Sam Allardyce On Roy Hodgson's Watford Appointment
Watford have recently appointed Roy Hodgson as manager. What advice would you give him given your experience in keeping clubs up?
As a manager, you’ve got to be ready to go into a job because of the short-term policy of a manager turning a club around is the most difficult policy of all. There is no time to waste and the decisions that you make have to be made quickly, especially with the transfer window closing on Monday.
Roy will need to find out very quickly what he has at his disposal and whether or not he has any players with injuries. Now, the board at Watford might think that they have enough in the squad to stay in the league, but after a day or two, he may have to go to the board and advise them what reinforcements are required to avoid relegation.
There are two things that he will need to get right. If you're at the bottom, the first thing you have to stop is goals going in. Forget playing out from the back – every manager from Pep Guardiola down to Sean Dyche – wants clean sheets. We all strive for clean sheets.
Obviously, when your team has possession, we look at creativity and we look at goal scoring ability. And if you’ve got goals coring ability and a good defensive structure, you will start getting out of trouble.
It’s not easy to implement overnight when you come in as a manager – the Watford players will be used to playing the way they’ve been playing and used to conceding goals – it's very difficult to get your point across and stopping it.
And of course, structured defending is about continual practise on the training ground, which is limited. It's what you have to do and then you start on the right foot and you start getting out of trouble. The transfer window in January is the most difficult, but for a relegation-threatened side, it’s imperative to bring in new players.
If you were in for that job or interested in that job, how would you make the decision? You'd have to have a dossier of the players in the squad. Surely, with limited time left in the transfer window, they're asking a lot for Roy to go in there and have a look at everything
No doubt the board at Watford will think they've got enough, because they’ve spent money and they've gone through two managers now and while they’ve turned out some quite surprising and good results, it's all about consistency. I think that repetition and organisation allows players to become consistent.
Sometimes they're not that keen on it, sometimes it gets a little boring. But when you pull up the stats and when you show what's needed, then it's clear as the nose on your face, that we have to turn this around by doing this and making improvements in these areas.
If all those improvements increase by just a small percentage, when you put them all together, you start getting where you need to go, and then you build confidence. This is one of the major factors – how do you build confidence?
As the manager, your responsible for getting the players confidence back, getting them to enjoy training and to enjoy or looking forward to playing. The only way to ultimately improve confidence is by getting results.
What were your techniques for getting the players to feel a little bit more confident and believe again when managing a club in a relegation battle?
To the board, I would be saying at some stage, “I need to entice my players. If we turn the corner and start getting results, lets reward them with warm weather training.” At every club I've managed, that break has always been one of the most important things and has paid dividends at the end of the season.
The mental and physical relief – recharging the batteries – building team spirit, it has always been imperative for me and very important. But prior to that, of course, it is steering clear of injuries. It is looking at your backroom staff.
Having your best players on the field as much as you possibly can. Staying fit, being disciplined on the field as well as off the field, not getting sent off or getting bookings. Your time (as a manager) is running out from the first minute you go into the job – you’ve only got four months and four months is a very, very short period of time in football.
Would you have fancied the job?
Not at this time. Roy is massively experienced and, obviously, he's got bored quicker than me and needs to get back into football, because he left Crystal Palace in the summer. From a location point of view, he lives down the road, doesn’t he? He’s sat at home, not feeling like he's fulfilling himself. That's what we do. Jumping back into the frying pan is something he fancies doing.
As a manager, when you sign players, did you prefer to use scouting recommendations? Did you work hand-in-hand with a sporting director? Did you listen to the recommendations of other managers? How did you do it?
When you're looking at the January window, the first thing you need to know is the recruitment policy at the club? In fact, you ask that in your interview because that could be a decision on whether you take the job or you don't.
Recruitment at the moment tends to revolve around data alone – and that is rather dangerous. Foregoing scouts to purely rely on analytics is massively, massively risky.
Stats tell you about a player’s attributes, but don’t tell you about his mental state, his capabilities of playing away from home, or give you the character of the player. I spent a huge amount of time combining the technical data with scouting on the road.
Unfortunately, analysts are doing most of the scouting – or not doing the scouting now – but clubs use data to sign the player. And I think that’s hugely risky.
