Thursday, 19 February 2015

Sam Allardyce – The Psychological Problems of Success

I do hope that Sam Allardyce does not get a new contract at West Ham.  To many fans this might appear to be a harsh judgement on a man who got us promoted to the Premier League and kept us there.  I also expect him to keep us in the top eight until the end of the season.  In normal circumstances, a manager with these achievements, would expect to receive a new contract. After all, one of Sam’s proud boasts is that he has never left a club in a lower position than when he took over. Blackpool (1994-1996), Notts County (1997-1999), Bolton Wanderers (1999-2007), Newcastle United (2007-2008) and Blackburn Rovers (2008-2010). It is statistics like this that unite the football pundits in criticising West Ham fans for not wanting his contract to be renewed.

However, over the last two seasons Sam has shown that he has a fatal flaw and I believe with another manager we can obtain even better results than we have had over the last three years. Sam’s problems are located in the success he has had in the past. It is a common problem with many managers. Sam problem goes back to his time at Bolton, the place where he had his greatest success. The person who was his commander on the pitch and in the dressing-room was a young man by the name of Kevin Nolan. He was appointed captain of the club at the age of 24.

Bolton achieved great success under Sam -  sixth in 2004–05, eighth in 2005-06. However, he claimed that he knew he would never win anything important at Bolton and in May 2007 he moved to Newcastle United. Although a much bigger club than Bolton, Sam struggled at the club and with fan protests about poor results and a low standard of football he lost his job in January 2008.

He was not out of work for long and he had soon signed a contract with Blackburn Rovers. The club finished 15th that season. This was improved to 10th in the 2009-2010 season. He was sacked the following season with the club in 13th position.

Although all these clubs marginally finished higher in the league than when he joined them, only at Bolton was he really successful. It is this success at Bolton that dominates his thinking. It was no real surprise when one of his first signings for West Ham was Kevin Nolan. It is true that Nolan did a reasonable job for Bolton when he was in his early twenties. However, it was never good enough to get him into the England squad (he did appear in two under 21 games). He was also 29 years of age and his recent form had suggested that he was well past his best.

 It was not a real problem when we were in the championship but he was clearly not good enough for the Premier League.  Despite this, Nolan always plays except for when he is injured. This is usually when we play at our best. Nolan was out of the side in the early months of the season with an injured shoulder. Sam made a revealing comment on television when Chris Kamara complimented him on this good run of form. Sam replied that it had given him a problem of how he was going to get Kevin Nolan back in the team when he was fit. Of course, Sam found a way, and it was at the detriment of the team. It is no coincidence that Stewart Downing always plays better when Nolan is not in the team.  He likes the freedom to roam into those areas that are normally occupied by Nolan and therefore tends to stay wide too much where he is less effective.

Sam often claims that he is a keen user of stats. However, he seems to have a blind spot when it comes to Nolan. The reason for this is that he is making these decisions for psychological and not performance reasons. Nolan is Sam’s man in the dressing-room. As long as this is the case, he is confident that he will not lose the support of his team.

Captains are important to managers. There is a very interesting story that concerns Arsène Wenger when he joined Arsenal in 1996. The team did not approve of his training methods and his strange views on diet. A delegation of players went to see him to complain. He had a rebellion on his hands. He solved the problem by persuading the strongest character in the dressing-room, Tony Adams, that he was employing the right methods. It was Adams who was able to convince the rest of the team to accept Wenger’s new ideas.

It is no coincidence that since Tony Adams left the club, Arsenal have gone into decline. It often has been said that his side lacks strong characters such as Adams. That is surely true, but maybe that is because Wenger does not want strong characters in the team. The problem with dominant personalities is that they sometimes challenge the authority of the manager. Only the really great managers are confident to have those types of characters in his team.

Kevin Nolan gives Sam Allardyce security.  He does not have the intellectual confidence to leave him out of the team. That is why we need a new manager who is more flexible in his thinking. It is claimed that David Moyes is favourite for the job. I would prefer Tony Pulis, who last week gave Sam a lesson on how to set up a team. However, I suspect both will be unavailable. I would give the job to Sean Dyche who has done a fantastic job with Burney. Only two players in the team, Danny Ings and Kieran Trippier, would get into any other Premier League team. Yet, they are still in with a chance of avoiding relegation. I have heard him interviewed several times and I suspect he is going to the very top. Hopefully, he does it with West Ham and not some other team.