Sam Allardyce: Anti-football or innovative & underrated?

By Ben SmithBBC Sport
Sam Allardyce
Sam Allardyce takes over a Sunderland side 19th in the table and without a league win this season

The appointment of Sam Allardyce as Sunderland manager and that of Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool were made in the same week. But there the comparisons end.

The German may have delivered a demonstration of charisma and flair as he was presented to the media, but at his own introduction in Sunderland on Tuesday, Allardyce took route one.

This was Allardyce saying it like it was. Straight-talking, honest and unwavering. No frills, no fuss - just the qualities which have made him such a success in the Premier League.

Klopp had walked into a vast suite filled with 100 journalists and 40 camera crews on Friday. Allardyce took his seat in a small room at Sunderland's Academy of Light in front of six cameras on Tuesday.

But from his very first answer the message was clear. "We are in trouble." "We need to stop conceding." "We need to work hard."

Wearing his training kit and with his hair swept neatly from a parting on the left, the man known as Big Sam laid bare the scale of the task facing him on Wearside with admirable directness.

This is not a man who owns a pair of skinny jeans, or cares whether his glasses are designer. But where he does share similarities with Klopp is in his passion for the game of football, which quite clearly remains undimmed.

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"I must be mad," said Allardyce when asked why he had chosen to cut short his sabbatical in Spain. "It is in my blood. The challenge is something I need, part of the challenge. Waking up and coming in here, it's not work really. It is almost an addiction."

Allardyce went on to reveal that his wife monitors social media on his behalf. "There has been a magnificent response from the Sunderland fans and that has encouraged me a great deal," he added. "There's been some very positive feedback about me being here."

When asked if his wife would also be flying in from Spain to join him, Allardyce said: "My wife will visit the north-east when she feels the need to do so.

"She won't see me much anyway," he added. "I have been in here at 8am and home at 11pm. And I will continue to do that until I am comfortable that I am getting my ideas across."

The challenge facing Allardyce at Sunderland and the qualities in the man himself are well suited. Both are formidable, both will demand hard work, both will need belief.

Nothing he said during his opening news conference will be emblazoned on club T-shirts and no-one would describe him as having served up a banquet of soundbites - but his message to the fans, the players and his staff was just as important.

Sam Allardyce's Premier League record
GamesWinDrawLossForAgainstWin %
West Ham11435285112915130.7

Allardyce's record

The 60-year-old has managed four teams in the Premier League - Bolton, Newcastle, Blackburn and West Ham - with varying degrees of success.

He took over at Bolton in 1999 with the club ninth in the second tier and left them in 2007 in fifth place in the Premier League.

In Allardyce's eight years, theirs was one of the Premier League's most intriguing stories as they reached the final of the League Cup, qualified for Europe for the first time and established themselves as a top-eight club with a squad that combined English outcasts with high-profile, aging international talent such as Youri Djorkaeff, Jay-Jay Okocha and Ivan Campo.

Allardyce facing 'big challenge'

However, Allardyce's departure triggered a steady decline that culminated in relegation in 2012. They have since posted huge financial losses, with debt at £172.9m as of April 2015.

Newcastle was Allardyce's next port of call in 2007 but he would see out only eight months of his three-year contract as a change of ownership and a string of poor results led to his sacking with the club 11th in the Premier League.

In 2008, he took Blackburn from second-bottom of the Premier League to a 15th-place finish in his first half season, before leading them to 10th the following campaign. However, he was sacked in December 2010 by the club's new owners, the Venky's Group, with Rovers 13th.

He performed a similar job with West Ham as he did with Bolton, getting them promoted from the second tier and establishing them back in the top flight, but he was regularly criticised by fans for the style of football his sides played and left at the end of the 2014-15 season after finishing 12th.

Allardyce's methods

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger gestures as Bolton Wanderers manager Sam Allardyce has words with Tal Ben Haim
Allardyce on his time as Bolton boss: "We'd really got to them [Arsenal] and Arsene Wenger hated us."

The general perception of Allardyce's methods and style were forged during his time at Bolton, where he employed a pragmatic and highly efficient approach that enabled the unfancied Trotters to muscle their way amongst the country's elite.

It wasn't liked - particularly by Premier League aesthetes such as Arsene Wenger - but it got results, notably against some of the league's top teams.

Indeed, Allardyce writes in his autobiography that he "enjoyed beating Arsenal more than anyone when I was in charge at Bolton" as it so riled "arrogant" Wenger.

However, what was not appreciated at the time was the work Allardyce was doing behind the scenes, specifically in his use of data analysis for transfers, tactics and performance - something that is now common at top-flight clubs but back then was seen as secondary to graft and passion.

Allardyce's substance-over-style approach did not sit so well with the fans at Newcastle and West Ham, who demand a more eye-catching style of play, but it is surely this that has attracted Sunderland as they look to claw away from trouble and end a cycle of last-gasp survival.

Can he transform Sunderland?

Dick Advocaat
Dick Advocaat steered Sunderland to safety last season but left them winless this league campaign

In recent seasons, Sunderland's strategy can be described as such: sack the incumbent boss midway through the campaign, bring in another in-vogue foreign manager, beat Newcastle, narrowly stay up and repeat.

Allardyce signifies a notable departure from the likes of Paolo di Canio,Gus Poyet and Dick Advocaat, but the challenges facing him remain the same.

Despite spending significant fees to bring in the likes of Jeremain Lens and Fabio Borini in the summer, Sunderland possess a squad containing players lacking in either ability or belief.

Jermain Defoe and Steven Fletcher have shown they can score goals at this level, Jack Rodwell and Adam Johnson were big-money buys for Manchester City not too long ago, while the on-loan Yann M'Vila was once a highly sought-after midfield talent.

If Allardyce can get such individuals performing - as many did in the first half against West Ham - and remedy the ill-discipline and brittle confidence that cost them in the second 45 minutes against the Hammers, they can survive.

Also, as Allardyce pointed out on Tuesday, with 30 Premier League games remaining he has time to turn the Black Cats' season around. This is more than he needed to steer Blackburn from second bottom, Sunderland's current position, to a 15th-place finish when taking over at Ewood Park in December 2008.

Record of last three Sunderland managers
ManagerMatchesWonDrawnLostWin %
Paolo di Canio (Mar 2013-Sept 2013)1333723.08
Gus Poyet (Oct 2013-Mar 2015)7523223030.67
Dick Advocaat (Mar 2015-Oct 2015)1746723.53


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