The one thing you need to avoid, first and foremost – and particularly in my case, or Roy’s is, your first signing has to be a good one. They cannot be a failure. You will get hammered straightaway on social media, by the fans, in the press, and everyone will think that you don’t know what you’re doing in the market.
Who do you rely on? Obviously, head of recruitment, director of football, if he's there, finances from the owners. What finances have we got? A massive tool for any manager in terms of looking at players is Wyscout.
So as a manager, I would sit for hours and hours with the staff and the recruitment lads, looking at their recommendations. Then we would compile the recommendations from agents and look at those. We’d then draw up a shortlist and look where it falls within our financial capabilities.
A lot of them are dismissed based on finances or the player not wanting to come. You trudge through that constantly, day-by-day. Obviously, if you get in well before January, you would start that process as early as possible. That's the January window for you. And then, depending on the recruitment policy, say, “This is the man for me,” and hope everybody else agrees.
Sometimes, not everybody agrees and sometimes you don't get what you want, so you move on to the next one and the next one, until you actually get somebody that you feel is better than what you've got. In the early days, I have taken a player for the sake of it in the hope – and I say ‘hope’ – that he would be better, and deep down inside I probably knew that he wasn't going to be, and that always turned out to be the case.
Whereas most of the others have helped me save the clubs from relegation. Most of the signings I made at Blackburn, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, even Everton. It got us better, it made us better. Even West Brom, even though we didn’t avoid relegation we got so much better as a team, but not quite good enough to stay up.
All the stats showed a massive improvement, but we just didn't have the one element that we needed, and that was the ultimate goal-scorer, and not quite enough clean sheets either. We improved, but not quite enough to stay up.
Sam Allardyce On West Brom
With West Brom, I thought if you’d have gone in there a month earlier, you probably would have kept them up. And I thought the Diagne, the guy you got on loan from Galatasaray, when he was playing, he looked good.
11 goals in the first half of the season at Galatasaray, but you know, let me tell you this, we can criticise these players as much as you want – and I'll tell you, the hardest time to come and play football in the Premier League from abroad is in January. And the hardest position to succeed is up front.
Without a doubt. But we were so short of goals and so short of an out and out striker at West Brom – we didn’t actually have one. Robinson and Grant weren't really your front men, weren't really your number nines.
There's a massive thing in the game about the false number nine, and that's because there aren’t enough strikers. So we play with a false number nine. Why are we doing that? Well, because we haven't got a frontman up there that's good enough to play in the Premier League and score the goals that you need.
You try and find a different way and obviously lots of teams are beginning trial that. It’s purely and simply because you haven't got enough frontmen and you've got a problem.
Tottenham only have Harry Kane as an out and out frontman. West Ham just one – Antonio, and he’s been converted from a winger. You look across the teams in the Premier League, it's a rare thing now to find a frontman that's capable of playing in the top end of football in the Premier League.
Look at Lewandowski. He’s well in to his 30s and he’s knocking them in for fun. What are Bayern Munich going to do when they lose him? Chelsea have gone for Romelu Lukaku, and he's had a problem or two with the managers, obviously.
You've got to be able to manage these big boys and these big egos. I think that that is something you have to make sure, as best you can, that that's not going to be too big a problem for you when you sign them.
That's why you need to meet them in-person. Even though it might only be an hour before you sign them on, and particularly in the January window, because you've not got a lot of time. You've got to sit down with them, face-to-face and look them in the eye and say, “I know him as a player, but who is he as a person?”
That's very important. You need to weigh up his character and assess whether he will be good in the dressing room. Will he fit in? Will the players be OK? All these decisions lie with you when you're making the recommendation.
Sometimes you turn around at that late stage and actually say no. Obviously people wonder why then, but for the benefit of everybody at the club and yourself, and the player himself, you make that decision.
The talent might be there, but the personality and what is needed might not be – his character might cause too many problems in the dressing room. If you break the bond in the dressing room, you will have no chance of getting out of relegation.
When you were at West Brom last year, you mentioned that you had some difficulties signing certain players because the rules have changed around work permits and everything else because of Brexit. How much more difficult do you think these rules are going to make it for clubs to bring in players? And particularly smaller clubs that don't have huge budgets to sign players that meets the criteria.
