Play it again, Sam


Sunday 21st May, 13:30pm

West Ham @ 6/4
Leeds @ 9/5
Draw @ 5/2
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In southwest Leeds, just before the holler of last orders, Allardyce has once again been tempted up onto the underlit stage of the Working Men’s Club.

Unsteady on his feet, tired, a pint of white wine sloshing in his meaty right fist; Big Sam will attempt to rouse an effective but finesse-free, crowd-pleasing standard from a battered, cigarette-burned, slightly out-of-tune upright piano.

It is a feat he has performed successfully in the past – on several different pianos in several different cities across the land.

Sam Allardyce’s status as a football manager of clout was established during his time at Bolton Wanderers. Taking the reins in 1999 – with an XI that included a young Eider Gudjohnsen – the former centre-back hauled Bolton back into the Premier League in 2001.  Where, under his control, despite some early hiccups, they became an established top-flight club.

Wanderers posted a top 6 finish in 04/05, which led to a spirited UEFA Cup run, and developed a reputation for being an invigorating destination for elite talents approaching the twilight of their careers.

World Cup winner Youri Djorkaeff was followed up to Lostock by the likes of Iván Campo, Gary Speed, and Fernando Hierro.  And, in contrast to the no-nonsense reputation Allardyce-the-player had cultivated, flashy mavericks were warmly embraced too: Jay-Jay Okocha and El Hadji Diouf both had memorable spells at the club.

It was after leaving Bolton Wanderers, and following a surprisingly abrupt stint at Newcastle United, that Allardyce’s role began to change.  He now became a fixer; a soldier of fortune; a robust mercenary capable of completing the kind of dangerous missions and salvage jobs that other managers were too scared to undertake.

He was successful at restoring harmony and getting the semblance of a tune from some gravely malfunctioning sides, such as Blackburn Rovers, Sunderland, and Crystal Palace; all three were spared from likely relegation.

So Sam was certainly able to play it for them.  But now, as he pulls in his piano stool and noisily cracks his knuckles above the yellowed ivories, can he play it for Leeds?

A glimpse at the fixture list suggested that saving the West Yorkshire club would be far too difficult a task to perform, even for Big Sam.  A few defensive tweaks and spittle-flecked shouts of encouragement were never going to be enough against Manchester City – an outfit that possessed the ability to comfortably dismantle Real Madrid.

Getting anything from Newcastle, too, seemed a decidedly tall order. But, when the final whistle blew last weekend, they may have felt they were unlucky just to get a draw.

Suddenly there was a positive hum in the crowd; hints of a familiar melody drifting across the terraces. Was Sam really starting to play that old favourite again?

And now he is presented with what was always his biggest chance on paper to guzzle three precious late points. This Sunday.  1:30pm. West Ham away.

A side he successfully re-established as a stable Premier League concern in 2012 before, basically, being asked to leave for not providing entertaining enough football; for not playing the ‘West Ham way’…whatever that is…

Allardyce will, therefore, be supremely motivated to inflict a defeat on his former employers. And West Ham’s thoughts may well be elsewhere anyway, now that they have just booked a trip to Prague to contest the Europa Conference League Final…whatever that is…

Leeds will still need Everton and Nottingham Forest to drop points, but if the relegation battle does go down to the last day of the season, is there anyone else you would rather have sat at the piano, earnestly belting out that classic, than Sam Allardyce?

And if he is unsuccessful, and hits a few too many bum notes, will it affect the overall perception of his managerial career? Well, ultimately, no. We’ll always have Bolton…

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