If there is one thing that the internet has brought us, it has been instant public opinion. However right or wrong, well informed or otherwise it may be, it’s there, in our faces within a few minutes of a news story breaking. This has a value in itself, of sorts. The more people there are commenting on specific story, the closer we can get to something approaching the way the wind is blowing in terms of general opinion. It may or may not be represtentative of the broader public, but this is almost irrelevant. The Internet Has Spoken and, no matter how right or wrong The Internet may be, there’s a good chance that some hacks, hungry for a quote but without the inclination to tramp the cobbled streets of Blackburn on a freezing December evening, will seek to use this as a gauge of something more significant than it probably is.
As such, there was as much of a story in the internet’s reaction to the sacking of Sam Allardyce as there was to the actual sacking itself, and it may prove valuable to other managers looking in from the outside to take some lessons from the contrast between the sacking of Chris Hughton at Newcastle United and Allardyce’s dismissal this afternoon. Newcastle United may be five places above Newcastle in the Premier League, but they are only one point above them, and it might not be too much of a stretch to suggest that, although they are living through comparatively straitened times, they should have better financial resources available to them than Blackburn Rovers, whose average crowds are around half those of Newcastle’s and are paying the cheapest ticket prices in the Premier League.
Hughton received widespread sympathy after his sacking from St James Park this time last week, but with Allardyce the reaction was somewhat different, with widespread amusement at the decision being punctuated with a degree of almost grudging sympathy for having, so far as anyone can ascertain, made a reasonably decent fist of one of the Premier League’s more challenging managerial positions. It is likely to be a matter of our perception of the men themselves. Hughton, the relatively quietly spoken man brought in under almost impossible circumstances: Good. Allardyce, with his headset, periodic outbursts and delusions of grandeur: Bad. Before our sympathy levels for Allardyce get too high, however, it is worth remembering the comments that earned so much sniggering a couple of months ago:
I’m not suited to Bolton or Blackburn, I would be more suited to Internazionale or Real Madrid. “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. 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.
For all that, however, there is something that feels off about Allardyce’s sacking. For all that he said about Inter and Real Madrid, Sam Allardyce and Blackburn Rovers felt as if they fitted together – perhaps not the most sophisticated in the world, but both arguably punching above their respective weights and holding their own at that level. Any manager’s job is in some degree of peril when new owners take a club over, but The Venky’s Group have certainly given mixed messages about Allardyce’s future at the club. Consider this, from as recently as the twenty-sixth of November:
We want results and Sam has taken up the challenge. He deserves a chance … With the right motivation I feel they can go higher than eighth. Who is to say they can not do better than that, say fifth or sixth position, why not? To this end, the group have promised manager Allardyce funds to spend in the January transfer window.
By today, they were stating of Allardyce’s sacking that, “We have taken this decision as part of our wider plans and ambitions for the club”. At the time of writing, Blackburn Rovers are five points from sixth place in the Premier League. As such the club’s new owners are taking a big chance that the team won’t react badly to the departure of their manager, because the slightly unhinged nature of the Premier League form book so far this is offering the clubs that we might call the “middle ranking” Premier League clubs an unprecedented (and quite possibly never to be repeated) opportunity. No matter how remote it may feel and how unlikely to may still be, will Bolton Wanderers – six points from the top of the Premier League in the middle of December – ever have a better chance of becoming the champions of England again than the one that they have now?
It is the flipside to this world of possibility, however, that may be of greater concern to the club’s new owners. Blackburn Rovers may be six points off a Champions League place, but they are only five points from the bottom three. The current uncertainty spreads the entire length of the Premier League, and some of the pre-season’s predicted whipping boys – West Bromwich Albion and Blackpool, for example – are successfully avoiding the cat o’ninetails at present, and this opens up two relegation spaces for somebody. At the end of this season, three clubs are going to relegated come what may. Coming on top of Chris Hughton’s dismissal and increasingly untenable position of Roy Hodgson (about whom departure “by mutual consent” was presumed last night, on the basis of… nothing, as it turned out), there is a growing sense that Premier League clubs are reacting to this uncertainty in what may be best described as unpredictable ways.
Further rumours this evening seem to be linking Sam Allardyce with the (currently distinctly not vacant) West Ham United managers job and, even if nothing comes of this, it seems unlikely that he will be out of work for very long, unless he waits for what he may consider to be the “right” job to come along. Depending on whether your glass is half full or half empty, meanwhile, the new owners of Blackburn Rovers have either acted decisively to match the “wider plans and ambitions for the club” or have taken a massive gamble that could yet end in their relegation, at worst. The stakes are extremely high, and if they have got it wrong, the chances are that they won’t know for sure until it’s too late.
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