It depends how you want to look at it. We need to develop our own players. You look across the board and nobody allows or does what we do in this country, which is, completely saturate our football with foreign coaches, foreign managers, foreign analysts, physios, players, and foreign owners.
Football has become the biggest global sport and it's attracted the biggest business owners across the world, who then want the best or the biggest managers. There’s a flavour in England that a foreign manager is always better than a British one, which is nonsense, of course.
But you can’t get over that – even the press promotes that. You’ve got to look at the situation and say, “How does anybody in our country get a job in football if we completely saturate it with everybody else but them?”
How many youngsters don't get the chance of becoming a footballer because their chance is taken by a foreign import? There’ll be no room left for them at all, and that's not what football really is about.
Every professional football club should try and develop homegrown talent – I’m what we should be doing, like we're doing now, is saying you can only get so many and not be able to just buy your way out. I don’t think it’s ever going to change.
On that note, Sam, do you think that the Premier League and British football – or English football – would be in a much healthier state if they had a similar rule to, let's say, Germany? Within a German squad, there has to be a minimum of 12 German players, and then you can have a certain number of foreign guys. In terms of the development of players, they’re going to get more by doing that, and that would, you would think, improve the overall quality of an English player.
Yeah, but you see, the problem we’ve got now is, the rules have been lapsed so long and so often that you've opened the door and the horse has bolted. Can you imagine the threat from owners if you try to clamp down on that?
We’ve already had the ludicrous Super League rubbish, which is not dead, by the way, believe you me, this comes from power and the power of the wealthiest. How much more money do they want? What is the entertainment value going to be of that league? And who wants to go around the world and watch it?
This is an undercurrent of American policy. Of course, in the NFL, there's no relegation. Because it was headed up by the clubs with American owners – and they've been fantastic what they've done over here – but don't get greedy and selfish just for your own football club.
Remember, this is our heritage. This is our sport. This is hundreds of years. Promotion and relegation are essential to our wonderful professional leagues. I think that that would be very, very, very difficult to stop the Super League.
You have to be careful about what you implement and what you don't now, but there needs to be a balance. The one thing we should stave off more than anything else is another breakaway, because we have the best league in the world, we earn the most money, and yet six of our clubs wanted to join this league. Italy, Spain, Germany, Portugal, France, they couldn't quite believe that six of our clubs would be joining. They'd be rubbing their hands.
Effectively, it would destroy the Premier League. I don't think football in this country would survive. It would survive, but not certainly to the level it's at now. We don't give ourselves enough credit that we are the envy of the world in terms of our leagues. Alright, we have some financial problems.
Those financial problems should be managed better by each club and the owners. But there's only the very few that live at the top and all the rest just love playing professional football for whatever they earn.
Which is only for a short period of time and never enough for them to retire on. We mustn't forget that. There's the 10% at the top, but the other 90% earn a living, then have to find another living when they finish playing.
Sam Allardyce On His Signings
Were there any players – big players – that you almost signed?
Well, I tried to sign a few. I think probably more in the realms at Bolton than anywhere else. There was one at Newcastle, which was Modric, and I think that we had the figure for him, we had the chance to talk to him.
But the price and the fact that the new ownership had taken over, it was left too late. Obviously, he moved to Spurs – I’m not saying he would have joined us, but we had the opportunity to talk.
With Bolton, it would have been Eto’o. He was on loan at Real Mallorca at the time, so there was a chance to buy him from Barcelona. It eventually turned out alright, a year or two later we signed Nicolas Anelka, who was maybe equally as good, if not better.
They’re the the biggest two that might come to mind. I'm not saying we would have signed them, but we certainly had the opportunity. I had Rivaldo at Bolton Wanderers, but again, after talking to him, it wasn't right for him and it probably wasn’t right for me.
I don't think he’d have been a success in the Premier League. As talented as he was, but in his 30s, I think he might have struggled with the pace of the Premier League at that stage. But what a wonderful player.
