SAM Life of the Englishman Uniting the Nations. at Bolton!

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), November 15, 2004 | Go to article overview

SAM Life of the Englishman Uniting the Nations. at Bolton!


Byline: MALCOLM FOLLEY

SAM ALLARDYCE edges open the door across the hallway from his office.

'Welcome to the War Room,' he says. In front of him is an enormous, horseshoe-shaped desk with seats for 28 of his staff. On the walls hang a widescreen television, planning charts and diaries. Framed in bold lettering is his vision to create a legacy of European football for Bolton Wanderers.

Big Sam; big ideals.

'When I arrived five years ago, that inspirational dream was laughable,' says Allardyce. But no-one is laughing now.

His team, drawn from 13 nations across Africa, Europe and the Caribbean, occupy the high ground in the Premiership. Behind them are the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle and Aston Villa.

'Over the years we've been looked on affectionately as little old Bolton,' said Allardyce.

'We happily play on that card, it's the ace up our sleeve. But I feel a change of mood towards Bolton Wanderers. Now we are upsetting people. I find that hugely rewarding.' In Liverpool's triumphant years, Bill Shankly made much of victories hatched by football talk in the Anfield Boot Room.

Allardyce's modern-day strategies are planned here in the War Room, where Big Sam's influences are heavily drawn from sports science, psychology and data analysis.

Little old Bolton and Big Sam have been a perfect match. Allardyce joined the ground staff as a 15-year-old from Dudley, in the Midlands. He became the club's centre-half, but he admits he was seen as a player built for football's Stone Age and a man who hated coming second.

'My image is that of a 6ft 2in central defender, hard as nails, old school,' he said.

In seven years with Bolton, then with Sunderland before he dropped down the leagues, Allardyce battled with the likes of Joe Jordan, Joe Royle and Paul Mariner.

YET behind that bluff facade, Allardyce always felt like a sophisticate. 'I love in football the thing that I wasn't,' he said. 'I was a football destroyer but I love creative footballers.' It is a contradiction that has followed him into his managerial career. Allardyce may not have the scholarly look of Arsenal's Arsene Wenger, the Euro-cool of Chelsea's Jose Mourinho, or the composure of Rafael Benitez at Liverpool. But, contrary to popular perception, Big Sam really is a cerebral manager.

'Sam may talk to you at face value but he is as deep as any ocean,' said Phil Brown, his assistant manager.

And Allardyce simply emphasises his desire to be his own man. 'If I was going to be a manager, I was going to manage my way,' he said. 'Not Brian Clough's way, not George Graham's way. I had a vision from the beginning.'

Cynics may only regard Allardyce as the man who assembled an army of mercenaries to keep Bolton in the Premiership. His players had an agent, but no permanent contract.

'We had to beg, steal and borrow because we would not put the football club at financial risk,' he said. Two years ago Big Sam says he was offered Didier Drogba but could not afford the [pounds sterling]3.5m price tag for the Ivory Coast striker.

Today, only two players are on loan: El-Hadji Diouf, a World Cup semi-finalist with Senegal, and goalkeeper Andy Oakes. His squad is composed of men bearing many different passports but, to Allardyce, language is no barrier to creating a successful football team 'A lot of the coaching is done visually before we go on the training ground,' he said. 'Then, they just get on with it.' Muslims Radhi Jaidi and Diouf train, eat and play alongside Tal Ben Haim, the captain of Israel. Jaidi, plucked from Tunisia and one of the discoveries of the season, has sufficient grasp of English to say: 'I'm in a very good team, and the atmosphere is like a family.' On Monday, Allardyce arranged a team lunch in Manchester and his latest recruits all made speeches, in English.

'We know people say we sign mercenaries,' said Allardyce. …

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