When Sam Allardyce was just 27 and an uncompromising centre-half at Millwall he was offered the manager's job by the club and turned it down. Eventually, George Graham was appointed, he promptly got rid of Allardyce and launched a career that would peak with two league championships with Arsenal.
For some West Ham fans, Allardyce's Millwall association will be unpalatable, and for others it will be the perception that Allardyce's style of football is not suited to a club that styles itself as the "academy of football". Even if the academy of football now finds itself in the second tier of English football, looking up at the likes of Swansea City and Wigan Athletic in the Premier League.
Yesterday, the accusation that Allardyce's teams play unattractive, long-ball football was once again thrown at the new West Ham manager who reacted angrily. "That has been a long, boring tag that has been with me for many years," he said. "It's always going to crop up, unfortunately, but if people cast their minds back to my teams it is a nonsense."
The problem for Allardyce is that – Newcastle United aside – he has managed teams that command about 30 seconds on Match of the Day and precious little coverage in the newspapers. Thus the perception of Allardyce as an unreconstructed manager has been allowed to grow – some of it based on no more evidence than his former attachment to an old-school moustache and an accent that is a mix of his native Black Country and Lancashire, where he has spent much of his career.
In reality he is different, a modern manager willing to adopt new methods and communicate with the media. As a youth team manager at Preston North End, he would keep assiduous notes on the progress of all his players in training and in matches. At the time it was regarded as eccentric. When Jose Mourinho does it he is regarded as a genius.
That is not to say that the direct football criticism has not been justified at times, perhaps most in relation to his time at Newcastle. But they were so successful after sacking Allardyce that they were relegated to the Championship the next season.
In fact, Allardyce has been sacked from his past two jobs – at Newcastle and Blackburn – when the regime that appointed him has been replaced by new owners. The disclosure last night by Malaysian businessman Tony Fernandes that he has made another bid for West Ham raised the possibility Allardyce could make it a hat-trick if David Gold and David Sullivan elect to sell up.
Newcastle aside, Allardyce has worked wonders with what he has been given. In his defence yesterday he listed great players whose careers he extended at Bolton, including the 1998 World Cup-winner Youri Djorkaeff, Jay-Jay Okocha and Fernando Hierro. But there are others who owe Allardyce just as much.
In 1998, he also took a chance on a young Eidur Gudjohnsen, who had just come back from a potentially career-ending injury at PSV Eindhoven. Gudjohnsen went on to win two Premier League titles with Chelsea and a Champions League with Barcelona. Kevin Davies, languishing in Southampton's reserves when Allardyce brought him to Bolton, has since reinvented himself and won an England cap.
At Bolton, Allardyce finished eighth, sixth and eighth in his last three full seasons. At Notts County he was promoted from what is now League Two in 1998 with a record for that division of 99 points and 82 goals. As manager at Limerick in the early 1990s he would collect money for the team in the town's pubs accompanied by the local priest. They still won promotion.
No one would claim he is perfect. His part in Sir Alex Ferguson's attempt to bury Rafael Benitez in 2009, over an innocuous gesture by the then Liverpool manager during a game against Blackburn, was not edifying. Allardyce was the first to seize on the "phase of play" change to the offside rule that caused blind panic in defences from set-pieces – although you sense a more in-vogue manager would have got away with that.
Like all managers he fights his corner, and for Allardyce in recent years that has meant fighting the perception his teams can play only one way. His record speaks for itself. And, no, Arsène Wenger does not like Allardyce very much and the feeling seems to be mutual. But that does not make him a bad manager.Reuse content