The Big Sam effect

TUESDAY lunchtime and, as I write, Paul Ince is still manager of Blackburn Rovers. That may have changed by the time you read this – or it may not. There’s been something strange going on at Ewood Park.

Saturday’s papers were convinced that Ince had so little time left at Blackburn, that his days didn’t even need numbering.

And much of the first half-hour of Sport On Five – presented from Ewood Park – was devoted to a discussion on whether managers are given enough time to prove themselves, on the assumption that a change of boss at Ewood Park was imminent. Ince, don’t forget, has only been Blackburn’s manager for six months.

This led to a remarkable contribution from guest Aidy Boothroyd, out of work following his departure from Watford last month.

When it was suggested that top-class players don’t necessarily make great managers, Boothroyd responded: “I think it was Arrigo Sacchi who once said that you don’t have to have been a horse to be a jockey.”

It was indeed Sacchi. And he’s right. A horse would make a terrible jockey for two reasons. 1) It would never get its hooves in the stirrups. 2) It’s a horse. You can’t put a horse on top of another horse and expect them to win the Grand National. It’s just wrong.

What this tells us about football management, though, I’ve no idea. It may have been something to do with the fact that Sacchi never played professional football, and was a shoe salesman before becoming a coach, going on to lead Italy and AC Milan. But really, as an analogy, it belongs in the same file as Eric Cantona’s comments about seagulls and trawlers.

The analogy doesn’t work, anyway, because great players can become successful managers. Blackburn’s last boss, Mark Hughes, is a good example, while the chap before him, Graeme Souness, didn’t do a bad job for Rovers either. And the man in charge when they won the Premier League title was Kenny Dalglish.

Still, it’s easy to get carried away when you’re writing someone’s obituary.

Reports are now suggesting that Blackburn want Souness back. Maybe they do, but he doesn’t strike me as their first choice. That’s because I feel that Ince’s position is suffering due to the Big Sam effect.

Let me explain: I know a Blackburn fan, who has been telling me for weeks that the supporters want Ince out and Sam Allardyce in.

Allardyce is seen by many Rovers fans as a firefighter, a non-nonsense character who kept Bolton up against the odds enough times, and can do the same for Blackburn.

Until last week, the most plausible way of making this happen saw Ince sacked at Christmas to allow Allardyce to arrive just in time for the opening of the January transfer window.

However, Roy Keane’s sudden exit from Sunderland last Thursday brought Allardyce into the frame for that job. Is it a coincidence that Ince’s future has suddenly become a lot shakier too? After all, if Rovers really do want Allardyce, they will have to act quickly.

Blackburn chairman John Williams yesterday failed to back Ince explicitly, when he said: “The board will make decisions it feels are in the best interests of the club.”

Given the choice between Blackburn and Sunderland, I feel sure Allardyce would rather join Rovers, a club much nearer to his Bolton home. But he won’t hang around forever if Sunderland come in with a concrete offer.

That means Williams and his board must decide if they want Allardyce rather than Ince.

It also means that if Ince survives to take charge of Blackburn’s trip to Wigan on Saturday, even a win may not save him.


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