Is Big Sam the Man to Keep Sunderland in the Premier League?
When you look at Sunderland’s situation and how they have performed in recent seasons in the top flight, you realise that Sam Allardyce has a very big challenge set out ahead of him. He takes the reins of a Sunderland side who have failed to win a game this term and are lying five points from safety after just eight games played. Allardyce took the job on the premise of wanting a challenge and he has perhaps secured the toughest job out of any of the managers in the top flight. The Sunderland job itself has become one of the more turbulent positions in football as they have seen 13 managers in the past 13 years. As a result, Big Sam will be under no illusions as to how cut-throat a business football can be following his recent sacking by West Ham United. Harry Redknapp recently mentioned on Twitter how he felt that Sam Allardyce would not take the job at Sunderland unless he personally felt he could keep them up and that he felt he had full control over the squad.
It is not uncommon for managers to leave Sunderland with negative experiences, both on and off the pitch. It is a growing issue in football that often players are not signed by the manager and Sunderland could well be a prime example. Whilst the money has certainly been invested, the quality of these acquisitions are still questionable. Redknapp also addressed this by simply stating “Who’s signing the players?”. The former Spurs manager went on to say that “Sam is a very confident guy, he’s got a big ego, and he’s done fantastic wherever he has been” and this would lead you to believe that he never would have taken the job unless he felt he was in complete control of what was going on and most importantly, free of meddling from upstairs.
Big Sam’s Premier League management record is incredibly consistent wherever he goes. He seemingly always wins 30-35% of the matches he guides his side into, which is a fairly steady if not an entirely inspiring record. However, if Allardyce was able to repeat the trick with Sunderland, they should be able to pick up the points required to remain in the Premier League for another campaign. However, this does raise an issue for Allardyce as he is a former manager of Newcastle – albeit for a fairly brief period. He was at Sunderland for a time during his playing career but this obstacle from the neighbouring city could prove troublesome for some supporters to overlook. Although having said this, a win against his old side Newcastle in only his second game in charge would be a great way to reacquaint himself with the Sunderland faithful. Could history repeat itself once more as the latest man at the helm of The Black Cats achieve early success with a victory over their Geordie rivals?
One thing that the Sunderland faithful will be sure of is how they are going to see their side play in the coming months. You know what you are going to get with Sam Allardyce and that is a very direct style of play which relies on pumping the ball into the opposition penalty area and putting as much pressure on the defending centre backs as possible. This may not sound very glamourous and Allardyce has faced scrutiny from even his own fans in the past; particularly during his time at West Ham, for this style of play but it could be exactly what Sunderland need at the moment. It is an approach that often relies on getting the basics right first, which is exactly what a team such as Sunderland need at the moment.
It may not be putting Barcelona to shame, but this more conservative and simplified style of football has a proven track record of turning clubs into established top flight sides. The main example of this is perhaps Stoke City, who entered the top flight playing with a very obvious intent – to get the ball into dangerous areas at any opportunity. This is without mentioning that any time someone in Sunday League football has a long throw on them, it will now forever be dubbed a ‘Rory Delap’ throw-in. Stoke City are now a very well established Premier League side and have now moved away from the more direct style under Mark Hughes, but it was the rudimentary and rugged style of managers past that laid the foundations of a successful stay in the top flight of English football.
Sunderland are a team that when compared to many other teams in the Premier League, have seen very little by the way of available transfer funds. However, while many will see a Sunderland bereft of form and confidence, there is definitely a good degree of talent located at the Stadium of Light at the moment. The squad has bags of Premier League experience as well as several capable of injecting both speed and technical ability throughout. If Big Sam can get the players to gel and play to the standard that they are capable of, there is no reason why Sunderland fans won’t start to see some much more productive and positive performances as the season progresses.
One possible recruit that has earned a mention is current free agent Kevin Nolan. Nolan has captained three separate Sam Allardyce sides and is available following his own departure from Upton Park. However, Kevin Nolan is now 33 years old and like Allardyce is also a former Newcastle player. If Nolan was to be signed by Sunderland it would probably follow with him becoming captain, which may prove to be master-stroke for Allardyce. The current squad is one where perhaps some players have fallen into the trap of becoming too comfortable in their surroundings and the addition of Nolan could rejuvenate a side in desperate need of fresh ideas. The Allardyce-Nolan axis is a tried and tested method that has seemingly never let either side of the connection down and it could certainly be an option for Big Sam to stamp his own mark on the team long before the January transfer window.
The first two matches will be critical for Sam Allardyce and Sunderland as they face fellow strugglers West Bromwich Albion followed by a huge derby against Newcastle. The Magpies coincidentally also happen to be the only side that have started this season worse than Sunderland and you feel that whichever side wins this fixture could see a real improvement in confidence going into the next few games. Sunderland fans will be desperate to see an upturn in form and positivity in these upcoming encounters. To come away with a victory from either of these two games; particularly over their bitter rivals, could provide a massive boost for Allardyce’s men moving forwards.
As far as Sunderland’s chances of survival go, many have already written them off. However, one thing we should remember from recent Premier League seasons is that even when a team threatened with relegation are seemingly on the brink of collapse, all it takes is one result for a team to suddenly turn their fortunes around and go on a run of good form. In Sam Allardyce, Sunderland have a manager that has never been relegated in all his years of football management. They also have a team that possesses a great deal of experience at the highest level and with a healthy portion of pace and quality which is always a formula that can trouble any side. It remains to be seen as to whether Big Sam can turn around Sunderland’s current demise but with 30 games left to do it, a personal relationship with the Mackems, and something of a point to prove following his sacking from West Ham, it doesn’t seem entirely out of the question that Big Sam will make a real go of it as the season progresses.
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