The sense is that West Ham United manager Sam Allardyce has 10 games to save his job. His contract is up in the summer. Reconciliation has turned into revolt, appreciation into deprecation.
The season’s most unexpected love-in ended on Valentine’s Day when Allardyce was abused and his substitutions were jeered by West Ham fans. The temporary truce was over, along with an FA Cup run that promised far more than it delivered.
The opportunity to end a 35-year wait for major silverware was squandered in embarrassing fashion when West Ham lost 4-0 to West Bromwich Albion. Allardyce’s post-match decision to defend his players may have been a case of dressing-room diplomacy but it played badly with supporters.
Allardyce may be a rare case of a manager who can prosper in the face of outright opposition, as he eventually did last season, but those he won over to his cause have rebelled again.
A divisive character tends to have allies in his squad, even if he has fewer in the stands at Upton Park. Allardyce and West Ham have never been a perfect fit. To continue the analogy, it was more of a marriage of convenience.
And if West Ham are considering divorce, it could be deemed – certainly by the immodest Allardyce – to be the consequence of his success. Along with Tony Pulis, Allardyce, 60, represents the closest thing to a cast-iron guarantee of Premier League survival. Their recent run – one win in 11 games, just eight points from a possible 33 – could be described as relegation form except for the fact that, because of their stellar start, West Ham have already accumulated 39 points.
Allardyce was appointed to restore West Ham to the top flight and to ensure they remained there when they move into the Olympic Stadium in 2016. He has bought West Ham time, just as he bought well in the summer transfer window.
Such is the nature of a club run by self-publicists, however, that there are competing claims for credit. Co-owner David Sullivan said he, rather than the manager, pushed to buy the 11-goal striker Diafra Sakho, one of the season’s great bargains.
West Ham had an enviable strike rate in the transfer market: to varying degrees, last summer’s other major arrivals – Enner Valencia, Cheikhou Kouyate, Aaron Cresswell – were also successes.
While Alex Song and Carl Jenkinson, two more astute recruits, are only loan, given the squad they have, it is already difficult to envisage them going down next season. In short, if they don’t think they will begin life in a new stadium in the second tier, Allardyce’s task may be deemed completed.
There was a story this week that David Moyes is being eyed as a potential successor. More persistent are the suggestions that Besiktas manager and former West Ham defender Slaven Bilic is on the shortlist.
Moyes’s pragmatism scarcely endeared him to some at Manchester United. Bilic’s charisma might earn him a better reception at Upton Park.
Allardyce is forever unfashionable and, while West Ham have played a better brand of football this season, he is indelibly associated with the one-dimensional pair of Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll.
And his side’s declining returns in 2015 have been ill-timed. They have been unusually self-destructive, conceding three goals from set-pieces in defeat to Crystal Palace. In London, where local rivalries abound, their derby return is damaging. They have not beaten capital opponents since September and they face more on Saturday.
Because West Ham, who spent Christmas in fourth, kicked off ahead of Arsenal when they met on December 28, lost to a Santi Cazorla-inspired side and are 15 points adrift of them as they prepare for Saturday’s rematch. Now there are no suggestions that they will qualify for the Champions League, or that this will bring the crowning glory of Allardyce’s long managerial career. Instead it is a question if the chapter marked “West Ham” is entering its final few pages.
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