Big Sam relishing new challenge
'Big Sam' Allardyce made a name for himself at Bolton Wanderers, first as a player, where he notched up nearly 200 appearances for the club, and then as a manager, taking them into the UEFA Cup and to the heights of sixth in the Premier League.
Now forging a new career as manager of big-spending Newcastle United, Allardyce is hoping to end a 52-year wait for domestic silverware at the club and placate the notoriously hard to please Toon Army.
ESPNsoccernet Press Pass caught up with him to discuss his new job and his hopes for the future.
Catch the full interview on Press Pass this week.
Press Pass: Sam, new stage in your career - seemed like you were going to be at Bolton until you retired. What's the new place like?
SA: Well, I think it took a while to find out about everything. Prioritizing, huge turnover, and not just the backroom staff and the players but ownership of the club, which was a shock to us all. Now that's settling down nicely and levels of communication have been brought to the table at all levels which I think is hugely important and a restructuring of a business this size and a club this size.
I think the focus has been on new signings, bedding them in, getting them in the right areas to live which has been a big problem and then getting the team together, focused as a team and hopefully they're learning very, very quickly. And, if Bolton's anything to go by, they've put a few things in place already that I hope will stand them in good stead that they'll remember for the rest of the year.
Press Pass: How about the differences between Bolton and Newcastle. What have you been able to gauge between the two clubs?
SA: Well, I don't think anybody is going to be shocked with the answer I'm going to give, because it's fanatical in terms of every area in and around the city. Wherever you go there's someone wearing a Newcastle United shirt, home or away. Somebody will always say hello, somebody will always ask for an autograph or a picture, they have been very, very friendly, and very polite in the time that I've been here; but of course that's before the season started.
The fans can be as critical as they are supportive, we all know that, I know that as much as anybody else; but if you do get it right, as Alan Shearer has said, as Gary Speed has said, as Bobby Robson has said, it's 'one hell of a place' and so I hope I'm looking forward to it being 'one hell of a place' in the end.
Press Pass: You've been a manager for some time, but with what you're saying about the Newcastle fans, expectations do come. Is that a problem for you?
SA: Well, I think we all live with the greater expectation of every football club now due to the extra finances that have been brought through TV revenue more than anything else. And when we go out and spend our money now, instead of spending millions we're spending hundreds of millions, all of us in total and this year everybody spent more than ever before.
The question is, can we match the spending power with the results now? My job now, is to get the best out of each player, to get them not just playing individually to their best but playing as a team and focusing as a team. If we can do that, on and off the field, and they respect what we're trying to do, then hopefully that will sink in more and more and the results will come.
Press Pass: I don't know how unfair it is and if you can answer it but, you built up with Bolton a reputation of not being an entertaining, a flair, sort of manager.
SA: Ah, but that was all rubbish you see. That was only done by previous managers who were jealous, at bigger clubs, because we kept beating them. So they had to make an excuse somewhere, didn't they? So they used the excuse that we weren't entertaining and of course, ask the Bolton fans whether they were entertained or not? When they went home happy every Saturday? Rather than worrying about relegation, or playing in the Championship, or going to Europe for the first time ever?
Press Pass: So there's no difference between the Sam Allardyce approach of six months ago at Bolton, to the Sam Allardyce approach at Newcastle now?
SA: In the basics no. In the team play, it depends on the players you have available. You used to get sick of Sir Alex Ferguson coming out of the box or Wenger or Mourinho saying what a good game it was: 'They really tried to play', when you've lost 3-1.
All that psychological stuff is the biggest load of rubbish I've ever heard. Promoted by the media of course, but you couldn't psyche me out for one minute that way. What it did make me do was say, when we would play against these big boys, we're going to play a certain way to beat them. To upset them and make sure they can't get it their own way.
Let's call ourselves ugly, let's call ourselves long ball, we know we're not, but let's portray it. We'll turn that negative into a positive, which we did. I think that over the last two seasons people were beaten before they even turned out at Bolton.
Press Pass: What hopes this season at Newcastle? What would you be satisfied with?
SA: Top half finish I think, an improvement on last year at the very, very least. But if we can get into a top half finish, that would be progress. I think after a few games it's too early to tell. Ten games in, I'd be much more qualified to have a better view on that then. And this ten games is critical to us finishing in the top half position. Getting off to a good start is crucial to where you're really going to finish off in the league. And if you start playing catch up too soon, it's nearly impossible to catch the front four.
Press Pass: Do you expect patience to be shown here? For yourself?
SA: I think patience is short everywhere. I think today, only two games in, only one game in for some people, at the moment it's talked about that Tottenham are at rock bottom and are already fighting against relegation. Manchester United already in dire trouble because they're already four points behind Chelsea.
So that's something that's growing every year, like I said we have to live with but, it makes life more difficult, it makes the manager's job more unique in terms of how you have to deal with it on a day to day basis. It changes every year, the game changes every year, and you have to keep up with it. Once you've kept up with it, you have to keep ahead of it, and that's my belief and I always try to keep ahead of the game as much as I can with anything that I can find that improves the players to help improve results and that's probably why I'm at where I am today.
Press Pass: Can I just finish off by going way ahead - you've got a job to do here and probably a long time job to do, but what after Newcastle?
SA: Retirement? Because I've been that successful that I've brought them more success than they've ever had for 30 or 40 years and then would bow out at the top and retire and enjoy life outside of football but stay in touch with it on a lesser basis. Particularly, TV for me and media, I've always enjoyed going on and passing my knowledge and talking about the games, and watching games of football would really excite me rather than make me very nervous.
At the moment, Saturday when I wake up, I open one eye and I know the kickoff's at 3pm and I hope the phone doesn't ring, because if it rings you think somebody's ill, somebody's got a toothache, somebody's gone down with flu, they've tripped over the cat or whatever it is so it's a nervous occasion when your managing, or it certainly is for me. So not to have that, when you've hopefully achieved what you want to achieve, and then take a lesser step to still be involved with football, at some level would give me then the time to visit areas of the world that I've never done before.
Press Pass: You're a proud Englishman - have you given up on the national team?
SA: I would have to be doing better than I did at Bolton. And if that's it, when it comes around again and I'm still working, and if I'm on the top of my game, then I would get considered. You've got to be in the right place in the right time, I thought I was then, Stuart Pearce was going very, very well at Manchester City, doing a fantastic job, and we all got thrown into the act, and I didn't quite get it, and neither did Stuart. Steve McClaren did and Martin O'Neill at the time, but it didn't happen and that's in the past and I don't reflect in the past too much, I always look to the future.