Sam Allardyce spies opportunity at Everton

Words By John Brewin Illustration by Philippe Fenner
February 26, 2018

Sam Allardyce sees a chance at Everton Football Club. For once, he is not having to perform a rescue mission. Instead, for the first time since he managed Newcastle a decade ago, he is at a club which had ambitions beyond safety and staying on the Premier League gravy train.

Coincidentally, he was fired by Newcastle, when new owner Mike Ashley bowed to the wishes of fans and removed a manager whose style of football had the Toon Army in the process of mutiny. Some things change but others stay the same. Ashley returned Kevin Keegan to Tyneside in a wash of romantic nostalgia, the type of populist gesture he has long abandoned, and Allardyce was deposed for unadventurous, unappealing brand of football.

Evertonians are already at their wit’s end. Saturday evening’s 1-0 defeat at Watford was a case in point, where Allardyce’s strategy appeared to be little more than dragging the game into such torpor that their opponent would lose enough consciousness for a set piece to pay off. The success of that approach is indicated by Vicarage Road being a fifth straight away defeat.

And yet Allardyce does not seem outwardly perturbed by the widespread derision of his “alehouse football,” to use a shred of Scouse vernacular. Those who know him from the long years since he brought Bolton to the Premier League, through spells at St James’, Blackburn, West Ham and Crystal Palace would recognise the outward self-confidence, the shrugging refusal to bow to the facts in hand.

That famous quip, when he suggested he could and should be a successful manager of Real Madrid or Inter Milan, while musing how being called “Allardici” might increase his prospects of working at such citadels of continental excellence, was by no means 100 percent ironic.

There is a contradiction at the core of Allardyce: for all the lack of apology for his teams’ style, he would love to be more appreciated.

There is a contradiction at the core of Allardyce: for all the lack of apology for his teams’ style, he would love to be more appreciated. Losing the England job so soon, and for a failure of judgement, was an irrecoverable blow to the ego. Everton, even if nobody but him can see other than a temporary marriage of convenience, offers a path to redemption, and perhaps most of all, respectability.

On Friday, he was looking way beyond his team’s trip to Hertfordshire to life after Goodison Park. Not into retirement, but as the manager who will lead Everton into a new era and home, at the proposed new stadium at Bramley Moore dock on the banks of the Mersey, a 40-minute walk away from the ailing but historic ground that has been the club’s home since 1892.

At West Ham, Allardyce, barracked by fans who wanted the “West Ham Way”, a pretension he openly mocked, was denied the chance to lead the club into the London Stadium. That was another blow to his designs on entering the annals of football history as something more than the brusque banter king who did a decent job at Bolton and some others.

“Long-term planning is quite difficult in the Premier League today but it is something that this club, with the new stadium, has to do,” he said of Everton. “It has to find out what direction it is heading not just next season but for the next two or three seasons going into the new stadium.”

The project is planned for completion for the start of the 2022-23 season, leaving the prospect of four more summers of Sam, and he now wishes to spend serious money on the team. That spells danger. He is at Goodison because of his predecessor having the same ideas. Last year’s £150m spree proved ruinously wasteful when the plan was to challenge for the top four.

Everton’s power brokers began to panic after they had sacked Ronald Koeman. Allardyce, whether he likes it or not, or would publicly admit, was a port in a storm, a manager to get Everton to the end of the season, not towards a brave new world in a spanking new stadium. Previously, David Unsworth, purest blue in his affections for the club, seemed more likely to be given the job until the end of the season, only for results to continue to slide. Eventually, Unsworth himself was forced to admit the club needed a proper, experienced manager.

“Big Sam”’s arrival on Merseyside and the collection of a couple of swift results converted a relegation battle into an opportunity for an even bigger prize.

Everton is a club steeped in history, and was part of the “Big Five” cartel which mobilised English football’s modernisation into the Premier League, a longstanding member of the establishment. The time since 1992 has seen Everton’s parsimony compete with rivals moving into the billionaire bracket but majority owner Farhad Moshiri’s bank balance and those stadium plans are evidence of a club becoming upwardly mobile.

That represents an opportunity for some manager or other, and Allardyce, in what he says is his last job, wants to grasp it. The quality of his team’s play, though, will probably cost him his shot for respectability.

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