Six months after declaring his coaching career was over, Sam Allardyce was back in the Premier League as Everton manager on Thursday after being offered a long-awaited opportunity to take charge of one of English football’s storied clubs.
Allardyce wasn’t Everton’s first-choice pick to take over from the fired Ronald Koeman. But after a frustrating and fruitless five-week search for a replacement, the Merseyside club accepted that the former England coach was the best solution for its current troubles.
Allardyce signed an 18-month contract and takes over a side that has had a dreadful start to the season and is five points off the relegation zone after 14 games. Following an outlay of nearly $200 million on new players last summer, Everton was expected to be challenging for the top four, not fighting against the drop. The team has already been eliminated from the Europa League, too.
"Obviously, the club has gone through a difficult spell," Allardyce said, "and hopefully I can put that behind us as quickly as possible and start looking upwards again."
The appointment of a manager with a track record of rejuvenating struggling teams is likely to be greeted with a mixed reception at Goodison Park. Allardyce’s style of football — pragmatic and direct — isn’t what many of Everton’s fans or the club’s ambitious new majority shareholder, Farhad Moshiri, really wants.
Then there’s the identity of Allardyce’s probable right-hand man, Sammy Lee, who played for cross-city rival Liverpool for 10 years.
In the end, the unexpected possibility of relegation from the lucrative Premier League might have spooked the Everton hierarchy and Allardyce, available since quitting Crystal Palace in May, fits the bill at the moment.
Over the past two years, Allardyce has managed to keep up Sunderland and then Palace despite the teams being in serious danger of relegation when he took over. He will have a better quality of player at his disposal at Everton, plus likely a hefty transfer kitty in January and next summer to mould a squad.
With Allardyce aged 63, the length of his contract probably suited both parties. Moshiri will want him to initially consolidate the team and then give a strong platform for another, probably more glamorous name to take Everton to the next level.
Everton hasn’t won any silverware since 1995 but, having won nine top-flight league titles, five FA Cups and a European trophy, it is regarded as one of England’s most famous clubs.
"His strong leadership will bring great motivation and get the best out of players," Moshiri said of Allardyce. "Sam understands the long-term ambitions we have for this great club and I know he is a man who gives it his all and is focused 24 hours a day on the club."
Marco Silva appeared to be the No. 1 choice of Moshiri, but Watford refused to let its manager go. Burnley manager Sean Dyche and Shakhtar Donetsk coach Paul Fonseca were also linked with the job.
Allardyce was interviewed three weeks ago, but initially ruled himself out of the running. Given what he said six months ago, it’s a surprise he put himself in contention in the first place.
In leaving Palace, Allardyce said he wanted "to travel and also spend more time with my family and grandchildren without the huge pressure that comes with being a football manager."
"I have no ambitions to take another job," he added at the time, "I simply want to be able to enjoy all the things you cannot really enjoy with the 24/7 demands of managing any football club, let alone one in the Premier League."
Now, he is back in the world’s most-watched league and in a pressure-filled role, at the biggest club he has managed in a 26-year managerial career that has also included spells at Newcastle, West Ham, Blackburn and Bolton.
His first job will be to fix Everton’s defence, which is the third-most porous in the Premier League after conceding 28 goals so far. Allardyce is known to prioritize clean sheets above anything, and work from there.
Further forward, Allardyce will need to get Everton scoring more, something the team has struggled to do since selling Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United for 75 million pounds ($97 million) during the summer.
The summer arrival of three playmakers — Wayne Rooney, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Davy Klaassen — left Koeman with too many similar players in attacking midfield. Rooney came on a free transfer in a sentimental return to his boyhood team but struggled to make a real impact before scoring a spectacular hat trick in the 4-0 win over West Ham on Wednesday, in front of the watching Allardyce.
Rooney had been dropped to the bench for recent games under interim manager David Unsworth. Yet Allardyce showed during his ill-fated 67-day spell in charge of England last year that he thinks highly of Rooney. The former Man United captain could, therefore, still have a key role to play this season.
Expect Allardyce to sign defensive reinforcements in the January transfer window, and maybe a striker, as he bids to extend Everton’s top-flight presence to a 64th straight season.
His first game in charge is against Huddersfield on Saturday.