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Sam Allardyce’s audacious move for Leeds

Photo by Gary Butterfield on Unsplash

Sam Allardyce claims there is no better manager in world football after taking over at Leeds with the aim of keeping them in the Premier League. The 68-year-old is starting in bold fashion in an attempt to bring back confidence to a team sorely lacking it at the wrong time of the season after collecting one point in their past five matches.

The former England manager has four games to maintain Leeds’s top-flight status. Allardyce starts his tenure with the unenviable trip to Premier League champions Manchester City, followed by matches against former clubs Newcastle and West Ham, before finishing the campaign at home to Tottenham. It is a tough run-in for Leeds, who are currently out of the relegation zone on goal difference, sitting one place above Nottingham Forest in 17th, but Allardyce knows what he is getting into and wants six points to keep Leeds up.

“Far too many people think that I am old and antiquated which is far from the truth. I might be 68 and old but there’s nobody ahead of me in football terms. Not Pep, not Klopp, not Arteta,” Allardyce said.

There is obvious frustration that Allardyce has needed to wait almost two years to get the call to come back to the Premier League. He has rejected offers to manage abroad but England is where wants to be, proving that he still has the ideas to outthink his counterparts, regardless of status. “It’s the adrenaline when you walk in,” Allardyce said. “You look at this facility, particularly the pitches, and think here we are, we’re back in the big time. It’s the biggest league in the world. It’s a difficult job, but it’s a great place to be.”

Allardyce replaces Javi Gracia, who was sacked after 12 games in charge, and becomes Leeds’s third manager this season, with Jesse Marsch being dismissed in February. As an added incentive, Allardyce would earn £3m if he were to keep Leeds in the Premier League. The money helps but the desire to succeed drives him.

The former Oxford manager Karl Robinson, who worked under Allardyce at Blackburn, has been brought in as part of the backroom staff, while Robbie Keane returns as a coach to the club. One of Allardyce’s usual trusted henchmen, Sammy Lee, is absent. “The judge has left Sammy unemployed because he is on jury service and wouldn’t let him off. I think that is very poor judgment indeed,” Allardyce said.

This is Allardyce’s ninth spell as a Premier League manager and avoiding the drop has become his speciality, although he has not managed in almost two years after suffering his first relegation at West Brom. He has a limited time to make an impression but if he does could he stay on? “Never say never,” Allardyce said. “Depends what happens at the end of the four matches and what the conversation is all about. How I feel and, more importantly, how the wife feels.”

Home supporters will have to wait for the visit of Newcastle to get their first view of Allardyce’s Leeds, hoping for better than recent drubbings against Crystal Palace and Liverpool. “The team is no good without them [the fans],” Allardyce said. “It’s always a telling factor that generally home form is the best form of the team that you have. What I have to do is install the confidence in the players to entertain the fans to cheer them on.”

Allardyce and his staff took training on Wednesday and held conversations with senior players in an attempt to do his due diligence after a short turnaround between hearing about the job and signing a contract. “I’ve seen quite a positive attitude,” Allardyce said of his first impressions. “I would’ve expected them to be a bit more miserable than what they were. First impressions are that they are desperate to do better and that of course needs a bit of support and guidance, and breeding a bit of confidence.

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“Technically and tactically, we’ve not got into that much. Generally as a new manager you expect a bit more from the players than before. You come in and they think: ‘I need to impress my manager to keep playing’.”

Leeds have conceded 18 goals in the past five matches, leading Allardyce to understandably focus on sorting out the defence in the coming days on the training pitch. “Bringing in a bit more confidence and setting a pattern of play, a style of play,” Allardyce said of his plan to improve the defence. “Whatever you want to call it to say this is the way to stop the opposition. If you can do that, you can get more possession, so you can get more opportunities to attack the opposition.”

Allardyce admits a trip to the Etihad is a less than ideal start to Leeds’s survival bid but is relishing the prospect. He just has to convince his players to share the same attitude. “We have to create a shock so hopefully we can shock a few people in the Premier League by getting the results we need to stay up.” And Leeds certainly have the right man to shock a few opponents.

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