The irony of Sam Allardyce’s Newcastle United managerial career as he prepares to face old club

Mike Ashley sacked Sam Allardyce in 2008 then spent the rest of his tenure looking for somebody like him to stabilise Newcastle United.

It’s one of the biggest ironies of Ashley’s ownership after he hastily got rid of the manager who has went on to forge a reputation for keeping clubs in the Premier League. Ashley was quite happy to finish just above the relegation zone, an area which Big Sam has delivered multiple times.

Back in 2019, Allardyce even suggested that Ashley had tried to appoint him just weeks before Steve Bruce took the job. Yet Allardyce’s exit at St James’ Park was unique in many ways as it was probably the only time Ashley took on board what fans were telling him at that time.

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Back then Ashley was a regular in the away ends of Premier League grounds, donning a black and white shirt and buying drinks for Newcastle supporters. Allardyce – tagged as a long ball manager – was not delivering the attractive style of football Newcastle fans had enjoyed previously under Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson.

Just 24 games into the job of managing Newcastle, Allardyce was told it was “time for a change” with Ashley having to write a big cheque to bring in a new boss. Big Sam may not have been a popular choice for many on Tyneside but it’s unlikely the club would have been relegated in 2009 when Ashley ended up going through four managers in one campaign, starting with Allardyce’s replacement Kevin Keegan before Chris Hughton, Joe Kinnear and Alan Shearer all oversaw the drop into the Championship.

Allardyce was told that Ashley wanted Harry Redknapp to replace him, but ended up opting for Keegan after the ex-Bournemouth boss didn’t want to move north. Allardyce said: “I’m sure Mike expected Harry to take over but he stayed put and instead fans’ hero Kevin Keegan returned to appease them.”

Allardyce, now 68, has reflected many times on his Newcastle stint but says it was the right club at the wrong time. He said: “I would say that Newcastle was the right job at the wrong time. Freddy Shepherd was the majority shareholder when I arrived at Newcastle and he had wanted me to join the club on a couple of occasions while I was at Bolton but I had said no.

“With Freddy’s commitment when I met with him, it felt like an exciting time to join Newcastle. However, Mike Ashley took over at the club soon after I had joined and the disruption of the takeover impacted on the players that I wanted to move on and who I wanted to recruit such was the uncertainty around the club at that time.”

Since his Toon exit, Allardyce has managed Blackburn, West Ham, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Everton, West Brom and now Leeds – only failing once when the Baggies went down in 2021. Having sent Newcastle down in 2016, he faces the Magpies this weekend knowing he can dent Champions League hopes.

Although, with the chance to remain at Leeds beyond this season, his Newcastle departure does not feel like it’s motivation for success. Allardyce knows simply staying up with the Yorkshire club is his ticket to remaining in the limelight, regardless of how they manage it.

And Newcastle’s ambition has increased significantly under new owners with simply surviving no longer on the agenda.


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