Filed: Saturday, 10th May 2014
By: Paul Walker
Nobody by now can have any doubt that the stories about Sam Allardyce’s likely exit from the club any time soon are as kosher as you can get in this crazy football industry.
It is easy to put what ever spin you like on various degrees of speculation and leaks these past few days, but Sam has NOT had, in talks with major shareholder David Sullivan, any confirmation that his job IS safe.
The key point, surely, this week, was when Sam admitted he had to ring Sullivan on Thursday to discussed stuff that had been “planted” in the media about his future. Sam would have had a pretty good idea who planted the information, to whom and why.
But in his Friday press conference, Sam was only able to say that the pair had discussed the speculation and had agreed to hold their scheduled summit next week to discuss pre-season and budgets. That can mean anything.
If that was not Sullivan playing for a bit of time and breathing space I don‘t know what was. And I would be amazed if someone , somewhere, is not trying to come up with a replacement as we speak. Because if we start the summer transfer window without a manager in place and player recruitment plans and contracts up and running in competition with everyone else, we are asking for trouble.
What is very clear is that our club is facing the biggest gamble in our history. Changing managers now, regardless of whether you like Sam’s approach and style, is a huge leap of faith because going to the Olympic Stadium anywhere but the Premier League is not an option.
That is why there is clearly a split at the Boleyn amongst the hierarchy over what to do now. And you have to go back to the aftermath of the defeat at West Brom to find the sources of the current situation.
Sullivan was cornered after the game by a group of Midland reporters he knew well and had a good working relationship with while he was in charge of Birmingham. Even then he would not say Sam was safe, remember we had lost successive games against Palace and West Brom and were very much in the relegation mire with final games against Spurs and Manchester City left. No pressure there, then.
Sullivan would only say that no decision would be taken until after the final game of the season. From then on the speculation and splits at the club spread like wildfire. Sam needed that win over Spurs desperately, and maybe felt that was enough to save him. Just think what a mess we would be in on Saturday night had lost last weekend.
Thankfully Norwich could not win at Chelsea on Sunday, and that was the end of it. But what would their approach to the match at Stamford Bridge have been in the last half hour with the score still 0-0 had we lost to Spurs? I doubt my heart, and Sullivan’s, could have coped.
But Spurs didn’t turn up, they were a shocking, painful excuse for a team, and we all had a good time telling them so. The “Tottenham Hotspur, it’s happening again” chant was priceless and nicked by Arsenal fans on Monday during the Hull game.
But that was only a truce in the Sam saga. Tuesday evening saw Sullivan talk of “crying and sleepless nights” at the annual awards dinner in central London, where he apologised to the fans--albeit the rich ones who could afford to be there--for the dreadful season we had witnessed.
You sensed that even surprised Sam who talked of the views being too negative. Then Mark Noble, interviewed by our in- house TV people, could say little else in public but to support his manager.
Incidentally, I am delighted Noble won the Hammer of the Year for the second season on the trot, nobody deserves it more. He has run further, made more tackles, played more passes and battled for the cause more than anyone else. He shows his pride in his local club and the fans who support the team in every game. He fully deserves to stand alongside the multi-winners of this award from our illustrious past.
Seats you, Sir - but who'll be in the manager's chair come August?
But by the time Thursday had arrived the Daily Mail were running a story saying Sam would be sacked after the City game. The piece did not appear in my (northern) edition, but there were soon two versions on the Mail’s website within an hour of each other.
Then it is interesting to see how a story develops. Nobody touched it--in particular Sky--for some hours. But what I call the fake websites who just re-write newspapers without any impute of their own and then punch the story across the world, gave the whole thing “legs.”
But by mid-afternoon the Mirror’s John Cross--a ‘heavyweight’ newsman these days (sorry pal, no offence!) had a piece on the Mirror’s website all but standing the story up.
Martin Samuel, and notably Lee Clayton-their sports editor- who is a massive Hammers fan and has a well-known strong relationship with Sullivan. A source close to the club that I contacted said much the same thing…”It’s in the Mail and they have excellent sources inside the club.”
Sam would have been watching all this too. And by Thursday afternoon would have worked it out for himself, hence the call to Sullivan.
By Friday morning, the Mail were running a piece by their northern writer Ian Ladyman which was virtually a Big Sam obit and included comments about us thinking we are a bigger club than we really are (shut up Laydo, just because your Liverpool boys aren’t going to win the title after all!)
Friday’s presser produced the predictable stuff from the TV and agencies, with Sam playing things down but not sounding too convincing. But Ken Dyer’s piece in the Standard was spot on, as usual.
Sam would not be sacked on Sunday after the game--that only happens to deadbeats like Avram Grant. But everything will be decided in mid-week when Sam meets Sullivan and the board.
There he will find David Gold unhappy about change, and that’s a respected conservative approach. Also Ms Brady’s view will be that we should change nothing that could damage her baby, that being a smooth transition to the Olympic Stadium in the top flight. She has made it plain in her Sun column that she feels Sam is doing all he has been asked and is the strong character she prefers to work with.
Our financial director Andy Mollett and club solicitor Henri Brandman will have a view, but in the end it will be down to Sullivan. He is clearly upset about the season and the vast amount of money that has been spent on players who have not produced enough.
Sam‘s Standard column--ghosted for him by Dyer I believe--spelt out more. He said: “I am aware of more speculation about my future over the last 24 hours.
“It is something I have had to live with for much of the season, but I cannot and won’t let it deflect me from my job at West Ham.
“For us at West Ham it has been a gruelling season but everyone stuck together. We got through despite all the adversity and now look forward to another season in the greatest of all leagues.”
Sullivan, though, is very aware of the fans’ opinion. The very-well presented poll of 16 fans websites and blogs produced 12,000 votes and a 78 per cent view that Sam should go. Now he tried to turn that into not being a majority of West Ham fans.
His argument, presumably, was that 78 per cent of 12,000 is about 10,000 people and that constitutes only a third of our average home crowd. Sam must realise, though, that most Mori polls for elections are more than happy to work from opinions of as few as 1,000 people. They would be delirious with 12,000 taking part!
What is clear now is that Sullivan (and Gold) want greater control over the transfer budget and what gets spent. And that can only be a veiled dig at Sam’s agent Mark Curtis, who has as many as nine of our players now on his books.
The conflict over transfer dealing is going to be a huge problem now. Sam will want it done the way it has been done here with us, and how it worked for him and Curtis at Bolton, Blackburn and Newcastle.
But Sullivan will look at the £40m plus it has cost to bring in Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing, Matt Jarvis and Modibo Maiga. Plus the estimated £250,000 a week in wages these four earn. That’s £12m a year and Sullivan will question the return on that investment.
Yes, Sam has done exactly what he has been asked to do. Promotion and two seasons of safety in the top flight. He will leave our club as the most successful manager, financially, in our history. Those three seasons have produced well over £200m into the club’s coffers, and we should all be grateful for that.
So the gamble for Sullivan is immense. The wrong decision next week and then a poor appointment could have catastrophic consequences on our club as we embark on the biggest upheaval in our history.
Over to you Mr. Sullivan, best of luck!
Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.
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