Sam Allardyce

Thereai??i??s a certain irony in seeing Sam Allardyce do so well with West Ham at a time when the ai???Barcelona-liteai??i?? model is cast as the only future for English football. The success of his teamai??i??s sometimes brutal and often direct footballing style seems to puncture the pomposity of the so called educated managers who see ai???possession at all costsai??i?? as the sole strategy for effective football.

Many fans have become sick of that hollow ai???progressiveai???, ai???possession footballai???sloganeering from managers like Brendan Rodgers which scream out the English gameai??i??s general deference to the continental blueprint. This is reflected in the English national team, who are on the whole second rate, but theyai??i??ve become doubly weighed down by a timid and unrelenting self-awareness that they arenai??i??t as cultured as their continental counterparts.

Allardyce is unapologetic of his ai???route oneai??i?? game, which is quite refreshing. That may not be a fashionable point of view given Allardyceai??i??s penchant for the long ball and all round physical style, but if football is a game based on getting results with the resources you have, Allardyce is more often than not ai???the manai??i??. His current West Ham team play as many slide-passes as most, but if they see a chance for a 40 yard diagonal cross or they get a free kick around halfway, it inevitably goes into the box.

Played badly, the long ball strategy can lead to a dour and disjointed spectacle, but played with purpose, the direct approach can give a teamai??i??s play a dynamic and mobile quality which is surprisingly easy on the eye. As well as being one of the most physical teams in the league, their wily central midfielders- Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble – are two of the Premier Leagueai??i??s most underestimated players and to call them technically gifted wouldnai??i??t be a misnomer; this gives West Ham a couple of interesting tactical dimensions of which the ai???long ballai??i?? is one.

You may not always win the header off a long ball or indeed make any meaningful contact, but if you can contest it and help it towards a 50/50 area then the ai???second phaseai??i?? becomes all important. Hence the reason Kevin Nolan is scoring the goals at West Ham rather than Andy Carroll. Watch how many goals a similarly direct team like Stoke scores around the six yard box off knock-downs rather than just headers themselves.

Allardyce clearly recognises the English gameai??i??s preoccupation with continental style football and recently joked: ai???I wonai??i??t ever be going to a top-four club because Iai??i??m not called Allardici, just Allardyce.ai???Indeed the public view of a manager is generally cultivated by how the media portray them, which Allardyce is fully aware of.

Three of the Premier League’s other top ai???over achievingai??i?? managers ai??i?? Moyes, Pardew and Martinez ai??i?? surprisingly appear to favour the long ball even more than Allardyce: On average Wigan hit 65 long balls per game, Everton 66 and Newcastle claim poll position with 77 (whoscored.com). Few would label Martinez or Pardew in the same bracket as Allardyce highlighting that a stereotype is at work.

Newcastle of last season are an interesting case study; they are a team renowned for their footballing purity but clearly played Percentage Football. They often try to play over the top of teams with long balls aplenty- but, importantly, with a highly technical set of players. They never had a natural target man but that wasnai??i??t a problem; they played a 4-3-3 with plenty of men in the final third battling for the second ball ai??i?? as much as they werenai??i??t the most powerful team, they were highly tenacious. Their uniquely technical mixed game brought huge achievement for an unfancied team.

The Premier League has always been a mixed game in terms of power, speed and technique but judging by the stats, the most successful teams outside of the top four are proving that the physical approach is becoming ever more favourable; ironic considering the amount of lip service the English FA has paid to developing technique and superior coaching. The teams that strive for more lofty ideals and play the ball on the deck seem to lag behind; the likes of Sunderland, Southampton and QPR play some of the fewest long balls in the league and their campaigns so far have appeared to suffer for it – judging by results.

Many managers feel a certain amount of shame at having their teams punt every free kick from around half way into the box but percentage-wise it still tends to offer the best outcomes for teams outside of the top four. It seems then that a mixed game is still the best way to play in the Premier League and managers like Moyes and Pardew are the arch-pragmatists, combining physicality and finesse to great aplomb.

Even an out-and-out footballer like Barcaai??i??s Iniesta would advocate playing to your teamai??i??s strengths, telling the Guardian,ai???ai??i??we play the way we do because it suits us. We don’t have the players to pull it off playing a different way. People talk about ‘pragmatic’ football; well, for us, this is pragmatic.ai???

Many would class passing football as a game for the purists and it is on the whole a better spectacle, but this view can lend itself to over-sentimentalism as Allardyce would find on his appointment at West Ham.

West Ham are a team traditionally associated with attractive passing football and bringing in Allardyce as manager was therefore a controversial decision. The fact is though, that West Ham havenai??i??t played decent football for ten years or so, and as much as they may have endeavoured to keep the ball on the deck, it certainly didnai??i??t add to their appeal. Thereai??i??s not much joy in seeing a team dilly-dally in possession for the sake of it, watching potential counter attacks go astray.

The Premier League is a melting pot of styles and Allardyce in his own small way helps to challenge perceptions of what good football actually is. Whatai??i??s more, the English gameai??i??s sycophantic reverie exhibited towards the continent isnai??i??t always productive; in the words of Jose Mourinho: ai???You see how Spanish, Italians, Portuguese play football. I don’t say they are perfect, I say English football has a few things to learn from them in the same way they have a lot of things to learn from English football.ai???

English football on the national stage is currently bereft of ideas, and perhaps with the unlikely aid of managers like Sam Allardyce, Moyes and Pardew, the Premier League could pioneer its own pragmatic game based both on physicality and technique.

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