Gaining an Edge

Tactics

Big Sam & AVB are worlds apart in almost every sense.

Villas-Boas, a dashing, suave young coach with a preference for style over substance. Allardyce, a gruff, traditional northerner from Dudley who just wants results.

This considered you won’t be surprised to hear that player and match analysis is another area in which the two’s philosophy’s differ, although not in a way you might imagine.

Whilst the ‘progressive’ Villas-Boas has been quick to dismiss analysis software such as ‘Prozone’ as useless, the ‘backwards’ Big Sam has been an advocator of the platform for the last decade.

Although ‘pioneer’ isn’t a word you would often associate with Big Sam, he has for a long time been pushing the boundaries of sport science within a footballing context. Having never been with a top 4 side, Big Sam has often had to look at other ways he can gain an edge on opponents with greater resources.

He claims his managerial career has been heavily influenced by his brief time in America. Allardyce played 11 games for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 1983 who at the time shared facilities with the American Football side the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“Seeing the Buccaneers was the start of my philosophy and evolvement as a manager” he said back in 2011.

“It was the amount of technology and backroom staff they used to service the players and to deliver the best.”

“I enjoy the game, I enjoy watching the tactical side of it and the great detail they put into trying to win a game at that level,” he added.

American Football clubs have for long been using innovative approaches such as video analysis and this insight into uses of technology and science and their application to another sport inspired Allardyce in his first big managerial role in English football with Bolton.

With greater resource than at his previous clubs, Allardyce was able to experiment with the likes of Prozone which he first used with Bolton Wanderers at the start of the 2000/01 season and shortly after achieved promotion to the Premiership after a three-year absence.

“The system provided a vital source of information for our coaching staff to draw upon including a mass of statistics and the unique animation, which means nothing is missed during the game.”

“I have been using and helping Prozone to develop over the last nine years. It is without doubt one of the most important pieces of information in modern day football. We simply can not do without Prozone to help us be the best we can be.”

But Prozone isn’t the only tool he’s examined to gain an edge and he has often had a background staff of up to 20 members for different areas of interest. He team at Bolton included Mike Forde, who helped formulate ideas from American sport, (now at Chelsea) while Mark Taylor, who helped bring in the club’s cryotherapy room where players recover in temperatures of minus 120 Celsius, is now at  Fulham .

Injury prevention has often been at the forefront of his thinking – especially with a small or ageing squad and has picked up the Zamar treatment used on injured horses where ice-cold solutions are pumped round muscles under a bandage to aid recovery.

Ice baths are compulsory in all of Allardyce’s changing rooms, something some players have rather avoid and taken fines for (Abdoulaye Faye claimed to have racked up five figure fines during his time with West Ham last season). Then there was the Chinese doctor using herbal remedies, acupuncture and Tai Chi.

Allardyce said: ‘It’s not a perfect science. But you’ve got to get as close as you can. I might tell them we are going to go for a walk. It’s called dislocated expectation. Doing something beyond the norm can be good for morale.’

In a changing footballing environment where the Moneyball approach seems to be to be a bigger part of CEO’s thinking process for their club’s future, Big Sam has always been one step ahead of the competition and has been pushing the boundaries for over a decade now.

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