Allardyce may already be too old for Newcastle

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2007, 12:00am

Experience versus potential; the wise old head against the fresh ideas of youth. That is the conundrum confronting every football club when it comes to managerial appointments, and it is one that Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd has had to unravel more than most in his increasingly desperate search for a winning formula.

His recent choices have veered towards experience - Sir Bobby Robson (aged 66 at the time of his appointment), Graeme Souness (51), Glenn Roeder (50) and now Sam Allardyce (52). Newcastle, without a trophy since winning the Fairs Cup in 1969, and Allardyce have come together in a mutual desire for silverware.

'I've had a lot of praise for what I've done [at Bolton], but there's nothing at the end of it,' said Allardyce, who got closest to lifting a trophy with Bolton when beaten in the 2004 League Cup final by Middlesbrough. 'I want silverware, and I'm determined to get it before my days as a manager are over.'

Yet history suggests that a manager starting with a club at a relatively young age, and having time to mature in the job, is more likely to deliver trophies. Four managers have won the Premiership in its short history, ranging in age from 40 to 46 at the time they took control of the winning clubs. Sir Alex Ferguson may have been able to win the Premiership this season at the age of 65, but he started building the foundations for that success upon his appointment at the age of 44.

Only two managers in the past 35 years have won the English league championship after being appointed at a senior age - those two were Bob Paisley (aged 55) and Joe Fagan (62), both of whom emerged from the famed Liverpool 'Boot Room' established under Bill Shankly's astute direction.

Shankly himself was 46 when he was appointed Liverpool manager, and apart from Paisley and Fagan no other league-winning manager in the past 35 years has been aged over 46 at the time of his appointment.

The same is true of other major competitions. The average age (at the time of their appointment) of the past 25 FA Cup-winning managers is just over 40, with only two aged over 46. (Those two were Gerard Houllier, with Liverpool, and Coventry City's John Sillett, 50 and 49 respectively at the time of their appointment).

The average age of the past 25 League Cup-winning managers is higher, at just over 44, but only five of the 25 were aged 50 or over at the time of their appointment - three of them being the aforementioned Paisley, Fagan and Houllier. Even in the Champions League, only two of the 14 successful managers have been aged 50 or over at the time of their appointment - a sequence that will not be broken by next week's final between Liverpool and AC Milan. Rafael Benitez was 44 when he was appointed by Liverpool; Carlo Ancelotti 42 when he took control at Milan.

To bring success back to Newcastle, Allardyce will have to turn those statistics on their head, but there is a widespread view that an experienced hand is what the club needs. Bobby Moncur, the last Newcastle captain to lift silverware for the club, says: 'I don't think age comes into it at all, the most important thing is that you can do the job, and Sam has a proven track record in the Premiership.'

Mick Quinn, a former Newcastle centre forward, concurs. 'Big Sam is everything that Newcastle need,' he says. 'They need a man who can grab the club by the scruff of its neck. He's done a brilliant job at Bolton on limited resources and he deserves the chance at a big club where he will have more money to spend. The only doubt I have is whether he can spend that money wisely.'

According to Paul New, sports editor of the Newcastle Evening Chronicle, going for an experienced disciplinarian has failed before. 'The club went down that route with Graeme Souness,' he said. 'The first priority then was to sort out the dressing room, which he did, but in every other respect he was a complete disaster.

'If you look at the list of recent managers, Newcastle have had some of the biggest names in world football - Bobby Robson, Kenny Dalglish, Ruud Gullit, Graeme Souness - yet none has been successful, and the job has become a poisoned chalice.'

The most successful period in Newcastle's recent history was the Kevin Keegan years in the early to mid-1990s. Keegan had no managerial experience when he took the job, aged 40, yet he brought them back from the brink of extinction to challenge for the Premiership title, though ultimately he failed to win a trophy. The last young manager appointed by Newcastle was Gullit, whose 'sexy football' was a failure, and since then Shepherd has favoured experience.

Other clubs, though, have turned to younger managers. Sunderland, Newcastle's biggest rivals, won promotion back to the Premiership this season under Roy Keane, having his first crack at management at the age of 37, and the progress of Allardyce and Keane will be closely compared next season.

The big challenge now for Allardyce is to start all over again and rebuild Newcastle into a major force. If he can bring a trophy to St James' Park, Big Sam will certainly make a significant mark in the history books.

Age limit

Data shows teams prosper when they hire younger managers

In the past 35 years only Bob Paisley and Joe Fagan led title-winning teams after being appointed when older than 46