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Sam Allardyce slams ‘shocking’ Man United defending, admires Arteta and says West Ham got it wrong on Zouma

| 15.02.2022

Sam Allardyce gave Ladbrokes an exclusive interview in which he discussed his admiration for Mikel Arteta’s handling of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and his pre and post-match drinks with Sir Alex Ferguson.

In parts two and three, Allardyce also gave in-depth talk about his time at West Brom and reveals he is very tempted to go on I’m A Celebrity!

But ahead of the launch of Saturday’s 5-A-Side bet on West Ham v Newcastle, the former England manager started with a scathing review of Manchester United’s defending this season.

Man United’s defending is absolutely shocking

The question is, can Manchester United – with the biggest and probably the most talented squad outside of the top three – come together and produce a run of games where they’re not going to throw silly points away? Ralf Rangnick is finding it difficult to get the right balance between attack and defence at the minute. I find Man United’s defending absolutely shocking at the moment. David de Gea has made more saves than just about every other goalkeeper in the Premier League this season – that just shows you where Man United’s problems lie.

But also they have a big issue in not so much creating chances, but finishing them. As a manager, it’s your responsibility to put that right. If he puts it right, he could pinch that fourth spot – but if nothing changes then they’re obviously going to find it difficult.

For some reason, somebody at Manchester United persuaded Ole [Gunnar Solskjaer] to change his style of play. I don’t know where that pressure came from, but from what I saw, they had one of the best counter-attacking teams, if not the best counter-attacking team in the league. That resulted in that fantastic away record where they went so long without losing a game. At home, the emphasis was more on trying to attack and break the opposition down, which they struggled to do. Somebody persuaded Ole to open up and become more attacking, and then the defence became much, much weaker – and ultimately he lost his job because of that.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United

I know that traditionally you’ve got to attack, attack, attack at Man United, but no team can attack without great defensive work. Manchester City and Liverpool have the best defensive set-ups in the league, and it shows, because look at where they are in the table. It’s not necessarily because of their attacking prowess. Don’t get me wrong, they’re very, very good in that area and they score a lot of goals, but clean sheets win you leagues – and if you haven’t got that, you’re not going to reach your targets.

It doesn’t matter what position you’re in in the table, you can’t underestimate the value of a strong defence. If you want to win the league, you’ve got to have the best defensive record, which is what Man City have, and likewise if you want to avoid the drop, you’ve got to put a great emphasis on your defence, and it’s showing at Newcastle now. They’ve shored things up at the back and they’re unbeaten in their last five matches.

It’s not rocket science, but nobody wants to talk about it because they perceive it as one of the negative sides of the game, when in reality, it’s probably the most important aspect.

I admire Mikel Arteta and the next step for Arsenal

Arsenal are a good young team which seems to be improving all the time. Mikel Arteta has faced so many challenges in such a short time as a manager, and he’s dealt with them head-on. He’s decided that he’s going to be strong, which you have to admire. I certainly admire him for that.

He’s had a lot of big, senior players who haven’t been pulling their weight, and personally I think he’s dealt with those situations very well. [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang, in particular, was the most recent example. That incident showed everyone at the football club that it doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter how big you think you are – if you’ve been honoured with the captain’s armband for a club like Arsenal, to disrespect that, to disrespect the manager, and to disrespect Arsenal Football Club, I can’t sympathise with how Arteta deals with you. He dealt with that magnificently well, because it shows the rest of the team that there’s a certain level of expectation when it comes to discipline, and if you’re not going to adhere to that, you’re gone.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at Arsenal

So he’s sorted out that discipline problem, now it’s about recruitment. Of course, he’s not fully in charge of who comes in to the club, that’s down to the director of football. Managers aren’t as involved in that side of the game as we used to be. Sometimes you’ll end up having players forced on you, whether you want them or not. It’s important he keeps constant communication with his director of football and the pair are singing from the same hymn sheet, because that’s the best chance he’s going to get of bringing players in that he absolutely wants.

Ultimately, the board and the director of football have to trust Mikel now – they’ve bought in to him, so the best thing for Arsenal from this point is that everyone pulls together in the same direction – that’s the only way you’re going to have any sort of success in this game. If that combination is fractured by the fact that you’re having disagreements over players, then that’s a massive problem, and more often than not it’s the manager who gets sacked.

