It seemed inconceivable just two months ago but Crystal Palace could beat Tottenham if Spurs aren’t at their best on Wednesday night, such has been the Eagles’ transformation under Sam Allardyce.
Allardyce needed time to turn results around after taking charge in December. Four points from his first eight Premier League fixtures left Palace 19th and had us wondering whether his short and ill-fated stint as England manager had left him a spent force.
But he stayed calm during that initial spell, stuck to his process despite the bad results, and it worked. The players bought into his message and Palace have since beaten Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. With a month left, they are already all but safe from relegation.
They have won not through individual brilliance but by working together and using an effective mix of football. Palace already had the talent but players weren’t getting the opportunity to show it. Under Allardyce, Christian Benteke is now being used to maximum effect and Yohan Cabaye is back to his Newcastle form.
Big Sam has proven that he still has the magic and, as much as anything, his successful return is testament to his strength of character. He shook off the England episode, which saw him mocked in some quarters, and revived a group of players who had looked out on their feet.
Top seven the target
The former Sunderland, West Ham, Newcastle, Blackburn and Bolton boss has done it before with weaker squads than at Palace, so he has the authority to tell players: “If you do this, you will stay up.” Put simply, he knows what it takes to win in the Premier League.
It’s a shame, then, that it seems unlikely he’ll ever get a chance to challenge for the league with a leading club. The top six or seven teams only want someone who has won a title here or in Europe, and those sides are only drifting further and further away from the rest.
If I was Sam I’d be seeking support from the Palace board to get the players I wanted during the summer, with the target of taking them into the top seven next season. That’s as high as they can realistically get, but that would put him in a strong position again.
At that point I wonder whether he would consider managing abroad. I could see him somewhere like Turkey, where a job with Galatasaray, Fenerbahce or Besiktas would represent a chance to win a league title that seems likely to be out of reach in England.
Another shot at the England job, after the embarrassment caused to all parties by the way it ended last year, is probably out of reach, with time not on the side of the 62-year-old.
A successful stint overseas, however, would be an adventure in itself and might be the only way that top Premier League clubs would reconsider Allardyce’s credentials.