Throughout your career, you brought in some really cultured players, like Djorkaeff, you mentioned Anelka and obviously Jay-Jay, then you had Campo, you had Hierro there. And that’s just Bolton. How did you build relationships with these guys and get them to buy into the overall ethos of what you wanted to do from a tactical point of view?
There was a window of opportunity that you’ve got to be thinking about all the time. You’ve got to be thinking ahead and you've got to be thinking out the box. I think that Bolton was in the Premier League, back for the first time, riddled with debt. I'd worked at lower League clubs with debt and knew how it worked and it taught me how to work the loan system.
I would persuade the directors that they’re paying this money for a short period of time and it's not going to throw the club into deeper financial debt if we get relegated, because the players will go back to their clubs.
But also, if we're good enough and we look after them well enough and they enjoy it enough, they'll want to stay. We also know the player is good enough because he just played 12 months for us. We will then increase our turnover, we’ll increase the gate capacity, we’ll create more sponsorships.
We’ll become more of an attraction, not just in England, but in Europe or even further, when you sign a player like Jay-Jay Okocha who's a king in Africa, you can sell a million shirts there.
I was talking to all these guys at Bolton Wanderers who never thought outside the box. They thought, ‘Bolton Wanderers, Northwest Lancashire, full stop’. I'm thinking global. Do you realise we’re on telly across the world to one billion viewers every weekend? We've got to think outside of the box on things what we can do and the signings we can make.
A lot of football clubs at that time in Europe and beyond had financial problems – even the likes of Barcelona or Real Madrid – so a player like Iván Campo becomes available because Madrid were desperate to get them off the wage bill.
They couldn't sell players, so loans were the perfect answer for them and the perfect answer for us. If you're good enough and they enjoy themselves enough, and you pay them enough, they want to stay.
Everybody wants to play in the Premier League. Everybody wants to come – well, not everybody, but most players want to come and play in the Premier League because that's where it's at now.
That's where all the razzmatazz is. That's where all the attention comes from. That's where the money's the best. In every area of football, everybody wants to come and work in the Premier League.
Those players did. They couldn't find a club that was in a better situation than ours or a bigger than ours, so they came to Bolton. We had to sell that, but the one thing we had was a great new stadium.
We had a terrible training ground that they didn't see until they signed. They didn't fly to us. We flew to them. We sat down in their environment and sold them the club, and I sold myself. That was it. I have to say, Youri – we got Bruno Ngotty and Bernard Mendy and people like that, but Djorkaeff – the catalyst of Youri made it easier for the next big star to join us.
Youri didn't just stay for that short period. After the World Cup, he came back for three years. We used to go and say to players, “You might think you could get a move to Arsenal or Tottenham, but Youri’s still here.
Youri will tell you how good it is. You can use us as a platform to show you can play in the Premier League. And of course, we're still in a position where, if we don't get offered enough money, we'll still sell you.” In my time, in the end, nobody really wanted to be sold. They just wanted to stay.
Sam Allardyce On Vlahovic To Arsenal
Arsenal have been linked with a player called Vlahovic who scored quite a lot of goals in the Italian league, but it seems like they’ve been given a bit of a run-around by the agent and the player’s entourage in terms of his interest. At what stage, as a manager, do you walk away from the deal?
At this stage, you would be talking – or certain people at the football club would be talking to many people for that position and you should not rely on having all your eggs in just one basket.
You shouldn’t just be going for the one target in any particular position. If he’s a frontman that scores goals, you’re very, very, very limited, like I said before.
You’re going to see the world's biggest transfer in the summer, financially, with Haaland. We talk about the fact that Neymar was the biggest transfer. This one will go way above that in terms of the overall package – the agent’s fee, the player’s salary and the transfer fee will be massive.
Even though the transfer might not be that big, the overall package – whereas this lad is the youngest and one of the world's best centre forwards at the moment.
And Manchester United, I still think that, had they secured him, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would still be in the job. And why Manchester United decided to let him go has been mind-boggling for me ever since it happened. And Ole had worked with him.
I know, and it purely came down to finance, which I believe it did. Allegedly, it came down to finance, then that is the biggest mistake that Manchester United – not Ole – made. I think Ole would still be in a job if he actually signed him.
