Sam Allardyce: Why Big Sam is right for Crystal Palace
Sam Allardyce is back in football at Crystal Palace - after his dramatic rise and fall in 67 days and one game as England manager he has returned in the familiar role of firefighter at Selhurst Park.
The 62-year-old's reputation was heavily damaged after he left his dream job with England in September after being caught up in a newspaper sting speaking about how to "get around" rules on player transfers and using his role to negotiate a deal worth £400,000 to represent a Far East firm.
The Football Association said Allardyce's conduct was "inappropriate" but his track record and expertise at dragging clubs out of trouble still meant he was Palace's first choice when Alan Pardew was sacked on Thursday.
What will Allardyce change?
The clue will be in the instant reaction of Palace chairman Steve Parish, who admitted a switch to a more "expansive" style this season had failed and it was now time to "wind the dial back the other way".
This could almost be code for "we've conceded too many daft goals", so Allardyce's first task will be to give Palace some defensive backbone, a managerial job he has been adept at in the past.
It will certainly present a different scenario to Allardyce, who has often - not always with justification - been criticised for not being expansive enough when in charge at clubs, such as Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers and West Ham United.
Allardyce walks into Selhurst Park with the bar set low. They are the worst performing of all 92 Premier League and Football League sides in 2016, below York City - who are bottom of the National League - with 26 points from 36 games, an average of 0.72 points per games.
The Eagles are in 17th place, just a point off the relegation places having conceded 32 goals. Only Hull City and Swansea City, both below them, have worse defensive records.
Allardyce's base camp, familiar territory for him, will be to make Palace tough to beat again. Strong foundations throughout the team will be his tactical watchword. He is likely to want strong, experienced defenders, such Scott Dann, to help him achieve that.
At Sunderland he saw similar failings and spent £6m on Lorient defender Lamine Kone, who was outstanding, while shoring up his midfield with Bayern Munich's Jan Kirchhoff. It was classic Allardyce as both January signings played key roles in the Black Cats' survival.
He has cast-iron faith in his own methods and rails against the suggestion he is simply a long-ball disciple.
In the past, Allardyce has employed width and power and has weapons to suit that style in the likes of Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha plus powerful spearhead Christian Benteke.
Allardyce can also produce evidence of his willingness to work with flair players - not simply those who will adhere slavishly to limited managerial principles. At Bolton, he successfully incorporated France World Cup winner Youri Djorkaeff, Nigerian maverick Jay-Jay Okocha and Real Madrid legend Fernando Hierro into his set-up.
This may give hope to the likes of midfielder Yohan Cabaye, but initially Allardyce will want Palace to rid themselves of the soft underbelly that has made them such a miserable proposition for the past 12 months.
|A change of direction|
|Palace chairman Steve Parish: "A more expansive style of football.... hasn't worked. Now we're going to wind the dial back the other way."|
|Former Palace owner Simon Jordan: "I like Sam, I know him well. Sam is almost as good as it gets when guaranteeing you won't get relegated."|
Is Allardyce football's firefighter supreme?
Allardyce may have been discredited by his 67-day England experience - but the reaction to his appointment has been that Palace have got the best around at ensuring they are not in the Championship at the start of next season.
Allardyce was appointed England manager on the back of saving Sunderland from relegation last season rather than winning silverware or making a significant impact at home in Europe.
His reputation as a troubleshooter is actually enhanced by the fate of two clubs who sacked him. Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers both dispensed with his services - in January 2008 and December 2010 respectively - and down the line both eventually dropped into the Championship.
It is a fallacy, however, to suggest Allardyce is simply an impenetrable shield against relegation. He has proved much more than that.
Allardyce, as he never been slow to mention to his critics, has always been at the forefront of sports science and modern managerial techniques. Some may quibble about his style but none can question his preparation.
He is sure to bring his own analysts and fitness coaches to Selhurst Park.
The statistics suggest that if Palace survive this season, and Allardyce is then given time, he will prove he is more than a one-trick pony and avoiding relegation is not his only speciality.
When he got Bolton Wanderers promoted to the Premier League via the play-offs in 2000-01, he consolidated in 16th and 17th place for two seasons before four successive finishes in the top 10 and Uefa Cup football, before announcing his intention to leave on 29 April 2007 with Bolton in fifth.
