Wednesday, January 09, 2008

All over for Allardyce

"'I’m the man who knows what’s right for [the players] and I know it more than they do. That’s why I sit in this chair', he declared at the beginning of December. You may not for too much longer, Sam."

Famous last words, eh?

In truth, though, I didn't expect the announcement that Allardyce's time on Tyneside was up any more than any other Newcastle fan. Indeed, Fat Sam himself was only talking at lunchtime about Saturday's trip to Old Trafford and his plans for the transfer window, so it seems to have taken him by as much surprise as it did us.

Perhaps Mike Ashley and Chris Mort had been reading the Independent at breakfast and nearly choked on their cornflakes to discover that those plans apparently involved spunking £5m on Kevin Nolan, a man who continually talks up his own England prospects and yet who is currently the subject of constant abuse for poor performances from his own fans. Certainly, all the talk had been that Sunday's FA Cup tie at Stoke was make-or-break, but having escaped with an ultimately fortuitous draw it seemed as though Allardyce would live to fight another few days at least.

The official line is that the decision was taken "by mutual agreement", but given how firmly Allardyce was entrenching himself towards the end of his days, much like Graeme Souness before him, I suspect there wasn't much that was "mutual". Don't know about you, but I wouldn't have fancied being Mort, having to invite Allardyce into his office and broach the subject - he's probably still peeling bits of himself off the walls.

Allardyce's reign started well enough. Arriving on 15th May, he had all summer to bring in new faces and mark his mark on the club, but no sooner had he got his feet under the table than Fat Fred was on his way, ousted by Mort in the wake of Ashley's takeover. Once our promising start to the season - including a sweet 3-1 triumph at the Reebok, Fat Sam's old stomping ground, on the opening day of the season - had faded, the late summer rumours that the new hierarchy were less than enamoured by the managerial incumbent began to resurface.

The successive capitulations at home to Portsmouth and then Liverpool and the miserable defeat at Pride Park - still Derby's only win in 21 attempts, lest we forget - were bad enough, but undoubtedly the lowest point came immediately after Christmas with the appalling loss at Wigan and, in the early hours of the following morning, news of Joey Barton's arrest.

Barton showed no signs of repaying the faith Allardyce had shown in taking a gamble on him, while few of his other signings have so far worked out. Habib Beye's been solid, admittedly, and Mark Viduka and Abdoulaye Faye have both displayed flashes of quality, but the form of David Rozehnal, Geremi and Cacapa has slumped and Jose Enrique's hardly seen any action - unlike Alan Smith, who inexplicably not only became a fixture in Allardyce's side but was named as captain, despite contributing nothing of any merit whatsoever for game after game.

Allardyce will no doubt claim he wasn't given the time for his methods and ideas to bear fruit - and arguably he's got a point - but he didn't seem up to the task of organising our back four into a solid unit, and for a man whose pigheaded insistence on the rightness of his tactics and opinions was staggering, he never seemed to know his best team, chopping and changing every week as though he had a pathological fear of stability and continuity. (Should've fitted right in, then.)

It gives me no satisfaction that Fat Sam failed - how could it, given that it's been my club that's been suffering as a result? - but he was never really liked or accepted either on Tyneside or by the authors of this site, and has learned a valuable lesson: poor quality, brutish, zero flair football is only ever palatable if it actually gets results.

Tomorrow Paul will be assessing the prospective candidates for what journalists seem duty-bound to refer to as the poisoned chalice, and reflecting on what the successful (or should that be unfortunate?) candidate will need to do to sort things out (that should be a nice short list), but in the meantime answers on a postcard for what Allardyce's next job will be. My money's on working in a call centre - he's already got the little microphone, after all...


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