On his way to becoming not Big Sam but, for the moment at least, another small and dismal statistic, the latest fallen manager of Newcastle United made a whole series of fundamental mistakes.
The killer, however, was a failure to grasp that he had come to a place conditioned to embrace every folly in the game except the ultimate one of not realising that football without a little flair, a little beauty, is simply not worth the trouble – or the pain.
This is the football tragedy – and increasingly forlorn glory – of a club which knows what it wants but staggers ever further away from the possibility of achieving it.
Of course, Newcastle are far from alone. It is necessary only to look at the recent history of Tottenham Hotspur – where even the early middle-aged fan can recall success and beauty that for the Toon Army can be no more than fantasy – to see how easy it is to forget the most basic of rules and squander the richest potential.
Maybe with the strong-willed Spaniard Juande Ramos in control, Spurs are taking their first steps back to the days when men like Arthur Rowe and Bill Nicholson were allowed to shape the club's destiny.
But if the Premier League has never been so attritional, if Allardyce's vertiginous career plunge is only marginally less shocking than the sackings of Jose Mourinho and Martin Jol in a half-season which has now claimed seven victims, Newcastle have no rivals in their serial abandonment of the most basic building blocks.
Their best intentions were signalled by the appointment of men like Ruud Gullit, Kenny Dalglish, Sir Bobby Robson and Graeme Souness after the Kevin Keegan adventure unravelled. These were not time-serving, jobbing mediocrities with passable reputations. These were major football men, filled with pride and character, but each one suffered the same fate. Why? Because men like former chairman Freddy Shepherd, who left the new owner Mike Ashley with a manager so deeply out of sympathy with the Tyneside yearning for football that offers a certain proprietorial pride whatever the result of any one match, could never understand the classic pattern of success in football.
Shepherd confused an instinct for making money – which he did so extravagantly on his own behalf, as did his predecessor Sir John Hall – with the kind of touch and feeling which for so long has been woven into the very fabric of such dynasties as Manchester United and now Arsenal. He thought he knew better than a man like Robson, who had spent his life agonising over the nuances of football, who built a superb team in the football outback of Suffolk, a side of balance and skill and momentum which would have delighted this season the Newcastle fans who once again have been separated from their dreams, piece by piece.
The Allardyce appointment was above all a testament to the shallow thinking of directors drawn like lemmings to the big-name, quick-fix culture of so many major football appointments.
No doubt Big Sam had his strengths but none of them had much to do with the kind of football that was always going to be the basis of the rapport which Robson still believes, bitterly, might have been built between the team and the fans but for a little bit of patience – and understanding that any club needs the starting point of a shared priority.
Robson's was to make pleasing football. Allardyce's was to hammer out results, a policy which worked well enough at Bolton, where involvement in top-flight football had become a privilege, not the right it has always been presumed to be on the terraces of St James' Park.
Now the talk is of new saviours, Harry Redknapp, even Mourinho – who fell out of favour with Roman Abramovich largely because of football which was geared more to gleaning results than lifting the spirit – but if Ashley really wants to make something of his new plaything, if he wants to demonstrate more than a laddish passion to wear a souvenir shirt and order up the Newcastle Brown, he has to understand that the success of Sir Alec Ferguson and Arsène Wenger has been only partly to do with their God-given football acumen. It has always been about, to a hugely significant degree, the willingness of Manchester United and Arsenal to give them their stage – and let them perform.
Rather than the personal reinvention of dressing up as a fan, Ashley would be far better advised to wear the clothes of the man he was when acquiring a vast personal fortune. Then he was garbed in realism and practicality, the sure knowledge of what made success in his world of business.
Businessmen rarely make great football men not because of any failure of intelligence, and still less romantic inclination, but because they do not, cannot, understand truly that their success in their own world is suddenly without relevance. For Ashley to make sense of Newcastle, to bring some semblance of reality to the expectations of fans which have, but for that brief flowering under Keegan and the seeds of promise sown by Robson, acquired new absurdity with each new year of chronic failure, he has to cut himself off from the hysteria his own populist behaviour has helped to create.
He has to do what the directors of Manchester United and Arsenal have done as a strictly confirmed policy and what maybe the greatest of all football benefactors, the late steelman Sir Jack Walker did when he gave Dalglish the resources and the freedom to make a championship-winning team at Blackburn.
He has to pick brains, football ones, and select a manager who, as the merest starting point, has already demonstrated an ability to produce the kind of game guaranteed to engage the fans. He must then let him manage. He must make Newcastle a grown-up football club. Until it happens, there will be no end to the longest, and least pleasant adolescence, English football has ever known.Reuse content