LONDON – “Sam Allardyce has resigned as manager of Crystal Palace and says he has ‘no ambition to take another job’ in football.”
—Newspaper report, May 2017
“While I’ve got the energy, I want to travel and also spend more time with my family and grandchildren without the huge pressure that comes with being a football manager. I owe that to my wife and family. I simply want to be able to enjoy all the things you cannot really enjoy with the 24/7 demands of managing any football club, let alone one in the Premier League.”
— Sam Allardyce, August 2017
“I have been relaxing this summer. I have just had a trip to Hawaii, just watching afar. I wouldn’t associate myself with any job at this moment in time . . . It is a little hasty when people start talking about you coming back into football. At this moment in time, I am very comfortable in my life. Taking a break out of football at that time was the right thing for me to do.”
— Sam Allardyce, September 2017
Sam Allardyce’s retirement lasted just over five months. He unretired to take over at Everton, probably the worst run club in the Premier League with, despite the impressive 4-0 win over an abject West Ham, a team in need of serious rebuilding.
Thirty-nine days after sacking Ronald Koeman, having failed to persuade Watford to let it have Marco Silva, Everton (or rather, a radio presenter — more of which later) announced Big Sam was its new manager.
So why would a 63-year-old multimillionaire come out of retirement, give up the lifestyle he could not enjoy with the demands of management, to join a club in a mess when he was not even first choice?
And why would Everton, which still regards itself as one of the Premier League’s power brokers, hire football’s equivalent of Red Adair?
The panic button appointment is a combination of desperation, necessity and pragmatism. Everton couldn’t get Sexy Silva so they went for Safe Hands Sam. Nobody thought Everton would be battling against the drop with a third of the season played after finishing seventh last May, but it has been so who better than Allardyce?
A manager who has never been relegated from the Premier League and whose last two clubs, Sunderland and Crystal Palace, survived after looking doomed when Allardyce joined them.
His return to management proves Allardyce cannot live without the 24/7 hassle football provides. Instead of the high life in Hawaii, Big Sam returns to the dugout against the slightly less romantic Huddersfield Town on Saturday — ideal opposition as the Terriers have lost four of the last five matches.
Allardyce has always craved recognition as more than a manager with an unrivaled record for lifting under-performing teams out of the relegation zone, but if Everton is as big as it thinks it is, the club should be aiming for more than Houdini. His appointment did not exactly have fans arranging street parties. Allardyce’s reputation for direct football is one thing, but appointing Sammy Lee as coach, a man who won three league titles and two European Cups with Liverpool — Everton’s biggest rivals — in the 1980s added fuel to the flames of frustration.
As big a club as Everton potentially is, Allardyce’s appointment, certainly in the short term, makes sense because right now survival, not success, is the priority. Forget that his CV shows only two honors as a manager: the League of Ireland with Limerick in 1992 and the Third Division with Notts County six years later. Crucially, there are no relegations.
Since Koeman was fired, Everton has lost five out of eight games in all competitions under caretaker David Unsworth, conceding 19 goals. The 4-0 win over West Ham on Wednesday improved the statistics, but 12 defeats in 19 games and 13 without a shutout underlines the task Allardyce faces.
Owner Farhad Moshiri did himself no favors by telling talkSPORT presenter Jim White of Allardyce’s appointment before it was on the club’s official website. White tweeted the scoop that Allardyce had signed an 18-month contract — good luck to him, but the club’s communications department was apoplectic.
Under Moshari, Everton’s recruitment plan has bordered on gross negligence. Romelu Lukaku left for Manchester United in the summer, his £76 million fee representing almost half of the club’s incoming transfers. It spent £142 million on Gylfi Sigurdsson, Michael Keane, Jordan Pickford, Davy Klasssen, Nikola Vlasic and Sandro, plus Wayne Rooney returning on a free transfer. Only goalkeeper Pickford has been value for money and Allardyce will already be planning for business when the transfer window opens on Jan. 1.
Allardyce’s appointment with his seventh Premier League club (the first to achieve this) reignited the debate about British managers which he started in October when the then out-of-work Big Sam said: “I think you are almost deemed as second class because it is your country. It is a real shame that we are highly educated, highly talented coaches now with nowhere to go.”
His argument is not backed up by reality. With Allardyce’s return nine of the 20 Premier League managers are UK-born. Ten of the last 16 appointed managers in the top flight are Brits. Their average age is 53 and their combined number of major trophies won in England is zero. Seven of them are in the current bottom eight.
If anything is restricting the appointment of young British managers, it is the continued reappointment of older British managers.
Wenger, Mourinho face off
In days gone by matches between Arsenal and Manchester United were typified by the war of words between Arsene Wenger and his long-term nemesis Sir Alex Ferguson. On the field, the exchanges between Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane were a thing of dark beauty.
Jose Mourinho goes to battle against just about everyone and Saturday’s meeting of the clubs at Emirates Stadium will see the Portuguese man o’ war hoping to increase his record against Wenger, who has been called, among other things, a voyeur by the United manager.
Mourinho has usually had the last word against Wenger who has won only two of their 17 meetings. However, Arsenal has won all of its last 12 home league games, while on the road this season United has lost to Chelsea and Huddersfield while drawing with Liverpool and Stoke.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.