A good communication line between the board, the director of football and the manager can breed success at a club. And that’s the case at a club like Arsenal with their young players, the majority of whom are very exciting to watch. If you can add a couple of big signings to that team, they really could go on to build something special. Is the club going to go in the market at £70m, £80m, £90m for one player? Because that’s the way things are going at the top level now, and to compete with them you’re probably going to have to take that step.

There has to come a point when Arsenal are only bringing in players that are as good – if not better – than the ones they’ve already got. That’s what Man City do; they’d sooner spend £100m on a player like Jack Grealish than three or four players in one window at £30m apiece.

Sir Alex was the best boss for a post-match drink – in fact, we ended up having a cuppa before kick-off

I think over the years I’d have to say Sir Alex [Ferguson] was the best for a post-match drink. There were many other names over the years that spring to mind, [David] Moyesy, [Peter] Reidy, Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce – a few of the foreign managers came in and bought into the British culture, Mauricio Pochettino being one of them.

Sir Alex Ferguson, Sam Allardyce

Obviously Sir Alex was always the go-to man anyway, the one you wanted to have a drink and a chat with. In fact, we’d often share a cup of tea before kick-off, because obviously there’s a period between the team sheets going in and the game starting. More often than not you pretty much knew the team he’d be putting out so we’d done all of our preparation, at which point we’d share a cup of tea before the game. Obviously we’d go head-to-head on the pitch and then share a glass of wine afterwards. He was probably the best for that.

It happens less and less these days. I think the influx of foreign managers coupled with the heavy amount of media duties after a game make it hard to do. Sometimes you’d still be carrying out your media duties up to an hour after the full-time whistle, by which point the lads are all ready and waiting on the coach, wanting to get back home. You can barely spend five minutes with the opposition staff and managers these days, but the wealth of the Premier League has greater demands of you, so we just have to accept that as part of the modern game, and leave the post-match drink to a thing of the past.

West Ham owners could have told Moyesy not to play Zouma – in hindsight I’m sure everyone regrets the decision they made

David Moyes has been under the spotlight this week off the back of his response to the Kurt Zouma incident, but it’s worth remembering he’d have got permission from the owners to play him. The owners are in charge of the football club, so if they ring up David and ask him not to play him, obviously he won’t. They could have asked Moyesy to leave him out of the team – and, listen, David could have made that decision himself, but I would have thought he’d have spoken with the owners about it, and they both decided that playing him was the right thing for them.

In hindsight, I’m sure they regret that. The player has been fined two weeks’ wages, he’s lost his boot deal and the club have lost some sponsorship, so it was a big decision that probably backfired on them. And while the three points were the only thing Moyesy was looking for, on top of the three points, it was a big loss both financially and in credibility.

Of course, the biggest culprit of all is Mr Zouma. Why on earth did he do it? What was he thinking about? Who in their right mind does what he did?

Kurt Zouma, West Ham

If I was in charge, I’d have consulted the owners and asked for their opinion. Most clubs would probably say the decision lies with the manager, but I’d have to consult them first. The fact of the matter is that – in today’s society – what he did is so outrageous that you’ve got to be very, very careful about what decision you make, and you’ve got to make the right one. I think we can all agree – even David, now – they probably made the wrong one.

Players in the past that have stepped out of line under me, I’ve just not played them. As well as fining them, I’ve just not played them. That always hurts them more than anything else,.

If  Roma move doesn’t work for Maitland-Niles, he’ll only have himself to blame

Ainsley Maitland-Niles chose West Brom because I’d spoken with him on several occasions and promised I’d play him in the middle of the park – which is where he wanted to play. He went against his manager and the director of football at Arsenal by signing for us, but I offered him those reassurances, so he was happy to come and play for us. I convinced him it was the right place for him.

He made his England debut as a full-back, and everyone seemed to think that was his position, but he doesn’t like it, he wants to be a midfielder. What he gave us was a lot of energy and a lot of quality but, unfortunately, he didn’t give us too many goals.

One or two goals would have been a big help, but he enjoyed getting picked every week and playing at a high standard. That spell benefited him somewhat because it reminded people there was a player in there. He was languishing at Arsenal without ever getting in the team, and now he’s ended up getting a great move out to Italy, working under Jose Mourinho.

Jose Mourinho, Roma

I’d advise any young player to go out and play football at any level, if your current team isn’t playing you.

