Big Sam Sparks Rovers’ Revival
Who else could have saved Blackburn so effortlessly? Sat second bottom of the Premier League, five points from safety with just 13 points from 17 games, Sam Allardyce succeeded Paul Ince as Blackburn Rovers’ manager, and in less than 20 games he has made them all but safe – almost in second gear.
He took Bolton up, took them into Europe and developed them into a club so stable that even Gary Megson can keep them afloat with ease. His over-eagerness to join Newcastle perhaps has meant that he probably will be firefighting with clubs like Blackburn forever, but even that “marriage made in hell” was not as bad as first seemed: Mike Ashley sacked Allardyce with the Toon in the heady heights of 12th place, and subsequent failings have shown that Big Sam’s performance - in the cold, hard textbook of results – was in fact a relative success as he seemed - initially at least – to be able to wring the best of Mark Viduka and Obafemi Martins (the latter’s brace at Bolton on opening day the highest peak of his short managership). Ashley’s happiness to jump into bed with the fans meant that he immediately replaced Sam with Kevin Keegan – a man who, even four years previously had looked to sign a host of ageing nineties’ superstars for Manchester City (Robbie Fowler, Peter Schmeichel, David Seaman, Michael Tarnat, need I go on? ) and whose work in football for three years amounted to running a childrens’ “Soccer Circus” in Glasgow. It was like replacing Fabio Capello as England manager with Glenn Hoddle – and it was shabby treatment for a manager who, whilst not putting any trees up was definitely not going to make Newcastle relegation candidates.
Of course there are mitigating factors: Newcastle were in a shocking run of form, and the “brand of football” issue raised its ugly head once the results started to turn. He is oft-mocked for his “agricultural” style at Bolton, but with signings like Youri Djorkaeff, Ivan Campo, Nicolas Anelka and Jay-Jay Okocha, can you play completely long-ball football? His football tends to be direct, of course, but his organisation and motivation of players is second to none – at Bolton he came away with two draws from three games at Stamford Bridge during the José era, and with consecutive wins at Old Trafford in his first two seasons in the Premier League, surely he was the man to take Newcastle to the level they had slipped from since Bobby Robson left in 2005. I guess Mr Ashley had other ideas.
So Sam ended up at Blackburn. What had become (under Ince) a gung-ho football team with a brittle underbelly, became a drilled, structured outfit with an underbelly made of titanium. Benni McCarthy went from the outskirts of the side to a prolific Premier League goalscorer, Jason Roberts went from an Ade Akinbiyi impression to a spirited strike partner, and Ryan Nelsen has remembered how to defend: In other words, Blackburn are now a worthy Premier League side, who, with Big Sam at the helm can perhaps look towards Europe next season – after all, since Allardyce’s arrival, they have taken 27 points from 19 games, which is European form and would place them comfortably in seventh if taken over a whole season. He is no Mourinho, no Benitez, no Ferguson, but he has sparked a remarkable revival from a team on it’s knees, and – this becoming an increasing Big Sam trademark - has got the best out of a (relatively) small Premier League club.