Sam Allardyce has lost his immaculate record. What seemed one final job became one job too far, at least in terms of never going down from the Premier League.
His stint at West Bromwich Albion began amid embarrassment – his first four home games produced an aggregate score of 17-0, and not in their favour, he returned to football and then advocated its suspension and, as an enthusiastic Brexiteer, then complained Brexit regulations were denying him some of his preferred signings – but their eventual relegation felt more respectable.
Allardyce remains the scourge of Thomas Tuchel, the manager whose 5-2 win against Chelsea feels all the more improbable with every scalp they take, and Albion’s fine April lent itself to suggestions that if only they had appointed him earlier, they might have salvaged their top-flight status. And, in turn, the idea that he is the best man to bring a yo-yo club back up. After all, his last season in the Championship brought promotion for a club that starts with ‘West’.
Sparing Allardyce any of the blame for demotion requires a recognition that he is losing part of his touch. He has always excelled at keeping teams up, but also at identifying underachievers who, with the right guidance, should stay up. West Brom had a poorer squad than the relegation-threatened Blackburn, Sunderland, Crystal Palace and Everton groups he steered to safety, often while pocketing sizeable bonuses for doing so. They had too few Big Sam-style players. Perhaps his two-year exile from the game prompted him to ignore the warning signs.
But the figures suggest he has done substantially worse than before. He has been a byword for consistency, and not merely in finishing 17th or above. Allardyce has had six win percentages at clubs of between 33 and 39; at Albion, it is 17.4. It should be a reminder that it was only really his reputation that indicated they may climb above the dotted line.
It is nevertheless undeniable that they have been better after his January trading. The issue now is that it was a revival of sorts that was built on short-termism. Mbaye Diagne gave Albion a penalty-box threat, if not always clinical finishing, Okay Yokuslu is a high-class defensive presence in midfield and Ainsley Maitland-Niles a marauding force.
But each was borrowed. The two outstanding individuals Albion own are Matheus Pereira - a reminder flair players can sometimes prosper under Allardyce, Pereira surely exhibits too much class to return to the Championship - and Sam Johnstone, who has a solitary year left on his contract. Take each out and the team looks substantially worse; it would be packed with players Allardyce had dropped, such as Slaven Bilic’s midfield axis of Jake Livermore and Romaine Sawyers and his biggest buys, Karlan Grant and Grady Diangana.
So if the last three months are an unsatisfactory guide to Albion’s chances next season, the swift returns to the Premier League of Norwich and Watford highlight that a Championship starved of funds gives the demoted teams a greater advantage. If a side built around Bilic’s core is well placed to win promotion, it is scarcely an argument for keeping Allardyce.
His record brings reassurance; his last two seasons in the Championship have brought promotion, his last three also includes a play-off campaign. But then his record has been dented. The old guarantees are being destroyed. Albion’s previous demotion came in a campaign they started under Tony Pulis, though his early sacking meant he escaped the stigma of relegation.
But Pulis’ last taste of management was a 10-game spell at Sheffield Wednesday that contributed to their slide into League One. Pragmatic soulmates have had years of diminishing returns while a younger generation of managers have prospered in the Championship.
Their choices have felt questionable. Allardyce could have luxuriated in retirement with his record intact. He surely did not want his career to end either in relegation or the second tier; instead, a man who turns 67 in October may find his only offer of continued employment comes at the Hawthorns and amid the grind of the Football League. But if the context explains why Albion went down, it positions them well to come back without him. Allardyce was not an Alan Pardew-style mistake by Albion, but the outcome has been the same.
“I’m not going to tell you if I am staying or going,” Allardyce said on Sunday but the club should tell him their decision and activate a break clause in his contract; they ought to look to the future with someone more progressive. And that would make what seems the great survivor’s last job definitively the wrong job.
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