Why pragmatic Sam Allardyce never quite fit at romantic West Ham
In what seems to be an agreed separation, Sam Allardyce leaves West Ham in a healthier state than when he arrived. Things may not be as most Hammers fans would want, but this situation is probably the best that could be hoped for in the circumstances.
The announcement that Allardyce won't be looking for a new managerial role in the short-term suggests that he needs to recharge his batteries after another torrid season at the Boleyn Ground. There are strong rumours that the owners were fully aware that their manager never intended to sign a new contract from early on.
Whether Allardyce might have stayed had he been given less of a rough ride by supporters is unknown. For both parties though, at least there is now time to take stock.
Sitting in a Champions League position in December, some may feel Allardyce should have been granted some leeway. Not at Upton Park. Many fans openly prefer relegation to having Allardyce as manager. That the Hammers then, in time-honoured fashion, came down with the Christmas decorations simply underlined the simmering discontent. "We told you" was the cry, as the Allardyce baiting started again.
The sad thing is that this was always an uneasy alliance that was never going to work. The very thing Allardyce offers, the owners wanted and the club needed, was the very thing fans least wanted to see.
The "West Ham way" was a mystery to Allardyce and he said so on numerous occasions. Describing supporters as "delusional" while questioning the fabric of the club itself left him with nowhere to go. He could have won the Champions League and many would still have wanted him out.
Being as Allardyce was so criticised for not understanding "the way," the question must be asked: just what is it?
Crucially, the enigmatic answer is "If you need to ask, you'll never understand," because it's a nebulous concept at best. At its heart it has little to do with football but much to do with Cockney values. Anybody outside criticising the family -- or the football team -- does so at their own risk. The folk at Upton Park don't expect to see their team winning regularly but they do expect some entertainment, some local talent to cheer through the ranks and to be able to employ a little gallows humour occasionally.
It's the reason why Allardyce so antagonised the fans. When the Hammers were booed off the pitch after a vital but dire 2-1 win against Hull in the 2013-14 season, an incredulous Allardyce cupped his ear. Many outside the club understood this, those inside seethed with anger.
None of this should imply that Allardyce should leave without thanks, though. In picking up the club following relegation, he proved himself to be an astute manager. With half the squad wanting a transfer, Allardyce simply sidestepped the issue by signing Kevin Nolan from Newcastle as captain. A statement was made and the squad remained virtually intact as Allardyce masterminded a way out of the Championship at the first time of asking.
Premier League consolidation after would never be enough, though. Allardyce thought it was but East Enders believe their club should be in the top division regardless, and their manager was only supplying what most thought was theirs by right.
Ultimately, anything could be forgiven if the football had been entertaining, unfortunately too often it was uninspiring at best, awful at worst. When Allardyce oversaw a dull defensive performance with a winning solitary goal, fans seethed but begrudgingly applauded. When the solitary goal dried up, Sam had no answer to the condemnation.
So, it's been a rough ride but everyone seems to have come out of it without too much harm done. West Ham are in Europe again and the club hope that the added lure will tempt a top coach who, if not a Cockney, may at least understand the attacking sensibilities required. Flair, passion and effort is expected -- anything else a bonus.
Meanwhile, the Allardyce reputation is still intact and there will be many club owners seeing him as the saviour they need. Supporters aside, they may well be right.
Peter Thorne, aka Billy Blagg (@BillyBlaggEsq), is ESPN FC's West Ham blogger.