Newcastle were 11th when he was sacked and he took Blackburn from 19th to 15th after he was appointed in December 2008. They were a highly respectable 10th the following season and were in 13th place when he was sacked by new owners Venkys.
And on to West Ham United, where he fulfilled his mission to get the Hammers back into the Premier League before consolidating them in the top flight. They finished 10th, 13th and 12th after promotion before his departure by mutual consent in May 2015.
So yes, Palace are getting a manager well versed in keeping teams in the top flight, but the image of an operator who is only at home scrapping it out to avoid relegation can be exposed as something of a myth.
Palace may be getting the Allardyce who guarantees survival. If he does that, they may get much more.
|How Sunderland hit form when it mattered|
|Sunderland picked up 0.38 points per game under Dick Advocaat before the Dutchman left Sunderland after eight games of last season.|
|The Black Cats averaged 1.20 points per game under Allardyce as the club climbed from 19th to the safety of 17th.|
|Crucially, Sunderland lost just one of their last 11 games of the league season.|
|Sunderland secured safety with a 3-0 win over Everton in their penultimate game of the season.|
How will Allardyce shape his squad?
Allardyce inherits, in potential at least, one of the strongest squads Palace have possessed in the Premier League but the club's American major shareholders, David Blitzer and Josh Harris - who each purchased an 18% stake a year ago - will back him to strengthen in January.
He will look to make similar deals to those that brought Kone and Kirchhoff, as well as survival, to Sunderland but will also look to make the best of Palace's heavy summer investment.
Allardyce will have a genuine goal threat at his disposal in Christian Benteke, a £27m signing from Liverpool, while Wilfried Zaha can be a thrilling talent out wide and through the middle. He will also hope to reignite winger Andros Townsend's career.
If he can get the threat right, he also has the tools to shore up Palace's porous defence.
|Sam Allardyce's Premier League record|
He is the sort of manager who may bring the best out of Dann, while he also has James Tomkins in central defence after his £10m summer move from West Ham United.
It remains to be seen whether Cabaye is to his taste and he may want to add a goalkeeper with first choice Steve Mandanda out injured.
Allardyce will not have been wasting his time while out of the game - he will know what Palace need.
This most enduring managerial figure will undoubtedly be working the markets as usual - but he will know he has talent at his disposal instantly that can benefit from his organisational skills and tactical nous.
How will Allardyce be welcomed back?
Allardyce cut a discredited figure when he left the England manager's job after 67 days and one game - a scrappy 1-0 World Cup qualifying win in Slovakia.
He hinted recently, however, that he was ready to return as he admitted: "I don't think I can leave it where it ended." And he will not as he takes over at a club that looks the perfect fit for his abilities.
And the good thing for Allardyce - arguably the only good thing - to come out of that 'blink and you'll miss it' England reign is that he was not in the job long enough to damage his reputation as a manager who can get results when needed.
The turbulent tenure as national team boss will be an indelible scar on his CV, especially as this was the job he had openly craved for more than a decade. It was not, however, ever likely to be Allardyce's career-ending moment.
Allardyce will be welcomed back by Palace's passionate supporters and once the dust settles, and he is back in an environment where he remains a popular personality with many, his recent misdemeanour may just fade a little further into the background.
He is also thick-skinned enough to deal with any fallout that comes his way. After all, he openly and politely addressed his England departure with reporters on the drive of his house the day after his departure.
Palace will get a manager motivated by the pain of what happened with England as well as a character who is always happy to defy his critics.
How can far Allardyce take Palace?
Survival will suffice for this season's journey - but Allardyce will not see this as winding down towards retirement as a fit and healthy 62-year-old.
Few will bet against him keeping Palace in the Premier League - and with Steve Parish still an ambitious chairman, in partnership with the club's owners, they have proved their continued ambition with the re-investment of the £25m received from Everton for Yannick Bolasie and more besides to land the likes of Benteke, Townsend, defender James Tomkins and goalkeeper Steve Mandanda in the summer.
Selhurst Park remains one of the most atmospheric, intimidating arenas in the league and if Allardyce can harness this, inspire his team and add a few new faces of his own, he will prove more than just a sticking plaster applied to their immediate troubles.