Sam Allardyce not at Everton to make friends but to save the failing club
LIVERPOOL -- There were no "Welcome to Everton" banners for Sam Allardyce on Wednesday night, no terrace songs, either, from within Goodison Park to herald the arrival of the club's new manager.
There were, however, plenty of defiant chants of "Rhino" for caretaker-manager David Unsworth -- a nickname the barrel-chested defender earned during his playing days at Everton -- which could have been interpreted as the home crowd voicing their backing for one of their own instead of singing about his replacement during the 4-0 rout of West Ham; only the club's second win in 12 games.
Such has become the life of Sam Allardyce. Despite a top-flight career that spans almost two decades, with no relegations at any of his six previous Premier League clubs, the 63-year-old rarely arrives anywhere to a ticker-tape welcome.
It is a different story in the boardroom, though. The fans may take exception to Allardyce's playing style, but club owners and directors know that the former Bolton, Newcastle, Blackburn, West Ham, Sunderland and Crystal Palace manager is the football equivalent of having gold reserves in hard times.
He is the option that virtually guarantees safety and security and, having failed to convince Marco Silva to leave Watford to become Ronald Koeman's successor, Everton majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri chose Allardyce knowing that the only objective now is to keep the club in the Premier League this season and that nobody else's credentials come close.
Everton's supporters will need more convincing that Allardyce is the man for them, however.
It is now 22 years since Everton last won a trophy of any kind (the 1995 FA Cup) but the club's fans still hark back to the glory days of the 1960s -- when the club became known as the "School of Science" -- or the Howard Kendall era of the 1980s, when two league titles, an FA Cup and European Cup Winners' Cup marked the greatest period in their history.
Yet almost 30 years on from the last time Everton combined successful and stylish football, Allardyce will be expected to deliver the same. If he does not, he will find it difficult to win over the sceptics on the blue half of Merseyside.
Not that he will lose sleep at night worrying about how he is perceived by the supporters. His decision to name Sammy Lee as his assistant manager, a man steeped in the red of Liverpool following his many years as a player and coach at Anfield, is a pointer towards Allardyce's refusal to be influenced by hostility or negativity from the supporters.
Indeed, going against the grain and upsetting people along the way is part of what makes Allardyce tick. There is something of an irony in the fact that many Everton fans have written Allardyce off as a long-ball manager because of a reputation largely rooted in the claims of a former Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez.
It was Benitez, riled by Liverpool's repeated failure to get the better of Allardyce's Bolton, particularly away from home, who first dismissed him as such. Benitez repeatedly criticised the allegedly over-physical and direct approach of Allardyce's teams before belittling his rival after guiding Liverpool to a win against his Blackburn team in February 2010.
"I think it is a model for all the managers around the world, their style of football, his behaviour," Benitez said sarcastically. "The style of football, I think, Barcelona are thinking of copying."
Jose Mourinho has also been critical of Allardyce, claiming during his time at Chelsea that the then-West Ham manager had his team playing "19th Century football" during a 0-0 draw at Stamford Bridge in January 2014.
Allardyce maintains that condemnation from rival managers is simply sour grapes and a search for excuses after failing to beat his teams. But having built a side including the likes of Youri Djorkaeff, Jay Jay Okocha, Nicolas Anelka and Fernando Hierro at Bolton, the suggestions that Allardyce only knows how to play one way are perhaps misplaced.
Bolton were a respected Premier League force under Allardyce, qualifying for Europe and achieving regular top 10 finishes, while he also left the likes of Blackburn, West Ham and Sunderland in much healthier positions than they now find themselves in.
But for Evertonians, the bar has been set much higher than finishing in the top half and qualifying for Europe. With the club now backed by Moshiri's wealth, ambitions have rocketed and Koeman paid the price for failing to come close to achieving them.
Whether Allardyce is given the time to take Everton where they want to be remains to be seen, but they can at least be confident that he will save them from relegation. He may even win the fans around, but of all the battles he faces at Goodison Park, that is the one he cares the least about.
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_