban. What would be better though – much, much better – was if Nicolas Anelka listened, learned and showed some remorse.

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