Making the big decisions

  • by Tim Keen
  • Filed: Wednesday, 30th October 2013

West Ham United are through to the quarter finals of the Capital One Cup. We qualified with the help of three Academy graduates in the infancy of their careers all playing in defence.

The remainder of the starting eleven was a blend of fringe players and two first team starters.

When the side was announced pre kick-off, I along with many others was sceptical. This is a big game for the club, a chance to get one step closer to Wembley, a quarter final awaits, thousands have travelled to Burnley on a Tuesday night and Allardyce decides to play a severely weakened team against a form side from the Championship.

How are these kids going to cope? This is not the time to blood the youngsters, another chance at winning a Cup has been lost, the manager has got this wrong. These are all thoughts that flashed through my head. I wondered what Sam Allardyce was thinking both in the immediate sense about the tie and his all-round approach to management.

However, 90 minutes later, we were through. A decidedly dodgy first half survived and then the introduction of several first team players and we made it in to the hat for the next round. We can now celebrate victory and be proud of the achievement.

We have won a tough away tie, we're in the quarter finals, just two rounds from Wembley, the thousands that travelled have been rewarded with victory. Allardyce's bold selections have paid off. The young players have handled the situation well and are now that much more ready for further first-team games. We are going to win the Cup, Allardyce has got it right!

In 90 minutes everything can change, opinions can switch from one end of the scale to the other. As supporters we have that luxury, we can bemoan the selections pre-game and then laugh it off afterwards if we are proved wrong. Allardyce went for youth and squad rotation, some agreed - some disagreed. Many wanted experience and a full first team.

These are the quandaries faced by a manager. How did he balance his selection against Burnley (off the back of a tough away game on Sunday) whilst also considering the crucial game against Aston Villa on Saturday?

Defeat against Burnley would have led to severe criticism, even in victory he may face some harsh words. Defeat against Villa off the back of a loss v Burnley would have seen pressure on his employment. Even defeat after the win will increase the nerves around Upton Park.

Just a few weeks ago West Ham beat Tottenham 3-0 at White Hart Lane playing a 4-6-0 formation. Allardyce is a tactical genius, he out-thought AVB and master-minded victory. In truth it was part tactical innovation, part forced due to a lack of striking options. Allardyce made the call to play without a striker and it worked.

The manager made the big decision and reaped the rewards. But had Jermain Defoe tucked away one of several chances created and the Hammers lost 1-0, then Allardyce is a cretin, an imbecile. How can you expect to get results in football playing without a striker? The manager is clueless.

On such decisions are manager's jobs held or lost.

The remit of managers, including Sam Allardyce, is to make decisions, the crucial decisions. They are faced with difficult, almost impossible choices, but they are paid handsomely to make those calls. We as fans make the decisions hypothetically, we have the get out clause of not actually being responsible.

We can discount our wrong decisions, underplay them. Sam Allardyce is not afforded such forgiveness from the fans or the board. If he gets it wrong, then it hurts the team and it hurts the fans and he gets the sack. Allardyce is rewarded if he consistently gets it right.

David Sullivan and David Gold have similar responsibilities, they have similar decisions to make on the future and the smooth running of the football club. The significant difference being they do not have anyone judging them that have the power to remove them from their positions.

Debate continues to rage between fans about the stadium move to Stratford. Is it good for the club? Some say we must leave to improve our future chances, that we will be able to compete at the big table if we take this opportunity and get it right. Others say it will rip the soul out of the club and success can be achieved in other ways. It does not have to come from moving grounds, trying to compete with the big boys is not what supporting West Ham is about.

Arguments are polarised and Sullivan and Gold have to find the balance, or make the call on what they think is best for the club. Not all fans' opinions can be accommodated (though it would help to be consulted more). However, the difficulties arise in that if no consensus can be found amongst the supporters, then what is the option for Gold and Sullivan? No action? They paid the big money, they have the responsibility and the final say.

When the club made the questionable decision to sell highly discounted tickets to various community groups for the game vs Manchester City, they enraged a number of supporters. Why should anyone get a cheap ticket to a game that has been increased in price to the top category and as a result seen hundreds, more likely thousands unable to afford to go to the match?

They almost certainly shouldn't have offered the discounted tickets, but there is still a flip-side to the debate. As a club, we are trying to expand, engage with local community groups and charities around London. We are trying to increase the fan-base and improve the atmosphere and the diversity within the ground. That should be applauded and seen as a sign of progress, but there is little doubt that the board chose the wrong way and the wrong time to do this against Manchester City.

The board are faced with the quandary of trying to build a new fan base whilst also maintaining the old one. Prices are rising despite the huge influx of TV money this season. Ticket rises are justified by the argument that we are in debt and need to keep money coming in whilst also trying to compete in the Premier League. The board, like the manager, are expected to make decisions, big choices, and are judged by how many of those they get right on a consistent basis.

Sam Allardyce has been given several major tasks in his time as manager at West Ham. Get the club in the Premier League, keep the club in the Premier League and do both whilst also completely overhauling the squad and eradicating the negativity that surrounded the club.

He has achieved all that and has had some mini-victories in his second season in the Premier League, including the blooding of youngsters in a winning League cup tie at Burnley. Success at Turf Moor, with a team of youngsters was the reward for our manager getting a big decision right, just as it was when we celebrated the success against Tottenham.

Signing Andy Carroll and getting the Olympic Stadium were seen as achievements by the board by many, but they got it wrong against Manchester City and have hurt a core of supporters with the continued increases in ticket prices.

As a supporter you can look at the tough decisions made by both the board and the manager, you can judge those decisions in the heat of the moment and then in a more sober light. Forums are a place to vent those feelings and see the debate played out.

Whether they are getting it right or wrong, or somewhere in the middle, it is key for us as fans to understand that the choices being made are tough ones and that the self-righteous judgement from us as supporters - particularly the fickle ones who don't admit when they call it wrong - does not always make it easier.

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