Jim White

Big Sam on the brink, but possible replacement could ruffle feathers

Jim White

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In football, more than most areas of life, you should be careful what you wish for. After spending good money last weekend travelling to watch their team humiliated in the FA Cup by the Championship draw specialists, Nottingham Forest, West Ham’s supporters were hoping for something a little more uplifting at the Etihad stadium on Wednesday night.

And indeed they were treated to a football lesson, full of fluid passing, cunning movement and magnificent finishing. Trouble is, it was their opponents delivering the masterclass. Their own side were utterly abject as Manchester City hammered home six without reply.

Little wonder that their discontent found vocal form. Their target was the manager and one particular chant urged the vibrator purveyors who own the club to give Big Sam the elbow immediately.

Allardyce has never been popular in the stands at the Boleyn ground. Sure, there is acknowledgement for his success in steering the club out of the Championship. He is recognised as organised, efficient, hard-working. But organised, efficient and hard-working have never been the primary requirements for the West Ham faithful.

There, they prefer descriptive terms like progressive, modern, thoughtful. They really don’t like the minimising restrictions of the long-ball game. They like to see their team passing and moving, free-flowing and elegant. You know, a bit like City. The heroes of their past are Trevor Brooking, Martin Peters and Bobby Moore. It is hard to see where Kevin Nolan fits into that tradition.

While the manager has clearly been unlucky with his injury list (though while losing one centre-back might be considered unfortunate, losing four looks like carelessness), there are those among the West Ham support who questioned from the start the efficacy of his basing the club’s entire tactical plan around a lumbering great front man with all the physical durability of porcelain.

Andy Carroll has not played this season in a team built for him. And Allardyce appears not to have anyone adequate in reserve. The false number nine might be all the rage in hipster coaching circles, but Big Sam has taken that to a new level: he is relying on the invisible centre-forward.

So maybe the fans have a point. This is a man they never really wanted and now he is struggling they no longer wish to do business with him. Defeat against Cardiff – rejuvenated by the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – tomorrow will surely signal his departure. It is the sort of game a club in West Ham’s position simply cannot lose.

Already the board, while making public noises about standing by their man, have apparently identified a successor. But the thing is, it is not someone who fits neatly into the fans’ idea of a West Ham manager. Step forward Billy Davies, boss at Nottingham Forest - West Ham’s Championship vanquishers in the FA Cup - and a man who is to quiet dignity and personal charm what Big Sam is to tika-taka football.

Blimey, Davies is an acquired taste. Forest fans, even as they are pleased to be back in contention after a recent slump, are obliged constantly to apologise for their manager’s graceless attitude to opponents, referees, and probably anyone he happens to pass in the street.

Of course, prickly, tricky, forever bristling, Davies might be exactly what is required to gee up the West Ham dressing room. Perhaps instead of Big Sam’s small army of physios, sports scientists and nutritionists, what is needed to steer the club away from the perils of relegation is a carefully applied Scottish boot to the collective backside.

Yet you wonder, compared to Allardyce’s long history of top flight experience, how Davies’s combustible temperament might cope with his sudden elevation to centre stage. His only top flight experience is three months with Derby County at the start of what turned out to be the least productive season ever recorded by a club in Premier League history. He walked away from that when things started to look bleak, some say because, rather than fight it, he didn’t want inevitable relegation spoiling his CV.

Sure, with Derby, Preston and twice at the helm of Forest, he has won more manager of the month awards in the Championship than anyone else. But the job he would be required to do in East London is of far greater significance than any he has done before.

Sure, every newcomer is a risk. But there is no precedent to suggest that his human torpedo act, self-combusting when crossed by directors, media men, fans or rival managers would work in the Premier League. To appoint Davies would be a mighty gamble by the West Ham directors at the very point the club is in urgent need of certainty.

Indeed, if it were a Scotsman Messrs Gold and Sullivan were after, someone to add a touch of steel to proceedings, surely far better to have pursued Steve Clarke or Malky Mackay. Both have more experience in the Premier League than Davies, both have an ability to control their emotions, and both are available now without recourse to compensation. Mackay, in particular, with his dignified stoicism, has an ability to bring the fans onside which would help heal the growing rift in Upton Park.

Still, if the rumours are true and the purveyors of jazz mags and split crotch nether garments who run West Ham have decided to go shopping in Nottingham, we can be sure of this: for the outsider it will be fun to watch.

Davies, a little man who has taken his Napoleon complex to the point of actually resembling the great dictator, will be anything but dull. Whatever happens in the East End, we are in for interesting times.

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