Whoever gets him is going to be getting a huge boost to the team. When you go to 30 goals – touch wood, he stays injury-free – you've got 30 goals every season for seven or eight years, if you keep him. You’re never really going to get into trouble, but the rest of the team have to live up to his expectation as well, because he’ll want to win things.
Where do you think he might end up, Sam?
I think the best chance Manchester United have is based on the whole financial package simply because Real Madrid and Barcelona haven’t got enough in the coffers at the moment. They have never been as skint as they are now.
When you’re after a player and you’ve been linked with the player so publicly, it’s obvious that this guy is your number one target, and for whatever reason, you can’t sign that player. Does it make it very difficult to sign the second player that’s on the shortlist, given that that player will know that he wasn’t the number one choice in the first place?
You try not to let that happen, but I think one of the things an agent does – which is part of his job is – if you show any interest, it goes in the paper. And he swears blindly he’s not done it, but generally he has. Because what he's trying to do is create – particularly in the January window – an auction to do the best for his player.
It's a merry-go-round at that stage, you have to be very quick. If you've got a player in the building, then you’ll want to keep him in the building. And if they start saying, “Well, we'll think about it, we'll go away,” then nine times out of ten, he’s gone somewhere else.
What happens is, people at other clubs haven't realised that the player is available and they like him so they get onto the agent and say, “We like your player. Come to us,” and if that club is bigger and better than yours, then you ultimately lose him. Every manager is trying to keep transfers as much cloak and dagger as you can, but it's massively difficult.
It's hard to do it.
Massively. I mean, some daft player might tweet or might post, ‘I saw X at our club today’, like a fool. Trying to keep it quiet now like you used to be able to, and then announce it, is nearly impossible.
But you have to do your business very quickly, otherwise the vultures can swoop in and come down and pinch him off you. That’s why you're on tenterhooks until they actually sign – until they’ve got the medical done and signed that piece of paper.
Sam Allardyce On Eddie Howe
In your first season with Bolton in the Prem – and we’ve mentioned this already – you signed a couple of French internationals in Bruno Ngotty and Youri Djorkaeff. Correct me if I’m wrong, but they came in with a mission to keep the club in the league. Do you see similar parallels to what Eddie Howe will be going through now with Newcastle?
Everything that Newcastle do now is inflated by 25%, 30%, because they've got all this money to spend. This happened at Everton, before I got there, Farhad came in and all of a sudden a player that was 20 was 30 million, the 30 was 40, 45 million.
45 was then 55 or 60 million, because that club has now got all this money. Newcastle's in a very similar boat now, and of course, this North East – most players from abroad start with London, then the Midlands, Manchester, the North East. You have to pay more to get them there.
Inflation will be higher than ever for them now. They’ll be paying players more than they've ever paid in the history of the club, one, for the quality of the player and, two, the fact that they've got to pay that money because everybody's talked about their wealth.
The player will want that little bit more, because that foreign player might not have particularly wanted to go to the Premier League, but would preferred it in London, and then Manchester, but ends up in Newcastle and thoroughly enjoy himself up there, because the fans are fanatic. The location can make it a little bit more difficult to secure a player.
Sam Allardyce On Connor Gallagher
Sam, I’m going to ask you about Connor Gallagher. Obviously, a guy you had on loan last year at West Brom. He's doing brilliantly at Palace. How far do you think he can go? Do you expect him to be in the Chelsea team next year?
If not in the Chelsea team, then somebody else’s Premier League team. I think the remarkable thing about Connor is, when you’re such a young lad – I left out much more mature players than Connor, purely and simply because of the fact that he was talented.
He lacked a little bit of experience, but actually gave his all to the team, in possession and out of possession. That time period must have been extremely difficult for him at 19. It's difficult for a mature pro, getting beat more than winning or drawing. And for him, he just kept going and kept going.
I think that experience for him, getting relegated, would have helped his development. Sometimes a really bad experience is better than a really good one and that looks like it may be the case for him, because he looks like he’s gone to Palace – who are clearly a better team – and his experience from last year has developed his game, along with Patrick's idea of where he's going to play.
He didn’t show too much in terms of goals and assists at West Brom, probably because of the lack of chances we created. I'm very, very pleased for him. The lad deserves everything he gets by his attitude, the way he plays. A young British player, already with an England debut, if Chelsea is not his future, then somewhere in the Premier League will be.
