Being a good football manager is, obviously, a very difficult and complex job. It requires a heady and mysterious blend of tactical nous, motivational skill, luck, sturdy clothing, a loud voice, excellent pointing technique, a faint air of unforgiving malice, and a bit more luck. And being a really good manager requires all of that, liberal sprinklings of cash, and then some more luck on top.
But the criteria for success should be much simpler: win. Or, more accurately (at club level anyway): 'do enough across a league season to ensure that the club finishes at or around an acceptable level'. The acceptable level, of course, varies from club to club: next season, sixth place would be about right for Liverpool, staggeringly brilliant for Swansea, and would probably lose Roberto Mancini his job. So a good manager is one that regularly performs to expectations, a very good one exceeds them, and an excellent one gets offered a bigger job somewhere else.
All of which makes West Ham's swift appointment of Sam Allardyce look like a good move. Allardyce - leaving aside one spell at Newcastle, on which more later - has consistently done what all managers set out to do, and made his teams better. He gets them more points, and he gets them higher up the table. It's not been a rise as meteoric or as glamorous as some, but the general trend is always upward, and it has been all to quickly forgotten quite how remarkable an achievement it was to finish 8th-6th-8th-7th with Bolton.
Yet for many, Allardyce's name is something of a joke in English football. At least, it's a joke much of the time, until his name is linked with your club. Then it becomes one of those horrible jokes where you don't get the punchline for a second, then you do, then you realise it was aimed at you, and now everyone's laughing at you, even your mother, and so you try to join in to deflect and defuse the laughter but they can sense your weakness, your panic, and this drives them into new paroxysms of vicious joy, their voices a swelling, cackling polyphony, and you want the earth to open and swallow you, and then - yes! - the earth does crack, the ground yawns wide before you, and a moment of hope and freedom and reprieve bursts in your heart, before you hear a rumbling chortle pour forth from the secret, chthonic places of the deep, and you realise even the bowels of the planet have come to void their stinking mirth all over your shoes.
Er ... where was I? Oh, yes, Allardyce. Right.
Partly this is personal: Allardyce is a plain-speaking northerner who's convinced of his own ability, which rubs the sensitivities of all kinds of people up the wrong way. Plus, he's fat, and he once said he thinks he could do a job at Chelsea. Chuckle. (Certainly, no other manager could have inspired the breathtakingly wonderful @TheBig_Sam Twitter feed, which comes with a heavy NSFW warning and a hearty endorsement.) But it's also a more general concern on the part of football fans. A question of identity and value and custodianship. A question of style.
It is a truth universally accepted, of course, that Allardyce plays negative, cynical, ugly football. This is often derided as prehistoric, which sits uncomfortably with Allardyce's known devotion to advances in conditioning, performance tracking, ProZone, and the relentless march of science into sport that makes actual dinosaurs start mumbling about how you can't build a footballer out of numbers and broccoli. Allardyce-by-reputation is perhaps better understood as a practitioner of football realpolitik: a prophet of the direct and straightforward application of power to weakness, though there are two important footnotes to that. The first is that he has generally operated on a limited budget, working with what he's been able to beg, borrow and steal; the second is that, for all the hoof-ups and knock-downs, he did bring the blithe spirit of Jay-Jay Okocha into our moribund lives, for which a small measure of eternal gratitude.
But the problem with playing "bad" football is that you get much less slack: it makes mediocre results worse, and poor results dreadful. At the heart of this disquiet, and what did for Allardyce at Newcastle just as surely as it dogs José Mourinho at Real Madrid, is a fundamental suspicion of pragmatism. Not from managers, who are a results-hungry species, nor from players, who like winning. But from fans. Because fans are romantics; hopeless, idiot romantics.
Ideologically, we can perhaps see an eternal struggle between the pragmatist and the romantic at the heart of football, a deep-seated and universal struggle that finds expression throughout the games history, be it the Argentine struggle between the bilardistas and menottistas, or Mourinho and Guardiola's bunfights. Is it better to play to win, or to win by playing?
This is, obviously, a massive over-simplification, and also takes us into the troubling waters of taste; presumably there are some people who love watching Kevin Davies craning his neck for the flick-on, if only because, in football, whatever you think, somebody somewhere thinks the opposite. And football fans want to win, too, and playing pretty football without winning comes with problems all its own; ask Arsène Wenger, or Juanma Lillo. But pragmatism comes with no consolation, no saving grace; if it doesn't work, then you might as well not exist.
Allardyce's appointment at West Ham is an appointment made on an entirely pragmatic basis, by a club who need a quick return to the Premier League. Yet even in these unusual circumstances, with the club in straitened financial circumstances and in the need of serious repairs to its status, Allardyce has moved to pre-empt those that might be discomfited by his methods, assuring the fans that he will offer more cultured football, at least at home. He knows that he is a good manager, and he's not shy of telling you. He demands respect, and he should probably be given more than he is afforded. What he cannot demand, and may never receive, is love.