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Saturday, Dec. 20, 2008

PREMIER REPORT

Blackburn makes smart decision by naming Allardyce new manager


LONDON — We will probably never know why Sunderland did not consider Sam Allardyce to be the right man to succeed Roy Keane, who resigned (by mobile phone text to chairman Niall Quinn) earlier this month.

Christopher Davies

By virtue of the fact Allardyce was not offered the job at the Stadium of Light — he was the favorite with the bookmakers — presumably Sunderland did not think he was suitable, for whatever reasons.

Allardyce, sacked by Newcastle last season, did not have to wait much longer for employment. On Wednesday, Blackburn Rovers announced he was Paul Ince's successor, 24 hours after the former England international had been dismissed.

As contracts are rarely straightforward these days, those of a cynical nature would conclude Big Sam had already agreed to take over before Ince was shown the door at Ewood Park in the wake of a run of 11 Premier League games without a win.

Allardyce signed a three-year contract with Rovers, just like Ince had done in June when he was chosen ahead of other candidates, including Big Sam, thus becoming the first black English manager in the Premier League.

Ince now becomes the first black English manager in the Premier League to be sacked, the sixth casualty in the league this season. Of course, the men who appoint "wrong" managers and subsequently pay out millions in compensation are still running their clubs. That's how it works on Planet Football.

With £30 million at stake in television revenue for each Premier League club, chairmen have hair-triggers because relegation from the promised land to the paupers of the Championship spells financial disaster. What's a million or two in severance pay compared with a loss of £30 million?

The Jack Walker Trust that has had a 99.8 percent stake in the club since the former owner's death in 2000 is trying to sell the club and has appointed investment bankers Rothschild to try to find a buyer. The damage that relegation would inflict on Blackburn, currently five points adrift of safety, would be severe in every respect.

The general opinion is that Ince was not ready for a Premier League appointment after one season with Macclesfield and another with MK Dons. We nodded and agreed that Ince needed a longer apprenticeship than 90 matches in the third tier of English football before locking horns with Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and company.

Yet there are exceptions to every rule and Gareth Southgate is doing an excellent job at Middlesbrough in his first managerial job while Pep Guardiola, coach of Barcelona, which is playing the best football in Europe at the moment, was given the job after a season in charge of the Catalan club's C team. In at the deep end and still swimming with the big sharks.

Perhaps it is the quality of the individual rather than how experienced he is that matters.

Ince was unfortunate to take over from Mark Hughes, who left for Manchester City after Rovers had finished a creditable seventh last season. There are good times to join a club and bad times — Ince chose a bad time because comparisons with the popular and, by Blackburn standards, successful Hughes were inevitable.

Within weeks of Ince's appointment word came out of the Blackburn dressing room that all was not well. Once a manager loses the confidence and respect of his players, there is only one outcome and under the circumstances it is surprising Ince survived 21 games.

Allardyce's appointment on Wednesday came six months after he was overlooked for the job and two days after he had effectively ruled himself out of the reckoning.

On Monday, Allardyce said: "As far as I am concerned, there was a chance that I talked to Blackburn when it was between me, Paul Ince and Steve McClaren (to succeed Mark Hughes).

"But that has been the sum total of any contact between me and Blackburn since then. There's nothing in it at the moment."

What he had said on Monday was, apparently "a misunderstanding."

Forty-eight hours later, Allardyce was confirmed as Ince's successor. Life on Planet Football moves quickly and in strange ways at times.

Allardyce was highly successful during eight years at the helm of Rovers' near rival Bolton, establishing it as a respected Premier League force during his time in charge at the Reebok. When he joined Newcastle during the summer of 2007 he left behind a Bolton side that had claimed a UEFA Cup place after finishing seventh.

At the time of leaving Bolton, Big Sam cited his need for a rest but also admitted the desire to win silverware was behind his decision yet after a week's R&R he took over at Newcastle, which had finished 13 points behind Bolton in 13th place in the Premier League.

Allardyce lasted half a season at Newcastle before owner Mike Ashley, who had inherited the manager from former chairman Freddy Shepherd, brought Kevin Keegan back (briefly as it turned out) to Tyneside.

Whether Allardyce can satisfy his quest for silverware at Blackburn remains to be seen. Success this season would simply be Premier League survival.

The reaction to his appointment from Blackburn supporters was mixed, many Neanderthals believing that anyone who had worked at Bolton had no right to manage Rovers.

Allardyce is a safe pair of hands who has proved himself at a club of similar size after five years learning the ropes with Blackpool and Notts County. Bolton's route one style and reliance on set-pieces for goals was effective if not everyone's cup of tea, but Big Sam certainly got the best out of his players, many of whom arrived as unknowns in English football.

Christopher Davies covers the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.


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