Sam Allardyce may be considered as one of the great pragmatists of the Premier League era but he has underlined the romantic side of his return to the top flight as the West Brom manager. Having been exiled from the dugout since his dismissal by Everton two and half years ago, the 66-year-old said he was more driven than ever to succeed at the Hawthorns, where his epic coaching career began 31 years ago.
“I’m hungrier and more determined than ever because I’ve rested longer than I ever wanted to rest,” said Allardyce after becoming the first man to manage eight Premier League clubs. “This break went on so long and I had so much pent-up energy and this is where I can expend that. I’m ready for the battle.”
Allardyce said it did not take him long – “about five hours” – to accept West Brom’s appeal for help after the club sacked Slaven Bilic on Wednesday. Luke Dowling, the director of football, addressed suggestions they had handled Bilic’s departure shabbily and said they moved fast to get Allardyce out of fear other clubs in trouble would lure him first.
“We’ve been aware of the reaction [to Bilic’s dismissal] but as a business we can’t act on emotion,” he said. “We have to make a decision and be firm with it. As a club we acted as professionally as we could. Every year is important to stay in the Premier League but this year even more so [because of the pandemic]. You can keep letting games go by and you can be wary that the man you want might not still be available. [Allardyce] was the man we wanted.”
Some Albion fans have grumbled about the appointment on the grounds the Dudley native was a boyhood Wolves fan. But the manager described his long association with Albion.
“My brother used to take me to Wolves when I was a kid but I also used to get here because two of my best mates at school – the Minton twins – had an older brother, Roger, who actually played a few times for [West Brom] back in the 1960s. They used to get free tickets and say: ‘Do you want to come along?’ And I’d say: ‘Sure, I’ll come along to watch Jeff Astle and Tony Brown.’ So I fluctuated between Wolves and West Brom.
“And my first coaching job was here as assistant manager to Brian Talbot. I got sacked – and rightly so because we lost to Woking [in the 1991 FA Cup] – and that was a devastating blow to me. I didn’t know if I’d get to work in football again.
“That was how I began the journey of all journeys, as I had to go next to Limerick before working my way through every league in this country to get to where I am now.”
Allardyce said he was told by Dowling and Albion’s chief executive, Xu Ke, that he would be given limited funds to strengthen the squad in January and believes he should know by the middle of the month which positions he needs to prioritise.
“There is some money, some opportunities, but I obviously understand the financial problems most clubs are facing with massive losses of revenue because of Covid, no fans, loss of advertising, corporate sponsorship and so forth. But we will try to improve the team if we can find a player.
“Me and Sammy [Lee] are very good at assessing squads. We will have to make our assessment no later than the second week of January and then it will be about finding who is truly available … I can’t guarantee that we will get them but I’m almost sure, based on my previous experience.”
Allardyce met the players for the first time on Thursday and said his first hope was that they are inspired to improve simply because the club has seen fit to hire him.
“Hopefully a new manager coming in stimulates them to produce better performances,” he said. “Then we can get down to the nitty-gritty about how to do that consistently.
“There are small changes that will make all the difference. Small incidents in games can be the difference between the Championship and the Premier League, where they will punish you for things you might get away with in the Championship.”
Allardyce used to bristle at his portrayals as a survival specialist but now embraces it. “I’ve already got texts even from a few mates calling me Red Adair, so I can’t get away from it,” he said. “It’s what everybody thinks I can do so I thought: ‘Let’s give it a shot.’ Let’s see if I can do it again.”