Big Sam Has Big Ambitions – Champions League?

Sam Allardyce has never been a man to shy away from the spotlight. In fact, the West Ham manager tends to bask in it – a possible reason for that impressive perma-tan.

Always one for a bombastic sound bite, he was once quoted as saying he’d be more adept at managing Real Madrid: “I’m not suited to Bolton or Blackburn, I would be more suited to Internazionale or Real Madrid,” said Allardyce. “It wouldn’t be a problem to me to go and manage those clubs because I would win the Double or the league every time.

Soccer - FA Cup - Third Round - Replay - West Ham United v Everton - Upton Park

“Give me Manchester United or Chelsea and I would do the same, it wouldn’t be a problem. It’s not where I’m suited to, it’s just where I’ve been for most of the time. It’s not a problem to take me into the higher reaches of the Champions League or Premier League and would make my job a lot easier in winning it.”

He was scornfully laughed at at the time but his current West Ham side look like giving him the possibility of a crack at Europe’s premier competition. Their performances during this campaign have been a breath of fresh air; not just to the league but to their fans, too.

The Upton Park crowd had never really taken to Allardyce before. In fact, they downright despised him and his rather archaic methods. His more direct style of football – or hoofball as you would know it – was an eyesore at the Boleyn Ground and the fans made their displeasure known vociferously. West Ham’s owners’ David Sullivan and David Gold had had enough too and a remit was handed to Allardyce: Improve the style or you’re out.

Most were sceptical about the former Bolton manager ever changing; that his pragmatic style would never waver, but he has obliged in spades. In came a number of flavoursome signings during the summer. Ecuadorian World Cup star Enner Valencia arrived for £12 million; Cheick Kouyate for £7 million; Diafra Sakho for £4.5 million; Aaron Cresswell, Mauro Zarate, Morgan Amalfitano and the hugely ambitious loan signing of Barcelona midfielder, Alex Song.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - West Ham United v Queens Park Rangers - Upton Park

The Hammers now play a delicious mix of free flowing, attacking football with a devastating counter-attacking punch. Allardyce has managed to infuse his team with as much pace, physicality and technique as possible, as well as reinvigorating a battering ram menace in Andy Carroll up front.

They can hit you from all angles, scoring 32 goals – the sixth best attack in the league – and managed to remain defensively solid – the joint sixth best defence – with Winston Reid a totemic presence in the centre, flanked impressively by new signings, Cresswell and Jenkinson.

Their FA Cup 3rd round penalty shoot-out victory over Everton last night was an ephemeral gaze into just how fickle fortunes in football can be year upon year. Roberto Martinez was being touted as one of European footballs’ most talented young coaches last season as his effervescent Everton side slalomed their way up the league. Sam Allardyce – the supposed long ball merchant stuck in the 90’s – and his West Ham team seem to have usurped the Toffees as this season’s surprise package. And they’ve done it in style, too.

Soccer - FA Cup - Third Round - Replay - West Ham United v Everton - Upton Park

The Hammers currently lie in 7th, just three points behind Arsenal and four behind Manchester United in that coveted final Champions League place. Whilst it would be a huge surprise for West Ham to nip ahead and finish fourth come May, it wouldn’t be unbefitting of a very talented side and a manager – sneered at for once suggesting it – who would probably say he belongs there.