Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Popular Opinions About Sam Allardyce; Part Three

Popular Opinions About Sam Allardyce

Part Three

“Tony Carr has done an absolutely terrific job but unfortunately it is getting more and more difficult due to the circumstances that we have to work under. There is more development money coming into the game but yet again it is still a question of time. There really isn't enough time."
- Sam Allardyce, West Ham United Manager

The final piece in my analysis into some of the popular opinions about Sam Allardyce is youth vs experience. It has been claimed by some that Sam's pragmatic approach to football results in an overliance of older, more experienced players, to the detriment of the progression of younger players.

Allardyce is famed for his ability to squeeze a few extra seasons out of a player entering the autumn of their career; a reputation carved out at Bolton Wanderers with the successful signings of Jay-Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff and Ivan Campo. But Big Sam's ability to spot talent and develop teenagers into established first team professionals isn't something we often hear much about.

Despite this, the current West Ham first team squad contains several players given their big break by Sam, with academy graduate Dan Potts joined by the likes of Joey O'Brien, Kevin Nolan and Ricardo Vaz Te.

So is it as one sided as people claim? If it is, does that make Allardyce a break from the norm? And does it even matter?

For the purposes of this comparison exercise, cup games are not considered.

Taking just the 2012/13 season, the figures seem to support the perception. West Ham used 27 different players with 30% of these (8) aged 30 or above. Players aged over 30 shared over 12,000 minutes between them in under Allardyce, at an average of 1,525 mins each. The team average minutes played was 1,393, meaning players aged over 30 averaged more minutes througout the season than the average squad player.

In the same season, just two players aged 21 or under (Potts & Robert Hall) represented West Ham, appearing for a combined total of 132 minutes, and average of 66 minutes each for the season.

Only four managers gave less minutes per U21 than Allardyce; Paolo Di Canio giving 14.7mins per player to the 3 youngsters used by him, while Mark Hughes, Tony Pulis and Martin O'Neill used no players aged 21 or under at all. Leading the way in the Premier League were Michael Laudrup (1,600 mins per U21) and Alex Ferguson (1,265).

The chart below shows the amount of minutes played per each player aged 21 or under in the 2012/13 Premier League.

In terms of actual players used, again, four managers used less U21 year olds than Allardyce. The aforementioned Hughes, Pulis & O'Neill used no young players, while Chris Hughton only used one. Despite giving the most minutes per each player aged under 21, Michael Laudrup is actually tied with Allardyce in using just 2 younger players in the league.

The manager to use the most U21 year olds last year was Brendan Rodgers, who used 9 different youngster, making up 32% of his squad. Closely following behind Rodgers were Paul Lambert, Roberto Martinez and Alan Parew (8 each), and then Arsene Wenger and Nigel Adkins from his time with Southampton (7 each).

What does seem clear, is that most managers in the league operate under the same lines as Allardyce, i.e. if a player is good enough, they will play, but most managers don't try and play youngsters as a rule.

For example, it is arguable whether or not Michael Laudrup would have given such extensive opportunities to the younger players in his squad in ordinary circumstances.

Young left back Ben Davies only made his way into the starting XI when Neil Taylor broke his ankle just after the close of the summer transfer window, and the only other player aged 21 or under was Kyle Bartley, who only made two appearances in the league.

What this seems to suggest is that youth players at Swansea are unlikely to break into the first team in ordinary circumstances, but should an injury leave an opening and the player proves themselves capable, they will be continue in possession of the shirt.

It seems to me that this is situation is not unlike the one at West Ham. Had George McCartney gotten injured at the start of last season whilst Joey O'Brien was in possession of the right back position, maybe Dan Potts would've seen as much game time as Ben Davies.

The chart below shows the proportion of players used by each manager that were aged 21 or under.

One reason why I believe that some fans disaprove of Allardyce's use of younger players, and particularly those who have graduated from Tony Carr's academy, is a warped perception of the success of the academy in recent years.

Since the start of the 2004/05 season, 20 players from the academy made their debuts for the club:

Mark Noble, Elliot Ward, Trend McClenahan

Kyel Reid


Freddie Sears, James Tomkins, Jack Collison

Junior Stanislas, Zavon Hines, Josh Payne

Jordan Spence, Anthony Edgar, Bondz N'Gala


Dan Potts, Robert Hall, Callum McNaughton

George Moncur, Matthias Fanimo, Dylan Tombides, Elliot Lee
Of those who've broken through only Noble, Tomkins and Collison could really be counted as long term suceess stories.

Obviously that's not to say that the quality isn't there. If some of those players had broken through at different times over the past 10 years, they may have experienced more success. Elliot Ward was a success for the club in the Championship, but our promotion led to his failure to keep a first team space. Equally, had Freddie Sears, Junior Stanislas and Zavon Hines managed to avoid working under the unbelievably inept Avram Grant, their development may have continued.

Moving the ifs and buts away from the scenario for a moment, what is apparent is that Allardyce has actually handed more debuts to youngsters than any other West Ham have done since 2004. The chart below shows the number of debuts handed out to under 21 year old academy graduates by each manager from the start of the 2004/05.

It appears to me that Allardyce isn't actually that different from any other manager in the league. He seems happy to give youngsters the opportunity to shine, but those opportunities are not handed out freely. It seems that there is a clear methodology to Big Sam's approach: impress in the youths, impress in the development squad, impress on loan, impress in first team training, impress in a cup game, take your chance when someone gets injured.

Personally, I'm of the opinion that Allardyce gets a bit of a rough deal when it comes to his reputation for blooding youngsters. People tend to look back fondly at the times of Gianfranco Zola with this idea that he only played kids from the academy. The only academy graduates to make debuts under Zola were Stanislas, Payne, Spence, Edgar & N'Gala, and he only actually used Stanislas more than twice.

It's true that a lot of us (and I include myself in this) would like to see a less cautious approach to the introduction of young players to the first team. We all love it when a player breaks through, and it doesn't happen nearly enough for a lot of us. But, let's not kid ourselves that this was commonplace before Allardyce arrived.

This is the final part of my series on popular perceptions of Sam Allardyce. Overall, I'd conclude that Allardyce is pretty much how he seems. The issue isn't the way that Sam is painted, but the fact that he is viewed so differently to everyone else. If Sam is going to be accused of being this, that or the other, then there are plenty of other managers who should be too.

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