There is little doubt about the passion Sam Allardyce has for football, you can see it in his eyes. But in the last few weeks and months of the regular season, those eyes started to glaze over. The pressure of life as a football manager appears to have taken its toll on the former Bolton, Newcastle, Sunderland and England boss who sensationally quit as Crystal Palace boss just three days after the season concluded. With many believing that his resignation was done in order to set up a return to Sunderland, Allardyce has gone on record to state that is not the case and instead looks more likely to retire than manage again. In a carefully worded statement, Allardyce said that he has no desire to manage another club and that instead he wanted to live life more – travel, spend time with his grandchildren etc away from the pressures of being a 24/7 club manager.
It’s been less than five months since “Big Sam” stepped back into the limelight at Crystal Palace very much seeking redemption. His sin was to undermine his position as England manager by being caught in a newspaper sting operation where he gladly advised how to circumnavigate FA third-party ownership rules for a small fee. That misdemeanor cost him his dream job after only 67 days and one game in charge. Sam had been a fool and paid for it. With the Premier League season underway and Allardyce somewhat of a pariah in English football, a return to club management looked impossible. That was until then Palace boss Alan Pardew oversaw a slide in form for the London club and paid the penalty. Out he went and Allardyce was parachuted in to save the day.
It’s a job he has built a reputation on – saving clubs from the drop and once again he delivered. When he arrived at Selhurst park in December, Palace were languishing in 17th place having picked up only four points in their previous ten games. Within days Allardyce had identified three key areas to work on – strengthen the central defence and left back areas, find a replacement for Mile Jedinak who was foolishly sold to Aston Villa five months earlier and reinvigorate striker Christian Benteke who looked starved of service and confidence. To counter the first two issues he added Mamadou Sahko and Patrick Van Aanolt to the defence and brought in Serbian stopper Luka Milivojevic from Olympiacos to protect the back line. The highly versatile Jeffrey Schlupp was added too to give Allardyce options. Benteke however was a different beast and required more time. The Belgian had been on the score sheet eight times already that season but was missing more chances than he was taking. Benteke felt the pressure placed on him under Pardew to be the sole provider of goals so never considered passing or setting up a teammate over shooting. That changed under Allardyce and whilst Benteke’s overall return of goals didn’t dramatically increase (scored 7 in the league under Allardyce), the team scored more with Benteke acting more as a hold up man for his teammates.
All of this work paid off as Palace secured 8 wins in their remaining 21 fixtures and ensured survival with a 14th place league finish. At his press conference following defeat by Manchester United on the last day, Allardyce spoke about needing to sit down with owner Steve Parish to discuss how to grow the team and who to sign with a dig at previous signings being the wrong ones. That meeting happened on Tuesday with Sam deciding to walk rather than fight on. Something may have happened at that meeting or in the run up to it that changed Sam’s mind but whatever it was it wasn’t an easy decision for Allardyce to make. Whilst his reputation has been restored, perhaps the impact of what happened to him during his ill-fated stint as England boss has tainted his love affair with the game? Saving Palace should have been the catalyst for Big Sam but instead it was the final straw. Life in the pressure cooker that is football management has finally taken its toll on one of England’s biggest characters.