It would be quite contrary to question Sam Allardyce’s job performance this season. West Ham have generally been brilliant and their league position is a product of their manager’s willingness to move away from his own philosophy and towards a system which is far more aesthetically pleasing and, most importantly, more effective.
Still though, the decision to loan Mauro Zarate to Queens Park Rangers this month feels like a very Allardyce moment.
David Sullivan made some interesting comments last week. First, he revealed that he had agreed a deal for Wilfried Bony before Allardyce opted for Andy Carroll and the Ivorian signed for Swansea. Then, probably to his manager’s embarrassment, he admitted that the inspired acquisition of Diafra Sakho was his decision and that Allardyce had actually lobbied for Connor Wickham instead.
Connor Wickham. Ouch.
That paints quite an ambiguous picture of just how West Ham arrived in this situation. This site has published a lot of negative Sam Allardyce articles in the past, so I accept that this is going to sound rather contrived, but doesn’t it seem as if he’s been dragged kicking and screaming up the table by the better judgement of those above and around him?
If Allardyce had been afforded autonomy over the club’s transfer strategy, would this side be anything like as diverse as it is or would it just be a collection of formulaic, over-priced English players?
At a guess, Mauro Zarate wasn’t Allardyce’s signing, either.
“I base my feelings on what I consider to be the best team. It’s a professional, clinical decision, not an emotional one. Mauro is not good enough to play as regularly as he wants compared to the others. It’s as simple as that.”
Zarate is a notoriously difficult personality. His career-to-date suggests that he’s a highly-combustible character and that he is difficult to manage. But not good enough? This is a player who can play as a centre-forward or in a range of attacking-midfield positions and who undeniably provides this squad with something unique. His stature may not be ideal for English football, but his technical ability should make him an asset to West Ham - whether from the start of games or from the substitutes’ bench.
Stewart Downing has been a revelation in a more central role this year, but he can’t be expected to sustain his level of performance across a thirty-eight game season. Superficially, not only was Zarate an alternative to Downing, but he was also different to any other attacking player at the club - and, as such, surely he had a value?
If Downing tweaks a hamstring at some point, then what is the contingency plan? Kevin Nolan?
When this decision was made, Allardyce was theoretically about to lose Cheik Kouyate, Diafra Sakho and Alex Song to the Africa Cup of Nations. As it happens, only Kouyate will be taking part in the tournament, but that only became apparent after Zarate’s departure was sanctioned.
How bizarre; no, he doesn’t provide cover in central midfield, but would have given West Ham essential depth at a time when their squad was likely to be stretched.
There’s something not right here. At a guess, Zarate ‘isn’t good enough’ in the same way that Ravel Morrison wasn’t.
If he helps to drag QPR up the table and if West Ham start to slide down it, expect this topic to return with a vengeance.