Beauty Contest

Sam ‘Fat’ Allardyce received more than a few sniggers some months back when he imagined himself lording it over all and sundry at Real Madrid or Inter. ”It wouldn’t be a problem to me to go and manage those clubs because I would win the double or the league every time”, burbled the man whose closest brush with upper echelons of European football was once donning a moustache that would have been rejected as too camp by Messrs Rush and Lawrenson c. 1984. Given his imagination was once fertile enough to see a colossal insult to Blackburn Rovers in a few vague hand waves from Rafael Benitez, such a fantasy shouldn’t come as a surprise.

And yet . . . an analysis of Sam Allardyce’s record shows a man who knows what he is doing. Blackpool, Notts County and Bolton Wanderers all ended their respective associations with Allardyce several atmospheres higher than when he started. Newcastle United was obviously a blot on his copybook, but this was before the Toon Army finally lanced the boil of their demented belief that Alan Shearer was going to make everything all right, this being achieved by the expedient of Shearer making everything all wrong. The rage which greeted Chris Hughton’s recent dismissal shows they no longer believe that all that is needed to succeed is to be able to touch the hem of a former legend (something we’ll presently look at with respect to the Reds). If Allardyce were to get a chance at St James’ Park now, who is to say he wouldn’t make a better fist of it? He rescued Blackburn Rovers from near-certain relegation and they were bubbling along quite nicely until he was given the sack, again to the outrage of Rovers fans who were under no illusions about their place in the pecking order.

So why was he fired? It’s possible that he antagonised the Vishnu out of the new owners. Another man with a stellar record at almost every club he has been at is Harry Redknapp, but he has also managed to fall out with the owners of almost every club he has been at, behaving as if all the success they get is down to his genius and the board only an impediment to further glory. The fact that Steve Kean, hardly the experienced hand they claimed they were seeking, has been temporarily appointed in his stead, suggests there may have been a divergence of minds on who calls the shots at the club. Even if that were the case though, and none of the public comments from both parties suggest there was a falling out (either Allardyce is a good actor or his shock at the dismissal is genuine), it seems clear that Allardyce’s face didn’t fit with what the new regime wanted out of their manager.

Which brings us rather awkwardly to the man supposedly with the plan at Anfield, Roy Hodgson. Does his face fit? For a long time I would have said yes, although the reasons would appear to be damning the man with faint praise. It is bizarre to say that because he was appointed by the hated Gillett and Hicks that he has to go. If we were to follow that line of reasoning then he should be fired even if he were a success, contaminated beyond redemption by contact with the Toxic Twins. But while it’s easy to dismiss that objection to Hodgson, it gets trickier after that. It’s fair to say his record before Liverpool was less-than-stellar. The only club in Liverpool’s weight division that he ever managed was Inter – in your face, Allardyce! – where the best that can be said is that he did okay, Inter being the continent’s answer to Maria Von Trapp in terms of insoluble problems. The rest of his career has mostly consisted of marginally overachieving with a succession of middle-to-low ranking countries and clubs. Little up to Fulham suggested he was capable to doing what he did at Fulham.

He did great things at Fulham though, and people seem to be oddly hasty to dismiss this. He turned around the fortunes of a club on whom a lot of money had been lavished but were now going backwards and with no prospect of a further cash injection . . . sound familiar? For perhaps the manner in which Hodgson’s face fit best was an acceptance that we’re not going to be able to compete in the short-term with Chelsea and Manchester City with their sugar daddies or even Manchester United and Arsenal with their cash cow stadiums. The likes of Frank Rijkaard isn’t going to be attracted by a sell-to-buy prospectus, and as for going back to the future in bringing back King Kenny or Rafa, one would have thought Newcastle’s experience with Wor Alan would have put the kibosh on such romanticism. Add in a few extra endearing qualities – a refusal to engage in shallow shouting matches with everyone around him and most un-footballeresque intellectual streak – five languages! Milan Kundera! – and Roy Hodgson looked the part as manager of Liverpool FC.

Then came the Wolves game.

It’s all very well being intellectual about it, but it’s impossible to avoid a knee-jerk reaction to such an appalling display against the basement dwellers. Whether you’re a day-tripper getting their once-a-year fix at Anfield or a regular stumping up £40+ for the umpteenth time this season, this was a shocker. After ninety minutes of that, all manner of loony ideas become palatable. Kenny? And could he play. Rafa? We’ll always have Istanbul. Fat Sam Allardyce? He has a great record in turning a lump of pig iron into a Rolls-Royce. And as Darren notes, plaintive calls on the fans to get behind the team are only going to antagonise rather than placate – we’re paying your wages, bucko, give us something to cheer and we’ll cheer! It’s easy to feel sorry for a decent man, but if the remit was to steady the ship then losing to Wolves has to be a torpedo below the waterline. Nothing is likely to happen before the Bolton game, but something has to change. The alternatives are too ugly to contemplate.

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