The end is nigh for Sam Allardyce. West Ham’s abysmal season can be blamed only on the club’s manager, so now a change is required. We take an in-depth look at some realistic candidates to fill Big Sam’s shoes at Upton Park.
5. Marcelo Bielsa
Although he remains largely unknown on in England, Marcelo Bielsa is highly regarded as a tactical visionary in Europe and South America. Not convinced? Just ask Pep Guardiola.
The Bayern Munich gaffer and Barcelona’s most successful manager of all time made a pilgrimage to Argentina seeking advice from Bielsa when deciding if he should go into coaching back in October 2006. Last year Guardiola reiterated his admiration for his mentor by saying to Spanish paper Marca: “Bielsa is currently the best coach on the planet.”
Bielsa, affectionately nicknamed El Loco, has managed his own national team as well as Chile’s. He is credited with laying the foundations for the attacking style of play that enabled Chile to pick apart England when they won 2-0 at Wembley last month.
At club level, Bielsa briefly managed Espanyol before being handed the Argentina job in 1998 and most recently oversaw the renaissance at Athletic Bilbao. But Bielsa was let go by Los Leones in the summer despite leading them to both the Europa League and Copa Del Rey finals last season.
The Premier League could do with the arrival of a character like Bielsa – he is nicknamed El Loco for a reason. Not only is he known for possessing an insanely exhaustive collection of football video clips that he uses for coaching, he even attacked a builder last year because he thought he had not done a good job at Bilbao’s training ground, before handing himself into the police. Furthermore, having endured Big Sam’s depressed, hangdog expression for so long, West Ham need someone who will brighten up the place too.
From a footballing point of view, Bielsa would be perfect for the Hammers. He is known for putting faith in youthful talent and mixing them with experienced pros, all of whom he has playing attractive attacking football. Is that not the ‘West Ham way’ everyone keeps raving about?
It is likely that West Ham would struggle in any attempt to lure Bielsa to East London, though – he would probably see the job as beneath him. And that would be no surprise really. After all, he was widely tipped to replace Guardiola at Barca when the Spaniard’s time at the Nou Camp was drawing to a close last year.
The Irons can hope, however, that perhaps being let go by Bilbao has brought Bielsa down a peg or two.
4. Glenn Hoddle
Planting a Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea legend in the Hammers hot seat is bound to ruffle a few feathers among the West Ham faithful, but the vast majority still see the former England manager as a good choice.
Like Bielsa, Hoddle is known for being a believer in the beautiful game, ie. attractive football. But, also like Bielsa, Hoddle has a reputation for being a bit zany. Few fans will ever forget Hoddle’s non-football related beliefs that led to the bizarre comments he made about disabled people being offenders in previous lives. Nevertheless, the man knows his football.
Although currently employed by the FA as a member of the commission looking at ways to improve the national game, Hoddle is available to manage. The bookies are even suggesting that he would be the go-to guy should Spurs lose patience with Andre Villas-Boas, but maybe West Ham should consider nipping in before their North London rivals get chance.
3. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
With less than three years’ experience as a manager of a professional team, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been a revelation in Norway at his home town club Molde.
In such a short space of time, the former Manchester United goalscorer has led his side to two Norwegian Premier League (Tippeligaen) triumphs in 2011 and 2012 as well as lifting the Norwegian Cup (Norgesmesterskap (NM) Cupen) this year. He has been praised for the brand of football his side has played throughout too. It is no surprise, then, that Solskjaer is well sought after.
Norway offered Solskjaer the national team post in 2008 but he did not think the time was right for such a big job. Aston Villa then tried their best to capture the 40-year-old when they sacked Alex McLeish in 2012. Solskjaer again rejected the vacancy, this time deciding to stay with Molde because he did not want to unsettle his family in his homeland. Now Norway’s and Villa’s loss could be West Ham’s gain.
The only real argument against going for Solskjaer as a replacement for Allardyce is whether or not his experience of Norwegian football would translate to the huge demands of the Premier League. But the former Norway international will have an in-depth knowledge of English football and all it requires having spent 11 years as a Manchester United player and then two and a half years as their reserve team manager.
Obviously, were West Ham to sack Big Sam and set their sights on the Baby-faced Assassin, finding a solution to appease Solskjaer’s reservations about moving back to England while his family are happy in Norway may prove to be a stumbling block. However, time has passed since Solskjaer rejected a move to Birmingham and he and his family may now be more inclined to returning to these shores.
The Hammers need a drastic change with much of the season already elapsed. Who better to bring in than the Premier League’s most famous super-sub?
2. Slaven Bilic
As a former Hammer, Bilic knows all too well how West Ham are supposed to play and would surely pass that onto the squad if he were made manager. And, given how he conducted himself on the pitch, you can also guarantee that every player would be made to give his all for the cause too.
Signed by Harry Redknapp for £1.3m in January 1996, Bilic’s impressive displays for club and country soon attracted interest from other clubs. When Everton offered a club record fee of £4.5m in March 1997, the Hammers accepted. What happened next divides opinion among West Ham fans.
Some consider Bilic’s decision to see out the full 1996/1997 season in East London before transferring to Everton to be an act of heroic loyalty no longer apparent in the game. Despite agreeing a move to the Merseysiders with two months to go until the end of the campaign, the defender stayed on at Upton Park apparently so that he could make sure West Ham avoided relegation from the Premier League.
The other side to this story says that Bilic stayed for money and then left for even more. Rumours suggest Bilic received a £200k loyalty bonus for staying at West Ham and then left to be paid £30k per week at Everton (an enormous wage back then, especially for a centre-half).
Either way, the Croat was excellent for the Hammers. He has made it perfectly clear to the media on several occasions that he wants to manage West Ham at some point as well.
Bilic would be a very popular choice for most of the fans. But, sadly for the claret and blue army, the 45-year-old signed a three-year deal reported to be worth over £4m with Turkish side Besiktas in June this year. As such, getting hold of Bilic by buying him out of his contract would come at a huge cost to the Hammers.
1. Roberto Di Matteo
Roberto Di Matteo would be the best replacement for Allardyce West Ham could possibly hope to employ. Just tactically speaking, the Italian would suit the task as if he were crafted for it by a Savile Row tailor.
He proved during his time as West Bromwich Albion manager that he is yet another person for whom attractive football is of great importance (surely you’ve noticed this pattern by now). Furthermore, while he was in charge at Chelsea, Di Matteo also showed that he is astute enough to have his side play to their strengths.
The manner in which the Blues won the 2012 Champions League while being underdogs throughout the competition was a tactical master class. The direct counter-attacking play deployed by the gaffer was astoundingly effective and would be just what West Ham need as they make the transition from the Big Sam days back to the West Ham way.
Similar to Glenn Hoddle, the prospect of employing this Chelsea legend is bound to annoy some Hammers fans. But we all came to accept Gianfranco Zola when he was West Ham manager because he had the team playing the best football seen at the Boleyn for the last 20 years.
While Gianfranco Zola was deemed as too flaky to lead West Ham further by David Gold and David Sullivan, Di Matteo has much more experience of managing at the top level and should, therefore, be robust enough for the job.
Whether West Ham could convince a Champions League-winning gaffer to take over and steer the club away from relegation would be interesting to see. Money talks though. And, being as though the owners have previously pulled out all stops to fund Big Sam’s big-money signings, most of whom have flopped, surely Gold and Sullivan have enough money left in their coffers to throw at a decent manager too?