As often as the media is earnestly telling us how poorly managers are treated, how their positions are made untenable by untrusting owners and fickle fans, how their sackings are both untimely and unjust, there are some managers who they simply cannot resist taking a swipe at, none more so than West Ham United's Sam Allardyce.
A bit of background for the uninitiated: as a Bolton Wanderers fan, I no doubt have a large vested interest in upholding the man's legacy. He guided us through one of the most successful periods in our history, qualifying us for European competition for the first time and setting the record for most consecutive seasons spent pissing off Arsène Wenger, all on a budget dwarfed by most other Premier League teams. It was a glorious time.
Since then, 'Big Sam' (or 'Fat Sam', depending on who you're talking to) has lived a varied existence, being first sacked at Newcastle after a slow start (ultimately, none of his four successors managed to better his record, as the Toon were relegated the following season). He was then forced out of his next job at Blackburn by the now-infamous Venky regime (who allegedly didn't realise relegation was a possibility when they got shot of Allardyce - they assumed the Premier League was a franchise system like that employed in American sport) before settling at West Ham, guiding them back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, and this season keeping them clear of the relegation mire, despite a poor run of form of late.
Another manager with such a resume could expect to command a strong degree of respect from fans and pundits alike. However, Allardyce is repeatedly portrayed by both parties as a laughing stock, a neanderthal northerner in a world of suave, sophisticated managers such as Spurs boss André Villas Boas.
There are several key reasons for this; chief among them is his steadfast refusal to court the media. From his spell refusing to talk to the BBC to the no nonsense demeanour he has carried over from his playing days as a hard nosed centre half, he gives off the impression that he doesn't care what the media thinks of him, which apparently makes him fair game for even the most bitter, petty jibes.
Comparing Allardyce with one of his contemporaries, QPR manager Harry Redknapp, brings into focus just how much a bit of pandering can do for a manager's media profile. On the face of it, they are largely similar; both relatively "old school", both English, and both have managed West Ham, and yet their respective images in the media are poles apart. Allardyce, as previously mentioned, is derided as little more than a thug with archaic views on how to play the game. Redknapp, on the other hand, can seemingly do no wrong; despite his legal troubles, the implosion of his Spurs side last season, and most damningly his pivotal role in the complete financial meltdown at Portsmouth, Redknapp is still portrayed as a loveable scamp, a good old boy from London's East End come good. The praise lavished upon him for finally winning some silverware with Pompey in the FA Cup would be completely unimaginable if it was Allardyce in his place.
The other key reason for Allardyce's consistent pillaring in the press - and also the main stick used to beat him with - is the 'brand' of football produced by his sides (ably demonstrated here by the Daily Mail). It would take all day to list the various descriptions levelled at his playing style - 'ugly', 'thuggery', 'rugby' are all fairly commonplace - the bottom line is the media has decided that 'long ball' or whatever you want to call it is the wrong way to play, unsportingly exploiting some loophole in the game's laws and thus rendering everything achieved with it moot.
Once again, convenient over generalising and hypocrisy abounds. Allardyce's teams purport a type of football that may not be as pleasing to the eye as that of Barcelona or Arsenal, but it has consistently proven successful, and for the fans of his teams, that's by far the most important thing (how many Arsenal fans wouldn't sacrifice a bit of their trademark passing game in exchange for bringing the title to the Emirates?). Ironically, during his time at Bolton, Allardyce actually pioneered many sports-science techniques now used commonly across the top clubs, as well as attracting some of the most creative, elegant players of their generation to the club - Jay-Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff, and Nicolas Anelka to name a few. Hardly the hallmarks of the prehistoric relic that he's often made out to be.
Since the turn of the year, both managers of the other two newly promoted clubs, Nigel Adkins (Southampton) and Brian McDermott (Reading) have lost their jobs, sparking as close to an outpouring of grief as you're ever likely to get from football journalists and fans of other clubs. On the flip side, there's a palpable disappointment that Sam is once again working his magic and steering his team clear of trouble, with the papers jumping on every possible indication that his job may be in jeopardy with veritable glee. As much as the media would like to, there's no denying that the moniker 'Big Sam' doesn't do justice to his sizeable achievements, achievements that deserve far more respect than they're given.