Sam’s small strikers

Sam Allardyce has forgotten more about football management than many will ever know; yet last season he made two signings, which at the time, were glorified as great pieces of business.

Firstly, Sam Baldock was purchased from MK Dons for £2million. Then, on January 31st, Nicky Maynard was prized from the clutches of Bristol City for the same fee.

Allardyce has acknowledged that these were two of the weaker decisions he made whilst at the club so far, supposedly admitting defeat by selling the two players on at a net loss of £500,000. Sounds like a large amount, but £500,000 is the amount that the club will be spending on Andy Carroll’s wages as he sits on the sidelines for five weeks due to him getting injured, barely 72 hours after joining the club on a season long loan.

The acquisition of these two players last season is even more puzzling because neither of these strikers fit the system that Sam Allardyce employs. One striker. A big one. Preferably a hold up specialist, who can chip in with a modest 10-12 goals per season. The sort of role tailor made for Carlton Cole or Andy Carroll. This is a complete contrast to the type of players that Baldock and Maynard are.

With his “lone striker target man” frontline setup, Allardyce would never have been able to fit Baldock and Maynard into his style of play. The question is, why was Allardyce taking a large financial risk on two small, quick, goal poachers? Neither Maynard nor Baldock would fit into a target man role leading the line. It is also common knowledge that Sam Allardyce has rarely changed his formation from 4-3-3 or 4-5-1.

Ideally, had Allardyce believed one of these strikers to really be a future star, he would have committed to the idea of playing either Maynard or Baldock off Carlton Cole in a 4-4-2 formation. However, he did not believe a change of structure was needed, and therefore he tried to encourage Baldock and Maynard to fit into his pre-established system as wingers.

Allardyce did indeed go through a period of time during which he did hand Sam Baldock some starts in the Championship, and was rewarded. There was a brief buzz around West Ham fans that this hard working, quick young goal scorer was exactly what was needed. In Baldock’s first six starts, he did score five goals. A remarkably good start considering he had never played at Championship level before.

Hype was building around the 22-year-old, but as is true to most of West Ham’s strikers of recent years, injury hit Baldock, and Maynard came in. Baldock may have been demoralised by Allardyce’s decision to buy another striker in exactly the same mould as himself. Indeed, as Maynard was an accomplished Championship player, many believed him to be the better of the two. Maynard was given more starts in the second half of the season and scored more goals than Baldock, and he began to slowly fall out of favour. If Baldock’s rise to fame was quick, his fall from grace was even quicker.

The 4-4-2 formation was tried with Baldock, and seemed to work, but nevertheless, Allardyce reverted back to either 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 almost exclusively from January until the end of the season. Having learnt a thing or two more to add to his encyclopaedic football knowledge from the signing of Baldock, Allardyce probably signed Maynard as a more technically gifted striker who would convert to the wing much more naturally.

This leads on to the explanation that Allardyce was planning on converting both of the players into wingers. They possess the key physical trait, namely the speed, that is required of a top-level winger, but neither had sufficient creative spark, passing or crossing abilities. He bought two very similar natural goal-scoring players in Maynard and Baldock. Natural goal scorers, extremely rare, are probably the least versatile type of player on a football pitch.

Naming a small, quick, goal scoring centre forward that has converted to another position such as winger is very difficult. Can you recall a time when the likes of Owen (Stoke), Defoe (Tottenham), Aguero (Man City) and Chicharito Hernandez (Man United), have played in a different position and had a shred of success? It’s very rare.

Don’t get me wrong; on a transfer business front Allardyce is often very strong. You must remember, Ricardo Vaz Te was signed for £500,000 and scored the supposed “£90million goal” to win the play-off final. But this was different; Vaz Te was signed to fill a specific position on the wing. Baldock and Maynard were for the majority of the time playing out of position. If you look at these two strikers, £4million was spent; an eighth of which was lost after sell-on.

So was Allardyce wasting his time and the club’s money with Baldock and Maynard? I don’t think so. Because even if the long-term investment didn’t work out, Baldock’s six goals early in the season that gained us extra points are probably worth the £500,000 of net loss when he was sold on to Bristol City for £1.5million.

Big Sam seems to have learnt from the Baldock and Maynard transfers in the most recent transfer window. The signing of Modibo Maiga from FC Sochaux was a very shrewd move, one which has been somewhat overshadowed by the arrival of Andy Carroll. Allardyce has signed a natural goal scorer with a far greater physical presence than Baldock or Maynard ever had.

Therefore, Maiga may be capable of playing the target man role on his own in one of Big Sam’s preferred formations, and score goals. At 24 years of age, if one of the many complications in the Carroll deal does scupper a permanent deal, could Maiga be the next long term West Ham centre forward? Possibly. He needs a chance.

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