Both Sam Allardyce and Pep Guardiola have work to do to prove they are still improving despite their different tactical outlooks.
Allardyce is a figure of fun, an object for the cognoscenti to mock. Here is a Brexit-supporting northerner who appears to be generally unreconstructed in many ways. There are jokes of pints of wine from the embarrassing carry-on that saw him sacked by the England national team after just one game. There is the spectacle of watching him struggle with the fruits of Brexit now that the realities are imposed on the transfer system.
There is also the fact that his football is more often than not miserable to watch. When he emerged as a Premier League manager, we got to see him use players as brilliant and enigmatic as Youri Djorkaeff and Jay-Jay Okocha. He convinced Fernando Hierro to spend his last professional season as yet another veteran at Bolton and the club were better for it. But since then, he appears to have made an effort to strip any verve from his squads in order to better refine them. To remove the fun from functional.
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Over the course of his career, Allardyce has rarely failed. Newcastle, Blackburn, West Ham and Sunderland all benefited from his presence. The blip with England is scarcely worth considering when one looks at his coaching ability. Crystal Palace survived in the Premier League as a result of his organisational skills and expertise.
Allardyce once claimed that were he in possession of a continental name, he would be given bigger and better chances. He was granted that opportunity with Everton, newly rich, and he steadied the ship after their latest crisis needed a dull, stoic hand. Understandably, Everton’s fans and executives were less than thrilled with the prospect of keeping him on in the longer term, and the performance of Carlo Ancelotti perhaps suggests that he was only useful as a temporary presence, but that is a rare quality in any manager, who can turn his hand to sides cross the division.
At West Brom now, Allardyce has one of his toughest recent challenges. He looks almost certain to lose this battle, having inherited a team that was out of form and bereft of sufficient quality. Post-Brexit, during the age of coronavirus, there appears to be little to squeeze from the transfer market.
West Brom manager Sam Allardyce
Image credit: Getty Images
The other end of the table, with Manchester City, is a little different. While Pep Guardiola might not bring in more than one or two names, if he ever wants funding from his benefactors he is granted it. He has cycled through a preposterous number of players, particularly in defence, as he tries to find his perfect setup. He has players like Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Ferran Torres. This summer, he will probably have more of the youngest and most exciting talents available in the market.
And then what? Well, if anything like the last few seasons, it will be more of the same. More of the noodling, beautiful and impossibly demanding football. More of the false number nines occasionally, or repurposed midfielders. But only with Lionel Messi has he really redefined football. He has insisted on the sweeper-keeper, tiki-taka, central midfielders in defence, full, high pressing from his front six and a relentless stamina. That has barely changed since his time at Barcelona. Guardiola has tweaked but he has not struck out since then. That is no insult, of course. Few managers ever manage something so revolutionary, few people ever transcend normality to deliver something vital.
Once he had to make do without Messi though, he has not once won the Champions League. He has not advanced football in the way Jurgen Klopp has most recently. City are very good, but they never quite became especially great.
It would be daft to compare them exactly, Allardyce and Guardiola. They would offer little to one another in their respective positions. They are far from similar in their outlook, but there is something similar at their hearts. Allardyce showed what sports science could offer down the lower reaches of the table, what stats could bring to a club on a budget. Guardiola did something similar as he brought new demands on elite athletes. But both of them have slowed down, failed to evolve significantly since they came on the scene. With half the season remaining, it is yet to be seen if they can pull off another success.
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