Maitland-Niles had a couple of opportunities at Arsenal, but at the end of the day, if your manager makes it clear you’re not his first or second choice, then you’ve done the right thing by moving on. Joining such a big club as Roma, experiencing Italian football and working under Jose is going to be a hugely positive experience for Maitland-Niles, and hopefully it’ll stand him in good stead for the rest of his career.

If he can’t sustain a first-team place in Italy with Roma, or back over here after the summer, then I think it’s only his fault. With the experience he’s gained and the talent he’s got, he has to look at himself and consider this a crunch season for him and his career.

This is a career-defining moment for Ainsley, it’s about whether he’s going to be a footballer that’s respected and honoured enough by a manager who wants to play him every week, and then it’s about repaying that faith by putting in top performances consistently. The talent is unquestionable when it comes to him, but we see many players with talent that can’t actually implement it regularly to maintain their position in a top team.

I hated patronising lines from managers after they’d beaten us. They’d come out with bullsh*t about how well we’d played but if we had won they’d use every excuse in the book!

In all fairness, I always had a lot of respect for Arsene [Wenger], but trying to wind him up was a nice thing for me to be able to do. When you know you can, you do. If you’re a top manager like Sir Alex [Ferguson], and people like that, people say it’s mind games. When you’re Sam Allardyce at Bolton Wanderers, it’s disrespectful. It’s not, really, it’s just trying to gain an advantage. If I can see a weakness in my opposition manager, why am I not going to try and wind him up in the media? We all do it. It doesn’t happen as much now as it used to, but it was a big part of my game over the years.

Arsene Wenger

A big part of my preparation was how I set my team up against different opponents, so I needed adaptable players who could deal with the changes I’d make, depending on who we were up against. Sometimes I’d decide to frustrate a team to the point where they’d come off and moan about the way we had played. Well that was obviously just music to my ears, because it means you haven’t lost.

The last thing you wanted to hear as a manager was a compliment from the opposition about how well you had played, because the chances are you’ve just lost to that team! They’d come out with this bullsh*t, saying ‘ooh, don’t they play lovely football, the right way’ when they’ve just thrashed you 3-0. That is absolute rubbish. It really does grind me and get under my skin when opposition managers tried to praise my team. On the flip side, whenever you beat them, just watch them sulk. You watch their faces; there’s no praise for you when you beat them – you’ve done this wrong, or you’ve done that wrong, or there was a bad decision from a referee… they come out with every excuse in the book.

I’ve had more calls from abroad in the last two years than the rest of my career combined. I always say the same thing: you’re 10 years too late

I’ve turned down more jobs from abroad in the last two seasons that I did in the rest of my career combined. I’ve explained to every club that has been kind enough to contact me, they’re 10 years too late for me. I don’t really want to become a journeyman at 67-years-old, and above everything else I don’t think it’s fair on my wife.

You’ve got to think about your family, and respect that they’ve allowed you to do this job for decades, travelling all over the country and, like I said, I’m sure she would have probably been happy for me to try and do it abroad 10 years ago, but nothing ever materialised.

So when I hear from top clubs in Greece and Turkey now, I have to politely turn them down. I can’t ask my family to pack everything up and go and live in a country where they’d be isolated. My wife wouldn’t know anybody, she wouldn’t see anybody, and I’d be so busy at that football club, working 24/7 to find out how they operate – it would be very depressing for her, and it wouldn’t be right of me to expect that of her. It doesn’t matter what the offer is, or how well I might do at the club, it just wouldn’t be fair to put her in that position.

An international job, at my stage of life, would interest me. That role doesn’t require you to spend 24 hours a day, 365 days a year in that country. That would appeal to me. But with regard to a top job in some of those countries I’ve mentioned, it’s not for me anymore. As flattering as it is and as appreciative as I am that they’ve considered me – I think I’ve had three calls from China – it’s just not for me.

I’ve said ‘that’s me done and dusted’ too many times over the years, so I’m never saying it again. I’ll never say never when it comes to another job in management, because there’s always going to be something out there that would interest me, I’m sure of that.

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Alex Apati

Alex has been with the Ladbrokes PR team since 2017 having previously worked for the news department. From sparring with Peter Fury to talking interviews on the Duke and Duchess' baby names, he's covered a range of sports and novelty events.

A frustrated West Brom fan who is no stranger to an oche, Alex is originally from Dudley, although he's worked hard to rid himself of the Black Country twang.