Sam Allardyce deserves respect from ‘deluded’ West Ham fans ahead of return with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce.
Sam Allardyce.
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“I once called the supporters deluded and I stand by that.”

Sam Allardyce is nothing, if not honest.

But while his style of play didn’t always agree with fans, Allardyce deserves credit too for getting them back in the Premier League in the first place.

Richard Mennear

The blunt assessment of his time in charge at West Ham United taken from his autobiography – published around the time he took charge at Sunderland – bears testament to that.

Allardyce spent four years as Hammers boss, taking them back into the Premier League at the first time of asking before consolidating their place in the top flight.

But he didn’t – it is fair to say – always enjoy the best relationship with the Upton Park faithful.

Allardyce said he often felt hamstrung by the weight of supporters’ expectations when it came to past glories, while there was heavy criticism his team didn’t play the ‘West Ham way’.

It led to Allardyce, who took charge at the Stadium of Light in October following Dick Advocaat’s resignation, to speak out in his autobiography.

Allardyce wrote: “As soon as I was appointed manager in 2011 the big debate was whether I would follow the ‘West Ham way’, which nobody could define, but, whatever it was, I apparently didn’t play it.

“I felt the West Ham way was about wearing your heart on your sleeve and showing passion for the club and winning.

“But the fans were being brainwashed into thinking that, historically, the club had a particular style of play which was akin to Barcelona, which was potty.

“I once called the supporters deluded and I stand by that. I don’t know who invented the West Ham way phrase, but it’s a millstone around the club’s neck.”

‘Big Sam’ is experienced enough to know he can expect a ‘warm’ reception from the West Ham supporters on his return to Upton Park this Saturday lunchtime.

Sunderland enjoyed a free weekend after being knocked out of the FA Cup at the third round stage.

But their return to Premier League action against Slaven Bilic’s in-form Hammers side is underpinned with several fascinating sub-plots.

Allardyce returns to his old stomping ground, as does Jermain Defoe, Allardyce also tried to sign Hammers defender James Collins, while there are three valuable points on the table too.

West Ham, in seventh, need to keep pressure up on Southampton and Manchester United if they are to secure European football.

At the other end, the pressure is even higher, with the Black Cats battling for their top flight status.

A point from safety heading into Sunderland’s final match at Upton Park, Allardyce needs his side to keep up their new-found momentum.

Allardyce has got Sunderland playing as a team again, with his January signings Lamine Kone, Jan Kirchhoff and Wahbi Khazri starring since joining the club’s relegation battle.

Patrick van Aanholt has undergone a transformation under Allardyce, while Vito Mannone has also done well since being reinstated as the club’s No 1 stopper.

The deadwood has also been shipped out; Danny Graham, Steven Fletcher, Will Buckley, Liam Bridcutt, Jordi Gomez among the players either loaned out or sold in January.

With 12 league games remaining, Sunderland have ample time to save themselves from the drop.

But if they were to go down, then they have the perfect man at the helm to get them straight back up.

Allardyce has proved that with West Ham, gaining promotion via the Championship play-offs in 2012.

A big dip in form last season, which saw the Hammers finish 12th after a promising start, eventually cost him his job. His contract was not renewed.

But West Ham’s loss has been Sunderland’s gain.

West Ham leave their famous Boleyn Ground this summer, home since 1904, ahead of their move into the revamped 54,000-seater Olympic Stadium.

“Slaven Bilic is the new man in the hot seat and good luck to him. He will need it,” added Allardyce in his autobiography.

In fairness to Bilic, he has been a big success and his side are among the form teams in the Premier League.

With the likes of top scorer Dimitri Payet in their arsenal, the Hammers are playing attractive football.

Bilic deserves credit for the way he has taken West Ham to another level.

But while his style of play didn’t always please fans, Allardyce deserves major credit too for getting them back in the Premier League in the first place.

Overall, he did a good job at West Ham, the job that he was tasked with. Promotion, then consolidation.

Allardyce never got the chance to take West Ham into their new stadium, that honour will rest with Bilic.

But don’t bet against Allardyce leading his Sunderland side out at the Olympic Stadium next season, with Sunderland still competing at the top level of English football.

An intriguing Saturday lunchtime in East London awaits.