As long as he's getting first team football – whether it's Chelsea or whether it's Crystal Palace or whoever might consider buying him, if Chelsea want to sell him – then he will only develop and get better and better.
Sam Allardyce On Antonio Rudiger
Antonio Rüdiger, the Chelsea centre-back, his deal runs out in the summer and he’s been linked with United and Tottenham. Do you think that they should go all-out and try and bring him in – either of those clubs?
He says he wants to stay at Chelsea, but does he really want to stay at Chelsea? If he wants to stay, then Chelsea should sign him. What Chelsea are doing is quite unique. We see this a lot in football or in many clubs that I’ve been at – I’ve had eight Premier League clubs – where the board will say, “We’ll have to let him go. He wants too much.” So, I’ll say, “How much is a replacement going to cost?” And they go, “It would be nothing like the wages he wants.” But what would the transfer fee be?
When you put the transfer fee of a replacement together with the wages, is that more than what he wants to stay? And if it is, sign him, because he’s a free transfer. Don't worry about the players finding out how much money he’s getting, because if I consider him good enough and the team considers him good enough, he’s going to get us more and more wins.
I can't understand that it when clubs let go of a player over wages but then go and pay a transfer fee and think that's better because the player is on lower wages. Maybe they think every player is going to start asking for more, but only the players who are worth it will do that and if they’re not worth it, you let them go.
If he wants to stay at Chelsea, they should pay him, but it might be too late now because if a foreign club wanted him, they’ve already done the deal.
Sam Allardyce On Calvert-Lewin
Dominic Calvert-Lewin is a player you know well. He’s been linked with a few clubs in West Ham and Arsenal. Is a January deal possible for a player as important as that to happen?
It’s impossible for Everton to sell Dominic at this moment in time. It’s crucial they keep him. By not being in the team, his value has increased by 50%, and that’s by not playing. I think that if he keeps himself fit and carries on from where he left off last season – which was always in his locker when I was there – he was just a little bit too young at the time to start being the goal-scorer he is now.
The rest of his game was all in-place, when he had a few chances, he missed more than he scored. Now he scores more than he misses. For any club who wants a centre-forward, he’s your man.
Anybody that could get him, they are going to improve their team massively. But not in this window. I think he’ll wait and see what the summer brings and see what Everton do. If he can stay fit from now until the end of the season a bigger club than Everton could come in for him.
Sam Allardyce On Dele Alli and Jesse Lindgard
Dele Alli and Jesse Lingard are two players that are obviously on the market. What would your advice be to either of those guys – ‘go on and play’, ‘look for a move’?
Jesse Lingard has shown that what everybody was saying about him was nonsense, when he went to West Ham. All the criticism he got at Man United, and for whatever reason, or whatever grudge, Ole having a possible issue for whatever reason with the player, he certainly proved him wrong.
He was a top-quality player at West Ham. Sadly, he stayed at Manchester United for this season, but has rarely featured. The ideal place for him for next season is West Ham, because he loved it there. If not West Ham, I think many clubs, on the basis of what he'd done at West Ham, will take him on a free transfer.
I think it would be foolish for him to make a permanent move now, unless all he wants to do is just play football and worry about it after. He wants to be playing first-team football again. He got himself back in the England squad when he was at West Ham – he was that good!
I have to say, nobody knows about this, that I spoke to him and his dad on several occasions last January to get him to come to West Brom. I think he’d have actually come to West Brom if Moyesy hadn’t have come in at the last minute – the devil – and pinched him off of me.
I was trying to sort the deal out with Man United. Nobody else seemed to be coming in for him, and then Moyesy comes at the last minute. Rightly so, I had no chance. He goes to West Ham and did an absolutely fantastic job.
In the January window, you get very frustrated. But I always say this, in my experience, something always pops up that you didn't expect. And that, in the window, is always the case. You’ll go for your first round of bids and, if you're in a struggling club, you may not be successful, but you must have a second round as anything can happen.
Sometimes you will have a player that's never been on your list that will come to your attention. Not only is he a good player, but you can also afford him as well and you do it very quickly.