Sam Allardyce named Leeds manager: ‘A club in meltdown turns to the old street fighter’

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Sam Allardyce
Leeds are the eighth club Sam Allardyce has managed in the Premier League

Sam Allardyce was probably resigned to never receiving another call of desperation from a club in crisis after his failure to keep West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League two years ago.

It was the 68-year-old’s first relegation from the top flight after never suffering the drop at Bolton Wanderers, Newcastle United, West Ham United, Sunderland, Crystal Palace and Everton.

Allardyce’s time, it appeared, had finally passed.

And yet the old street fighter has suddenly found another taker for his well-honed ‘Fireman Sam’ routine in Leeds United, with only four league games to pull off survival at a club in meltdown following the sacking of manager Javi Gracia and director of football Victor Orta.

Allardyce’s appointment caps a dysfunctional period at Elland Road, where the club has moved from the all-out attacking intensity of the adored Marcelo Bielsa, through the failures of Jesse Marsch and Gracia, to the arch-pragmatist former England manager.

To say this completes a shift in style and emphasis is an extreme understatement, but desperate clubs take desperate measures and Leeds are very desperate as they career towards the Championship after a spell which included shipping 11 goals in two home games to Crystal Palace and Liverpool culminated in an embarrassing 4-1 defeat at Bournemouth.

Gracia won only three of his 11 league games in charge and Allardyce’s appointment, with Leeds only outside the relegation places on goal difference, is one final throw of the dice to maintain their top-flight status.

Quite how Leeds fans take the leap from Bielsa’s glorious ‘football as entertainment’ philosophy, an idealistic but sometimes flawed approach they accepted warts and all, to Allardyce’s style based on defensive organisation and fiercely drilled discipline remains to be seen.

The brutal truth, for Leeds and their fans, is that beggars cannot be choosers and even if they dislike the taste of the medicine Allardyce will deliver they will accept it gratefully if it cures their relegation ills.

For Allardyce, it represented an undoubtedly lucrative ‘win-win’.

Keep Leeds up and he will be hailed as a miracle-working hero. If Leeds go down he will not be blamed after inheriting a team seemingly in terminal decline with only four games to save them.

Allardyce, as ever, will be confident he can pull it off in daunting away games at Manchester City and West Ham, and at home to Newcastle and Tottenham at what will be a feverish Elland Road.

The big problem is that this current Leeds team looks such an ill fit when placed against Allardyce’s trademark strategies.

Leeds’ squad has been shaped in the all-out attack image of Bielsa then tweaked by Marsch. They have, at their best, been wonderfully pleasing on the eye but also hugely vulnerable defensively and as confidence has drained away, particularly in goalkeeper Illan Meslier, the problems have got worse.

This is effectively the polar opposite of a Sam Allardyce team.

Allardyce will know exactly what he wants from his players and has proved he knows how to get it. The key question is how can he possibly do this with a squad to which his style may be alien territory, in the space of four games?

Leeds’ hierarchy will have studied their options once it was decided to dispense with Gracia and come to the conclusion others have before them – call for Allardyce.

They may feel they have nothing more to lose after clearly deciding Gracia was taking them down. Allardyce does have a track record in this sort of task, although he has always had more than four games to do the trick.

Allardyce will at least bring his iron-clad self-belief and confidence to Elland Road, and will attempt to transmit that to his new charges as quickly as possible. He has no time to lose and nor do Leeds United.

If he turns out to be Leeds’ saviour, he will be a hero at Elland Road whether those fervent fans approve of his brash outlook or not.

Allardyce must somehow shore up that leaking defence, take a decision on goalkeeper Meslier, and get the best from attacking talents such as Jack Harrison and Wilfried Gnonto, who looked so dangerous under Marsch but never seemed to convince successor Gracia following his arrival in February.

There is still time for Leeds to save themselves. They have somehow kept out of the bottom three despite the dismal results under Marsch and Gracia this season.

And if one man will be convinced they have time on their side to ensure they are in the Premier League next season, then the consolation – if not exactly comfort – for Leeds and their fans is that it is Sam Allardyce.

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