Life was comfortable for Sam Allardyce last Autumn prior to Sunderland making their annual SOS call for a fire-fighting manager.
Allardyce was earning good money from punditry with the Premier League’s international broadcasters, while alternating that gravy train by enjoying the sunshine at the family villa in Spain.
From the outside, there seemed little appeal in returning to the stress, scrutiny and sporadic euphoria of the Premier League dug-out.
The only downside was that Allardyce was bored.
He’d refreshed the grey cells after leaving West Ham in May and, despite the idea that he would retire from front-line management and perhaps move into a director of football role, there remained a yearning for life on the touchline.
When Allardyce flew to London to discuss succeeding Dick Advocaat at Sunderland with Ellis Short, it was a deal which suited both parties.
The 61-year-old’s has been dealt enough during his six-month tenure at the Stadium of Light to make anyone think twice about taking the job in the first place– Adam Johnson, Margaret Byrne, Emmanuel Eboue and the ever-present sense of doom stemming from the prospect of relegation.
But Allardyce’s remarks earlier this week after the win at Norwich were telling about prolonging his managerial career.
“I’ve lived with that pressure ever since I joined the club and I’ve aged a bit, or so my wife keeps telling me. She wonders why I keep doing this stupid job!” he said.
“Even with all the problems we’ve had this season, I still love it for some strange reason.”
That won’t stop the rumour mill over Allardyce’s future – reports last weekend indicating that the ex-Bolton boss will retire if Sunderland are relegated next month.
It’s not inconceivable. Allardyce faced the drudgery of leading a Championship club back to the top flight when he first took charge at West Ham, and still winces at the memory of a summer which saw more than 30 players going in and out of the club.
But does Allardyce really look like a man ready to hang up his tracksuit?
It’s certainly not the impression which he’s given so far. There isn’t the same sense of an inevitable exit as there was with Advocaat, who ignored his gut reaction to return to the Stadium of Light.
Allardyce – who, remember, has another 12 months to run on his Sunderland contract – has been planning for pre-season, even if any transfer market plotting has been put on hold until the Black Cats know which division they are in.
However, he has fallen short of confirming that he will remain in charge.
Perhaps that’s because Allardyce would indeed think twice about managing in the Championship. He retains close ties with ailing former club Bolton and it would not be a surprise if he eventually resumes allegiances with the Trotters at boardroom level.
That might be or a year or two away though.
Allardyce would be daft and naive (not something which can be applied to a manager whose total of Premier League games has only be bettered be three men) to be adamant that he would remain in charge in the Championship and then be left with 50p to remould the side for a promotion push.
He will want some assurances from Short over summer finances, particularly after Sunderland’s first successful transfer window in five years has so dramatically improved the side.
If Sunderland are in the Premier League, it shouldn’t be such an issue, due to the £100million windfall from the new television deal.
Even wage bill-wise – which was a big headache last summer – Sunderland are in a better position, with big earners Johnson, Steven Fletcher and Danny Graham all leaving the club’s books.
But if Sunderland are in the Championship, then even more of Short’s support will be required to assemble a side capable of going up after what is likely to be a mass summer exodus.
As long as Allardyce receives such backing, it’s feasible to see him staying – far more so than if Rafa Benitez faces the same scenario at Newcastle.
Sunderland need him too. He’s shown more than enough over these last six months to suggest he can put the club on a more solid footing, even if it takes a time-out in the Championship to achieve that long cherished objective.