So, for the second summer in a row, Sam Allardyce finds himself with time on his hands – albeit for different reasons to last year when he quit as manager of Crystal Palace.
Back then it looked as though Big Sam was ready to call it quits for good after a managerial career spanning almost 30 years, taking in the likes of Limerick, Blackpool, and of course his ill-fated stint as England manager.
It seemed the ideal time to walk away for Allardyce. The game is changing so much. The time to build something like he did at Bolton is just not afforded managers anymore. Managers are moved on and traded almost like players now. They are football consultants. Nothing more.
Having stabilised Everton, Big Sam still got his cards. Over at West Ham, on the same day, David Moyes was clearing his desk. Despite keeping the Hammers in the Premier League, there seemed to be no new contract forthcoming following the conclusion of his initial six month one. Both tenures of less than a year. Almost fifty years of managerial experience between them.
Reaching the summer used to be some kind of sanctuary. If you made it this far, and were still in the Premier League, you got another crack at it. Not any more. Mark Hughes at Southampton, Javi Gracia at Watford and Claude Puel at Leicester could all find that steadying a wayward ship is not enough to keep them in gainful employment. Out they’ll go and in will come another short term fix. If he doesn’t work, in will come another.
Everton have acted because the football wasn’t pleasing enough for the fans. Everton’s owner Farhad Moshiri must have known what he was getting with Sam; staving off the small threat of relegation at the expense of eye-catching football and fan approval. Coming into the job, Allardyce knew he was the owner’s second choice at best, and was not a choice at all as far as the fans were concerned.
They seemed to think that Everton’s rich history demanded something more entertaining, seemingly forgetting that the football under David Moyes – for eleven years – was hardly groundbreaking. West Ham fans largely felt the same about Moyes. And Allardyce when he was there as well.
You see, they all do now.
West Brom fans have been heard to groan about the brand of football under Pulis despite him having a history of keeping clubs up and them having a recent history of playing pretty lousy football. They wanted to see sexier stuff. They’ve gone down.
The clubs themselves seem to think they deserve a better brand of Champagne sometimes too. Crystal Palace wanted something more expansive than what Allardyce provided last season. Despite keeping them up, Allardyce wasn’t feeling the love so he walked. In came Frank De Boer to oversee a footballing revolution. Four games, and four defeats later, they bottled it. Roy Hodgson, a safe pair of hands but hardly Cruyff Mk II, was his replacement.
If it’s not the fans or the owners, it’s the players. Leicester’s players have downed tools on Puel because he has dared to be different to Claudio Ranieri. They downed tools on him as well in the end. The god-given right to have a say in how the team should play is more important than getting the results that keep you in the league.
Until it starts to look like falling out of the league is a very real possibility.
Southampton ditched Puel a year ago because the football was not in keeping with the tradition of what they felt they’d become known for. By the time they hired Mark Hughes in the middle of March to replace the wretched Mauricio Pellegrino, the owners and the fans couldn’t have cared less if Hughes had lined up all eleven men along the goal line to grind out ten nil-nils so long as it kept them up.
But now they will.
If Hughes does stay, and the football isn’t in keeping with the traditions of what they feel is the club’s history, then he’ll be out. Puel was sacked primarily because the goals dried up, particularly at St Mary’s. Despite the fact that he is odds on to be the next Premier League manager sacked this summer, in October, Leicester vice-chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha called the Frenchman a “perfect fit”. So what changed?
Many questioned Allardyce’s motivations when he took the Everton job, knowing Marco Silva was the preferred choice. Big Sam thought he could prove them wrong, and in another time he would have. In another time, he’d have got another season at least. But not now, not in the modern game. A big club doesn’t want a Sam Allardyce or a David Moyes.
But sometimes they need one.
Come November, or even October or September, the first club to struggle – be it Leicester or Southampton, or any club with a golden history of playing football ‘the right way’ – will be straight on the phone to Big Sam. If he doesn’t pick up, they’ll dig out Moyes’ number.
“Come on in and keep us up, by any means necessary.”
And then next summer, we’ll start all over again.