Mourinho coming around on his opinion of Allardyce and West Ham
The moment he said it, it appeared a classic Jose Mourinho sound bite.
West Ham United had just frustrated Chelsea, holding them to a 0-0 draw, and Mourinho was scathing in his analysis of their tactics.
“Nineteenth-century football,” he said.
Disdainful and memorable, original and witty – it also deflected attention from his team.
Eleven months after that January stalemate, he appeared to apologise, something he rarely does. “Silly words,” he said.
If his initial assessment did not stand up to scrutiny – 19th-century football featured plenty of goals and very few stalemates – he has now stopped implying that Sam Allardyce is one of the sport’s dinosaurs.
“Big Sam is showing now he is not a defensive coach who only knows how to play defensive and direct and long balls,” he said. “He is now giving a different image of himself.”
A year ago, Allardyce was under pressure after West Ham had dropped into the relegation zone on Boxing Day.
They kick off 365 days later 13 places and 17 points better off than they were at this stage of last season. It explains why Mourinho feels that, after his front-runners, West Ham are the team of the season.
“Chelsea is top of the league and deserves [the praise] and, after us, West Ham, because to be fourth, and for a team that everyone was expecting them to fight for survival, is a fantastic achievement,” he said.
They meet on Friday separated in the standings only by defending champions Manchester City and Manchester United, who spent £152 million (Dh869.1m) last summer.
Mourinho’s argument has credence. The greater feat would be to keep West Ham there for the rest of the season. That, he says, would earn Allardyce the personal accolades.
“If they finish in the top four, manager of the season is Big Sam and team of the season is West Ham because it would be an amazing achievement compared with the investment other teams did,” he said. “But why not, why not?”
History would suggest it is improbable. In the past decade only the Manchester clubs, Everton, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal and Chelsea have finished in the top four, while West Ham’s finest Premier League season was fifth place in 1999.
Last May, they limped in 13th.
Mourinho said he believes they are a side transformed, one less likely – to borrow from another of his sound bites – to park the bus at Stamford Bridge.
“Both teams are different from last season,” he said. “We are a better team. We have more creativity, more goals and more attacking dynamics and West Ham is also a better team.
“They are not a team just to try not to concede. They also try to score goals. Last season, they were in big trouble.
“When you are fighting for relegation, every point is a point and you have to do everything to get points.”
Mourinho has always been an Anglophile. While sports scientists may be aghast at the prospect of playing four games in 11 days, Mourinho rather likes it.
His fondness for all things British has been extended to include Allardyce.
“He has a big history in the Premier League,” he said. “I respect him as a coach and am happy he is doing well.”
Allardyce, a confidant of Alex Ferguson, has long been at the centre of a social circle of home-grown coaches. Mourinho, who was the outsider when he first came to the Premier League, is now an insider.
He has a burgeoning, but unlikely, friendship with 60-year-old Allardyce.
“I like him very, very much,” the Chelsea manager said. “We exchange lots of messages.”
At this time of the year, the exchange is compliments of the season.
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Published: December 26, 2014 04:00 AM