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Allardyce still trying to convince the doubters

Britain Football Soccer - Hartlepool United v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly - Victoria Park - 20/7/16 Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce Action Images via Reuters / Lee Smith Livepic
Britain Football Soccer - Hartlepool United v Sunderland - Pre Season Friendly - Victoria Park - 20/7/16Sunderland manager Sam AllardyceAction Images via Reuters / Lee SmithLivepic

By Toby Davis

LONDON (Reuters) - Despite his best efforts to paint himself as a modern coach at the forefront of sports science and psychology, Sam Allardyce has still spent much of his career battling accusations that he is an unreconstructed member of football's 'old school'.

It is a contradiction that has dogged the new England boss throughout his time in the Premier League -- a fervent early adopter of statistical data analysis, his players have always extolled his holistic approach to the game.

Yet opposing managers have long accused his teams of playing negative, overly-physical, long-ball football of a bygone age.

It is certainly true that Allardyce's style of play has won him few admirers over the years with his teams seeming to shun any deference to a perceived ideal football aesthetic.

He has never had any time for so-called definitions of 'modern football' that focus on anything other than the result and dismissed the "tippy, tappy" style of Barcelona with an expletive.

A glance at his Sunderland side who narrowly avoided relegation last season, shows where his footballing philosophy lies.

Sunderland played to their strengths, with 42.5 percent of their goals after Allardyce's arrival in October, coming from set pieces. That was the third-highest in the Premier League, after Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion.

They averaged 40 percent possession, of which 21 percent of all passes were long balls. They completed the second-lowest number of passes of all the Premier League teams after Allardyce’s arrival, with only West Brom completing fewer.

While he has frequently defended his teams against accusations of being long-ball merchants, the statistics illustrate a pragmatism that has underpinned his tactical approach at all his clubs.

That approach has often included a willingness to unnerve more fancied opponents with a number of managers accusing Allardyce's teams of employing rough-house tactics.

The list of coaches who have had verbal run-ins with Allardyce is extensive.

Arsene Wenger has been a frequent critic while Jose Mourinho once accused an Allardyce team of playing 19th century football, a jibe that prompted another expletive from the former no-nonsense centre back.

Allardyce the player was a moustachioed hulk of a defender, a chiselled-from-granite stopper of a common variety in the 1970s when he spent nine years as a player at Bolton Wanderers, before becoming a journeyman professional.

MODERN METHODS

As a player, he was unrefined, but as a manager he has tried to cultivate a different reputation and his former players describe a coach who is a match for the very best, praising his meticulous preparation and willingness to use modern sports science.

At Bolton he was one of the first coaches in England to embrace Prozone, a sports analysis company, and used statistics to help his unfancied side climb to a sixth place finish in the Premier League in 2005.

Former Bolton player Michael Bridges said Allardyce was at the forefront of modern methods and new approaches.

"Every week we would have yoga classes and it was the first time I had been given supplements to take with my food, which helped recovery and joint ache," he said.

"We even had a psychologist who would sit down with us whenever we wanted to get advice or set ourselves targets."

A psychologist could prove useful as Allardyce goes about repairing England's battered sprits after their failure at Euro 2016.

He has been handed the task of picking up the pieces of that campaign which ended in an embarrassing last-16 defeat to Iceland and leading England into the World Cup in Russia in two years time.

Having been consistently overlooked when the Premier League's top clubs changed coaches, he has finally landed one of the plum jobs he has coveted for years.

Allardyce has always maintained that he belongs in lofty company and famously said in the past that he was more suited to Inter Milan or Real Madrid than Bolton Wanderers or Blackburn Rovers.

"It wouldn't be a problem to me to go and manage those clubs because I would win the double or the league every time," he quipped.

He has never won major silverware at any of his five Premier League clubs or finished above sixth in the English top flight.

His spells in charge of Newcastle United and Blackburn ended with the sack and he left West Ham United when they decided against renewing his contract at the end of the 2014-15 season.

The England job is an opportunity for him to prove that he is a genuinely top class coach and far better than his empty trophy cabinet suggests.

(Reporting by Toby Davis; editing by Rex Gowar)

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