There will be folks who say that you should back the manager when the club is in trouble. And make no mistake, West Ham is heading for a bottom half finish and if we do not start winning a few games (1 win in eight now) we could still be going down with the Rednapp. And with dismal Reading. My suspicion is that one we get a few players back from injury and with Gold & Sullivan prepared to chuck cash around in the transfer window we will stay up. But it is not a given. And in May West Ham must decide whether to renew the contract of Sam Allardyce. I do not think we should and here is why we should say farewell to Fat Sam and bring Paulo di Canio to Upton Park at once. I start with Sam.
The case for bringing him to the Boleyn was that he might not create the most attractive side on this planet but that he would install defensive discipline and a structure that delivered us enough goals to go back up to the Premiership and stay there. It was a sup with the devil agreement: we might not like your style but we want results. And the board gave Sam a budget that was big enough to deliver.
Scraping in via the playoffs we are back in the Premiership and will probably stay there. Our cup record under Sam has been piss poor and there is no chance at all of silverware (I do not count the playoff trophy) heading back to East London. If we renew Sam’s contract we can look forward to another few seasons of the same: lower mid-table Premiership football, no cup glory, youngsters let go as we bring in 30 year old mercenaries to keep us up and (generally) nasty, not terribly attractive football. There will be great wins along the way (we will not forget the Chelski game in a hurry) but there will be disappointing draws against not very good sides ( Stoke, Norwich) and shocking defeats against piss poor sides ( Wigan x 2, Reading).
I ask you in all honesty, do you want to renew your season ticket for more of this? I have to say that I am minded not to do so.
And one season under Sam we might actually go down. In which case there would be an expensive mid-contract sacking to deal with as there is no point sacrificing everything just for results if you do not actually get those results. And so for me it is clear cut. Sam has done the job he was hired to do. I hope and believe that he will keep us up. But come May it is time for a change and that brings me to di Canio.
Let’s deal with his politics first. We are not choosing the next Mayor of Newham but a football manager. For what it is worth do Canio is a Fascist in that he idolises Mussolini but fascism is not the same as Nazism or racism. I think Paulo’s politics are unattractive but they are no bar to him acting as a football manager.
There is no doubt that Paulo loves West Ham and would saw his arm off to be given the opportunity to manage the club. I wonder how many other managers would feel that way. Oddly about the only one I can think of is Paul Ince and though I think the hatchet should be buried and he would bring his son to the Academy which would be great, there are limits.
Good clubs – like West Ham in times past – stick with a devoted manager for many years. West Ham has been almost Chelski like in the way that we have chopped and changed in the post Billy Bonds era. With di Canio we could (and should) offer him a seven year contract and a decent transfer budget and leave him to it. What would he bring?
Firstly I sense that with di Canio in charge there is no room for shirkers in the squad. There would be no danger of us carrying players as we have in the past. Those with a work ethic (Nolan, Jarvis) would appreciate this and stay. Those who need motivating (Cole) would respond. But a few might leave. Please God might Collins be among those who depart.
Secondly, di Canio does understand the need to bring players up through the Academy. He appreciates the traditions of Upton Park. As such we could expect more Mark Noble’s to come through and stay. We might hope that Joe Cole returns for good. A man who takes the Cup competitions seriously would slowly blend in youngsters into the starting line-up instead of allowing a raft of academy players to line up against Premiership Wigan and get slaughtered.
Thirdly, whilst Allardyce promised defensive discipline he has not delivered it on a consistent basis. I reckon di Canio would.
Fourthly di Canio understands what attractive football means. It means uses wingers to send in crosses. It means keeping the ball on the ground. It means signing players with genuine skill and getting them to play together as a team. For a di Canio managed team I would renew my season ticket without hesitation.
And fifthly there is the long term ambition to be a top six club. That means we need the Olympic Stadium but we need to sell it out every week. That is about more than just playing decent football. It means that we need as a figurehead and as a manager someone who can reach out into the community and inspire them. At Swindon di Canio has done just that.
From the top of rural Essex down to the river Lea there is a huge potential West Ham catchment area and as a club we simply do not tap into that. There are the vast ethnic communities of East London who we wander by on our way to the ground but who stare back at us and our scarves as if we were from another planet. We need their kids to want to buy West Ham replica shirts and to want to wear a scarf if our club is to be funded to deliver what we all want. We need smaller businesses across East London and Essex to think that it is worth hiring a corporate box once or twice a season so that all the boxes are booked out every game ( as they will not be next season under Sam whichever division we are in). For that to happen we need someone with charisma who understands our traditions but who has a proven ability to reach out into a wider community to be our manager. Paulo would deliver in a way that few others – if any others – could. And without that delivery wherever we play we will not have the financial muscle to be a top six club.
This is the case for di Canio. He has shown at Swindon that he can manage. That he can inspire a team and a community. He has shown that he understands transfers and – in his own style – mana management. He has delivered excitement and success. And only he can deliver in the wider areas where we need to change if we are to be a truly “big club.”
Giving any manager a long term seven year contract is a gamble. But our club needs a new John Lyle who will manage us year in year out and who would work for free if asked. Another three years of Sam, then two years of someone else, then someone else, then someone else is not the way forward.
Come May, it has to be Di Canio on a very long term contract.