x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

West Ham manager Sam Allardyce has plenty to worry about

The Englishman is under pressure after he made some bizarre decisions as his side are barely afloat in the relegation zone.

West Ham manager Sam Allardyce, centre, was very vocal on Sunday but his instructions fell on deaf ears as his side fell 5-0 at Nottingham Forest, a Championship team, in a FA Cup third round match. Julian Finney / Getty Images
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce, centre, was very vocal on Sunday but his instructions fell on deaf ears as his side fell 5-0 at Nottingham Forest, a Championship team, in a FA Cup third round match. Julian Finney / Getty Images

In the extended exercise in score-settling that was his autobiography, Sir Alex Ferguson took aim at Roy Keane. “The hardest part of Roy’s body is his tongue,” he wrote.

So he proved during a predictably blunt stint as a pundit on British television at the weekend. Keane cast one look at the West Ham United teamsheet and, with characteristic candour, said: “You’ve got to be worried if Stewart Downing is your captain.”

It was an acerbic, acidic and typically incisive comment. Yet giving the armband to a player with no obvious leadership qualities may be the least of West Ham’s worries.

Not after a 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Nottingham Forest, a capitulation to a Championship team that cannot be explained simply by reading a roll call of the missing and citing the fact that five youngsters were given debuts.

This was the sort of spineless surrender that prompts questions on whether footballers are still playing for their manager.

So it should be a source of great concern to Sam Allardyce.

A manager who has been always tolerated rather than appreciated by the West Ham support, he has never had a power base outside the dressing room and the boardroom.

Neither a direct style of play nor an oversized ego brought him admirers in London’s East End and, compared with managerial counterparts elsewhere, he is disproportionately dependent upon results, which have dried up.

Even before his side formed kindling for the Forest fire, West Ham had taken only two points from their past seven league games.

The failings stem from the top down. Allardyce’s allies have proved unreliable.

His on-field lieutenant, Kevin Nolan, was sent off twice in a month for thuggish challenges. He has proved a worse captain than the diffident Downing of late.

Allardyce invested a club record £15 million (Dh90m) in Nolan’s close friend Andy Carroll and the forward, who has the unfortunate habit of torpedoing the reigns of managers who spend sizeable sums on his services, is yet to take the field this season.

Bizarrely, Allardyce started the season without a viable contingency plan. There was no alternative striker of any calibre.

A managerial pragmatist has long recognised matches are won and lost in both penalty boxes so it was a little odd that West Ham only have three central defenders.

With Winston Reid, James Collins and James Tomkins all sidelined at the same time, West Ham are left deficient at either end of the pitch. A strategist who tends to plan in great detail has made basic errors, just as a manager who was long seen as a pioneer in sports science has seen far too many of his side succumb to injuries.

The sight of the league table should be another reason to fret. Four of the bottom five clubs have already changed manager. The exception is West Ham, which explains why Allardyce is the favourite to cross the line next in the sack race.

The 59-year-old Englishman can cite past feats of escapology in relegation battles, aided by inspired January recruits, but it is a dozen years since he lured Youri Djorkaeff and Fredi Bobic to Bolton Wanderers.

The more pertinent parallel with history comes three years ago when, as they are now, West Ham were in both the relegation zone and the semi-finals of the League Cup. Owners David Sullivan and David Gold considered regime change, persevered with Avram Grant and found their loyalty was rewarded with relegation. It was a dreadful mistake.

While Allardyce, though outwardly calm and despite receiving Gold and Sullivan’s support in a strange long-winded statement on the club website, ought to be anxious about his position, the men with more reasons to feel uneasy are the directors. Given the growing financial gulf between the Premier League and the Championship, it is often said that clubs cannot afford to drop a division. It is particularly true in West Ham’s case.

They are to move into London’s Olympic Stadium in 2016. They have to find about £15m to help convert it, pay £2m a year in rent and find an extra 20,000 or so spectators every home game if its greater capacity is to be of benefit. Loyal as many of their long-suffering fans are, they are unlikely to sell 54,000 tickets for each of 23 home games in the lower leagues.

Many of those supporters regarded Allardyce, with his proud record of never suffering demotion from the top flight, as a necessary evil, a way of safeguarding the future. Now West Ham’s prospects are more uncertain and Allardyce’s still gloomier.

Making Downing captain for a day ranks a long way down the list of mishaps, mistakes and miscalculations in an ever-worsening season.