Some managers thrive on success. They get the bug for trophies, and feed that addiction to their players. There is Alex Ferguson, most obviously, a man who built three great teams, bent on success. There is Liverpool, the whole club, which dominated for a decade and still has a tradition of glory, even if they sometimes fall short. There is Barcelona and Real Madrid, who hoover up the European Champions League and have turned the Spanish league into a tribute to the Scottish Premiership.
These managers and clubs make sure that winning becomes a culture, and in order to do that, they keep standards as high as they can and cut the deadwood wherever possible. Whenever they have failed to do that, they have wobbled. When egos have uncomfortably expanded, results have suffered.
Sam Allardyce does not appear to be one of these characters. Instead, it seems that he is motivated by resentment as much as he is by the sheer enjoyment of winning. Allardyce made his name at Bolton, where he meshed sports science, rudimentary statistical analysis, and cut-price veterans from the continent to add both experience and flair. And, in a series of four-ham-sandwiches-out-of- five performances, to really annoy Arsenal.
It is impossible to deny Allardyce’s effectiveness, when at the right club. At Newcastle he chafed against the crowd who weren’t interested in results, they wanted to fart about their arse, as is always the case. Newcastle dreams of mattering, and of being culturally important to football. It isn’t, and nobody else pretends it is, so there is a natural tension.
Allardyce went through the same thing at West Ham, who go on about the ‘West Ham way’. But the West Ham way appears to be: lose, have a flair player or two, then lose a bit more. Allardyce, like his buddy Mourinho, would much rather win first and then worry about the rest later. Of course, fans can dream of playing exciting football, but at some point reality needs to kick in (not that it ever does for football fans).
Allardyce is plainly irritated by all this. He once claimed that were he called Sam Allardici, he’d have had a chance at Real Madrid, or one of the other biggest clubs in football. Of course, this is tish and fipsy. Allardyce’s style would have seen him either never approached, or hounded out by bored fans, just as Fabio Capello was at Real Madrid, or Roy Hodgson was at Liverpool.
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Added to this resentment for Allardyce is that finally he received recognition when he was basically the last man standing, available for the England job when everyone else had blown their chance. He’d got Wayne Rooney at his disposal, and was letting him run the game as was his wont. It was Allardyce’s dream gig, vital to the English press, with the chance at competing at the World Cup. He could line them up to play pragmatic football and, with luck on his side, finally do some damage in the knockout stages. Or something.
And, indeed, it was something that happened instead. Caught boasting unwisely and advising improperly by the Telegraph, he had one game and was sacked, pictured in front of a tasty pint of wine. Given the stories about Allardyce, neither he nor the FA could have been surprised that it ended this way, but there was still an element of shock that it ended quite so soon.
All this is very nice, and it’s important in understanding why Allardyce is why he is. But it misses out the crucial moment in his origin story. That is when Rafa Benitez, basically a less tactically astute Spanish version of Allardyce himself, signalled ‘game over’ to his players before the game between Blackburn and Liverpool had finished. From that moment, Allardyce had Benitez and Liverpool in his sights, one of the purest burning hatreds in football. And in football, there are myriad burning hatreds, though admittedly 50% of them rest with Mourinho.
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Remember the state of Allardyce when he bodied Benitez at Chelsea with his West Ham side – a day that Allardyce would have marked down in his diary as a full five ham sandwiches out of a possible five ham sandwiches. Remember his open contempt for Benitez going back to their first meeting in 2004, when Kevin Davies broke Sami Hyppia’s nose.
So on Sunday, the scene was set for Allardyce. He used the immutable law of the ex to ensure that Christian Benteke’s prowess, along with the rest of the side, exploited a tired and mediocre Liverpool side. And after, he was able to baste himself in his own praise, explaining how Palace had out-tacticked Liverpool, cleverly exploiting Klopp’s side’s weakness. He could position himself as a thinker, and a sophisticate, but really, he was motivated by the enormous, Benitez-sized chip on his shoulder.
Sometimes, football isn’t even about the game on the pitch, it’s about the rivalries and psychological flaws and motivations in us all. Sometimes there are deep, dark reasons for our actions. And other times, you don’t need a degree in psychology to work it out. After all, when Allardyce went to bed on Sunday, he dreamed. He was Sam Allardici, celebrating his 10th Champions League triumph. He had shredded Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool in the final, again. And he had all the ham sandwiches he could ever ask for.