Opinion: Was 'Big Sam' one of the most underrated managers in Premier League history?

"Big Sam" Allardyce has gone down in history as the only England manager to have won all of his games in charge. Unfortunately, there was only the one. 

A managerial career that spanned almost 1,000 competitive matches across 25-years has widely been regarded as one based upon a direct and physical approach, marred by allegations of malpractice during his short tenure as the national team boss. Yet under the surface, Allardyce must be regarded as one of the greatest managers to grace the Premier League.

The England debacle

In terms of honours, Allardyce could not even be considered in the same breath as the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger. Despite Football League promotions with five different clubs, Allardyce never really hit the heights that some of his colleagues did.

With just six Premier League Manager of the Month Awards to his name, "Big Sam" was never seen as an elite manager by those who run the local game either. After being overlooked on a couple of occasions as England manager, Allardyce was perhaps somewhat surprisingly granted the opportunity back in July 2016.

Yet he lasted just 67 days as an undercover Daily Telegraph investigation caught Allardyce offering advice on how to negotiate around FA rules on third party ownership. Many suggested he should never be allowed to manage again.

Rebuilding the brand

However, just three months after Allardyce and the FA parted ways, "Big Sam" was back in management with Crystal Palace. A Premier League club with the worst record of any top flight side across 2016, the Eagles were undoubtedly on the slide.

Yet strategic additions of combative players such as Jeffrey Schlupp and Luka Milivojevic combined with an organised defence and well-drilled set-piece routines allowed Palace to build foundations for survival.

Balanced by creative influences in Wilf Zaha and Christian Benteke, Palace escaped relegation on the penultimate game of the season with barely a long ball in sight.

The master of organisation

Jose Mourinho once described Allardyce's style as "football from the 19th century" but digging beneath the surface proves to be just the opposite.

Allardyce was actually a key figurehead in bringing modern day sports science into the game. The technological approach allowed him to analyse the game in different ways, prepare strategically for set-pieces and drill an organised defence together. At the end of the day, you can't win football matches if you concede more than you score.

One of his stalwarts at Bolton Wanderers, Kevin Davies, also recognised his "excellent man-management skills". Allardyce was able to utilise his personality to not only get the best out of his players but also tempt talented individuals to the Club. 

Albeit inheriting much of the Palace team, the make-up of the squad was typical of the sides he formulated before him. All of which maintained similar outcomes.

'Galacticos' of Bolton

"Big Sam" first experienced the Premier League when he took Bolton Wanderers up from the Championship. It was across almost eight years at Bolton where Allardyce really made a name for himself, winning 153 of 371 matches.

After overcoming a standard Allardyce relegation battle, "Big Sam" took them to a League Cup final and into the UEFA Cup with a similar approach to what we saw at Palace this season. Organisation mixed with creative ability.

As Bolton progressed through the top flight, Allardyce laid the foundations with strong defensive-minded players. The likes of Gary Speed, Radhi Jaidi, Fernando Hierro, Ivan Campo and Bruno N'Gotty all arrived to solidify the Bolton squad.

Yet Allardyce was also able to tempt World class attacking players to Lancashire as he added genuine goalscoring ability and flair to his ranks. Youri Djorkaeff, Jay-Jay Okocha, Stelios Giannakopoulos, Fredi Bobic, Henrik Pederson and Nicholas Anelka all came with glowing international backgrounds. Has any other manager recruited such big names to a Club of Bolton's size during the Premier League era?

Balancing the books

After leaving Bolton fifth in the Premier League at the end of the 2006-07 season, Allardyce joined Newcastle United. Albeit an ultimately unsuccessful spell with the Geordies wrongly believing they were still a "giant Premier League Club", as following seasons were to prove, it was here that "Big Sam" showed that he also had a prowess for balancing the books and supporting the financial stability of a Club.

He recovered £13 million for the sales of Scott Parker and Kieron Dyer before surrounding himself with combative players with a spark of talent. Alan Smith, Mark Viduka, Geremi and Joey Barton were all tempted to the North East but Allardyce was unceremoniously forced out after just a short period of time.

With an even stricter budget at Blackburn Rovers during his next venture, Allardyce made £21.5 million on the sales of Roque Santa Cruz and Stephen Warnock. Across two years, "Big Sam" was able to manufacture a well-organised unit that positioned themselves comfortably mid-table until his departure at the end of 2010.

Contrasting opinions

Allardyce had warmed the hearts of many fans of the Clubs he managed up until that point. Yet at West Ham, he faced a challenging four years despite lifting them from the Championship to the top flight.

After guiding West Ham to respectable mid-table Premier League finishes, Allardyce was a constant source of abuse as fans turned on him for what they perceived to be a long ball approach. Allardyce toyed with a number of incoming and outgoing players but could not find the magic formula to push the Hammers into European contention. 

Yet he left East London with more wins and losses. Perhaps similar to Newcastle, West Ham have been on the slide since his departure, with well-renowned Croatian manager Slaven Bilic only keeping the side afloat in the top flight by the skin of his teeth this season.

A familiar tale

Five months after his departure, Allardyce took over at Sunderland. Sitting 19th and facing relegation, he faced a challenging start before moulding his squad during the January transfer window.

A late push at the end of the season saw Sunderland earn survival during mid-May. Where have we heard that line before?

A look at what has happened to the Black Cats since shows the influence Allardyce had just last season. David Moyes is one of the most experienced managers in the Premier League but could not keep the North East club in the top flight during this campaign in similar circumstances.

The legacy

Another mark of Allardyce's ability to over-achieve with sub-standard sides is what has happened to his previous Clubs since he left. Bolton, Newcastle, Blackburn and more recently Sunderland have all dropped out of the Premier League post-Allardyce. In a similar fashion to what has unfolded in recent years at Manchester United since Sir Alex Ferguson left, Allardyce's man-management skills could not be underrated.

With "Big Sam" suggesting he has "no interest in managing again" this appears to be the end of the road for the 62-year old. There is a famous saying that you "don't always appreciate what you have until it has gone" and such a sentiment will undoubtedly echo with many football fans as they look back on what was actually a very impressive managerial career, based on hard graft mixed with a sprinkle of talent.

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