Things are never dull at West Ham United. First, there were claims that the club broke EU law and may have received state aid in relation to the Olympic Stadium. Then the club announces it will slash admission prices when it enters the stadium for 2016/17 season.
While the last week has seen such developments, the ongoing drama in the background concerns the future of the West Ham manager of the past four seasons Sam Allardyce.
It has been a subject never far from the headlines for almost the entire season. Allardyce was offered a one year contract last summer, after the owners appeared to um and err as to what the right course of action was for the club. A number of other managers seemed to be sounded out but were not available or willing to join West Ham.
In the end, it was a case of better the devil you know, with Allardyce offered a new contract, with the proviso he must play more attractive attacking football. Allardyce agreed. The board and manager seemed to have a rapproachment, with a crop of excellent players coming into the club.
The new players gelled quickly and before West Ham knew it they were in the top four. Expectations were raised but as with West Ham teams of old, they seemed to come down with the Christmas decorations, securing just three wins since the turn of the year.
The crushing 4-0 FA cup defeat to West Brom was particularly hard for West Ham fans to take, especially as owners and manager had talked up the possibility of it being the club’s year to win the trophy. Co-owner David Sullivan was shaken when he came face to face with angry fans after the game. Ever since then the rumours about the future of Allardyce seem to have grown.
The owners seemed happy with what Allardyce did up to Christmas but there have been warning signs that all may not be sweetness and light between manager and board. Maurio Zarate departed West Ham for QPR on loan, declaring that the manager did not like him because Sullivan had brought him in. West Ham brought in the Brazilian Nene, who has shown promise when given the chance but this has been rare. Again it seems he is another that Allardyce does not really like.
Some of the managers’ decisions - and over reliance on the seemingly permanently injured Andy Carroll - seem to have grated with the owners. Many fans witnessing the lacklustre performances of Stuart Downing and others since Christmas must have wondered if Zarate or Nene could not have contributed something more.
An ongoing gripe of fans is that Allardyce does not bring on home grown youngsters. Even those like Diego Poyet, signed from Charlton last summer, do not seem to be given the chance. Allardyce always seems to prefer the tried and tested brought in from abroad or Bolton. The constant selection of the ageing Kevin Nolan also causes much rancour.
All that said, the manager has done what he was asked to do last summer, playing an exciting brand of attacking football and getting results -..at least until recently. He has argued regularly that the team should be on 50 points if they had not squandered so many leads in the last couple of minutes. He has put this in part down to inexperience.
Few would disagree with him when he says that with a season under their belt the new players will do far better next year. Add four of five decent players of the calibre provided last summer and West Ham could expect to climb the Premiership table further.
Allardyce is a man with a proven track record, he leaves clubs in a better state than when he arrived and perhaps ominously those clubs often fair far worst after he has gone. Bolton, Blackburn and Newcastle were all relegated not long after Allardyce left as manager.
The West Ham board though do seem to have made up their minds he is going this time. The very public reports of managers such as David Moyes, Slaven Bilic, Roberto Martinez, Gary Monk and Jurgen Klopp being sounded out are coming from somewhere. The tactic seems strange because it is undermining the team’s performance in the final few games of the season.
There is ofcourse the possibility – sounded in some quarters – that Allardyce is on his way anyway. Sunderland were said to be interested, prior to appointing Dick Advocaat as caretaker manager. What is certain is that if Allardyce does leave West Ham he won’t be out of work for long. A manager who can guarantee Premiership football with top ten finishes on the menu will find work in many places.
The West Ham board are certainly playing a dangerous game. Allardyce could be relied upon to take the club into the Olympic Stadium still in the Premiership. What a disaster it would be if a new appointment got the club relegated just as they were about to take up residence.
Many expected that the club would stick with Allardyce for at least another season or two, then maybe it would be time for a change. But change now seems on the cards, who it will be is anyones guess. The demands are high, to play the West Ham way and get results on a limited budget. Allardyce has fulfilled most of this ask but it would seem has not done enough to warrant a new contract.