West Ham’s owners have spent the past week reaffirming their belief in Sam Allardyce, and publicly backing their their beleaguered manager. Whether that stance owes more to genuine belief or to the fear of the financial consequences of an early termination we don’t know, but for the time-being Allardyce remains in charge at Upton Park.
Tomorrow, West Ham travel to Cardiff City to face a fellow struggler, and their position will look increasingly bleak if they fail to return to London with at least one point - as much as they need some kind of result, they can ill-afford to allow a fellow relegation candidate to open-up a gap above them.
By the end of the weekend, we’ll know more about West Ham’s immediate future, and we’ll also be approaching the middle of January; the latter point chimes with a theory I hold about mid-season managerial changes.
For the sake of the example, let’s assume that West Ham lose tomorrow. On Monday morning, David Gold and David Sullivan will look at the league table, look at their squad, and have a decision to make: next week is the last point at which it would make logistical sense to remove Allardyce and replace him.
We tend to see a flurry of sackings in November and December of the Premier League season, and while that’s generally premature, it does make a lot of sense from a club’s perspective. If, for example, a chairman sees the need for a new direction halfway through a season, it’s far easier to achieve that with the help of the January transfer-window. A new coach brings new ideas to a squad and frequently newer, fresher attitudes, but to be truly effective it’s nearly always necessary to accompany that with a personnel change - football clubs never under-achieve on the pitch for just one reason, so it’s unrealistic for their fortunes to be altered by a single change.
If Club A sacks their manager at the beginning of December, not only do they give his replacement a chance to work with and evaluate the squad before the window opens, but they also afford him time to implement a proper strategy ahead of entering the market - and obviously that minimises the risk of hasty or economically unsound purchases.
Whilst we’re now way beyond the beginning of December, there is still time for West Ham to change their manager and for that move to carry a realistic chance of success, but that window is closing really quickly.
The transfer-market is obviously an essential part of leveling-out a nosediving season, but it’s also relevant to the calibre of candidate a club can hope to attract to a vacancy. We saw this a few years ago with Wolves: their decision to relieve Mick McCarthy of his job in the middle of February was hopelessly misjudged, because they allowed the negative situation at Molineux to fester to the point where the job was no longer as appealing to candidates as it might have been two or three months earlier. No manager wants a relegation on their CV, and ultimately Terry Connor became little more than a relegation caretaker as Wolves drifted from sight.
Give a manager two weeks, a transfer budget and the option to buy, and most will have the self-belief to accept the challenge faced by a 19th-placed team, but restrict him just to motivational speeches and coaching drills and he’ll likely look at the table and want absolutely no part of it.
There are always exceptions, and there’s always a Paolo Di Canio out there who can perform a minor miracle using a bizarre set of intangibles, but if West Ham are not willing to pay-up Allardyce’s contract within the next few days, then it’s realistically more logical to stick with him until the end of the season, for better or for worse. Beyond a certain point, and beyond the mid-January zero-barrier, sacking a manager is almost not worth the disruption it causes.
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