Analysing Richard Keys’ strange obsession with Sam Allardyce

With Leeds staring relegation from the Premier League directly in the face, they’ve hit the Big Sam Button. No, really. In 2023.

In the words of Eric Bischoff’s theme music, he’s back and better than ever. Does he still have the knack for making things better, though? We’ll see in approximately four games’ time if Leeds are still a top-flight club.

One person who doesn’t need to see how those four games play out to cast judgement on Sam Allardyce, though, is Richard Keys.

You remember him, right? Author of the world-famous Richard Keys blog, extremely highly regarded sports broadcaster and pundit for beIN Sports.

Not ringing any bells? Fine. The one that left Sky Sports and has become increasingly gammon ever since, spouting his strange views on all things football despite nobody really asking him to anymore.

But while Keys has picked up a reputation for his often brash and negative analysis of most things we love in the beautiful game, one person that seems to tip him the other way is Allardyce. Keysey just loves him. And it’s really weird.

Not in the happy-go-lucky sense that most football fans do, appreciative of his cult hero status within the Premier League as a slightly outdated manager who used to be able to get the job done when the going got tough at the bottom end. No, much weirder.

Keys’ feelings towards Big Sam appear to go a little further than just appreciation for his slightly humorous cult hero status.

And with the England manager who boasts the best win rate of all-time – that is an undisputed fact – back in the Barclays at Elland Road, now is as good a time as ever to take a deep dive into Keys’ love affair with Big Sam.

Welcoming him back to the Premier League

As mentioned, Keys was very keen to wish Allardyce well amid his impending return to the touchline, in the form of a tweet.

Here’s a thought, Rich. If you were on close enough terms with Allardyce that you could refer to him as ‘big man’ surely you’d be texting him instead of showing off to your Twitter following?

Nice use of emojis, too. Very subtle. Adds to his excellently witty tenor.

What stands out here is not just his love for Allardyce, though, but his strange affinity for the ‘dinosaurs’, referring to the game’s older managers who have naturally phased out as football has progressed.

For some strange reason, Keys – who was never a manager in the first place – doesn’t seem to want to accept that. Odd.

Pep Guardiola’s new defensive coach

It appears Keys’ affinity for Allardyce’s strong, defensive style goes back in time. So much so, that he had some advice for Pep Guardiola.

You’ll not see a better clip all day. You’ve been warned.

No, you’re not in a fever dream. Andy Gray and Richard Keys, in the flesh, shooting the ship on how Guardiola could’ve improved City’s defence in 2020, after they drew 1-1 with Leeds.

Sounds like a recipe for disaster, because it is. Keys suggests that Guardiola should bring in Big Sam for some pointers on how to set up his team out of possession.

You know, quite possibly the greatest manager of all time, who has won everywhere he’s gone and influenced the modern game to no end in re-introducing concepts of total football and possession-based philosophies from yesteryear.

There is a part of Guardiola that unironically will have learned from the old-school type British manager upon arriving in England, as the very best in the game will learn from others.

But you know full well that Keys is being serious when he thinks Guardiola ought to genuinely sit down and take notes from Big Sam, pint in one hand, pie in the other.

Perhaps this was just him projecting his own fantasies.

Big Sam’s agent

Earlier that year, Keys was trying to land Allardyce a job on the south coast with Bournemouth, as The Cherries found themselves in hot water.

Best friend, super-fan, agent. Strange.

Ahead of the curve

Alright, we’ve had our fun. It’s time to hold our hands up and admit it – Keysey is a visionary.

Following the dismissal of Marcelo Bielsa, he was straight onto beIN SPORTS to tell the world of his grand idea to keep Leeds safe. You guessed it; starts with Sam and ends with Allardyce.

We can only imagine the internal angst and outrage it caused him after American coach Jesse Marsch was appointed instead.

Fair play to him though – ahead of the curve after all. Or just a bit obsessed.

Agent Keys – again

After Burnley parted ways with Sean Dyche in 2022, Keysey of course had to weigh in with his opinion on who might be able to save them from Premier League relegation. No prizes for guessing whose name popped up.

He tweeted: “There’s probably too few games left for Sam to take it – but what a double whammy incentive he’d have – keep Burnley up and send Everton down. It would make for a fascinating finish.”

Didn’t expect that. The Clarets went down, too, unable to avoid the drop. But imagine they had appointed Allardyce and stayed up, and Vincent Kompany never headed to Turf Moor. That butterfly effect is scary

Keys invites Allardyce to his humble abode

In a time before COVID, Keys and Allardyce actually shared the studio.

It’s 2018 and Big Sam is fresh off the Everton dismissal. Keys put on his serious journalist hat and gets to work.

Lying about Big Sam’s CV

Following a roundtable discussion on what it takes to be a relegation expert on beIN SPORTS, Keys weighed in on Twitter to provide further backing for his special friend – presumably not aware of Allardyce’s relegation with Notts County in the late 90s.

Euro 2020 gripes

Even when discussing Gareth Southgate’s potential EURO 2020 misery on his blog back in the summer of 2021, Keys somehow managed to bring it back around to Allardyce.

Arguing the point that Southgate would have failed as England manager if he didn’t lift the trophy, Keys wrote: “Southgate and England have got it all on against Germany and to be honest, I haven’t seen anything at this tournament to make me believe that they can win the game.

“Two scratchy 1-0 wins v Croatia and the Czechs – and the goalless draw against Scotland – haven’t filled me with optimism.”

England won 2-0.

He later said: “It’s just that I like to see my football played like Italy under Mancini – and Liverpool in the PL. England’s lack of creativity is a recurring theme. It’s a huge reason as to why Harry Kane has struggled at these Euro’s and why Phil Foden looks nothing like the player that wears a Manchester City jersey.

“And this from the new ‘golden generation’ – who we were promised would sweep teams away – playing on the front foot. There’s been no sign of that.”

It appears he’s now a fan of total football and everything that comes with it. Does that mean he’d finally gotten over his love for Allardyce? Of course not.

So the reliance on set-pieces is obvious. Heaven forbid. Imagine Sam Allardyce spending as much time on the subject as Southgate has recently,” he later wrote, adding: “Mount starts if Covid protocols allow and so does Foden – which means Grealish doesn’t.

“Again – could you imagine the outcry if Allardyce were in charge and he named a team without the country’s most creative talent in it? Perceptions you see. Perceptions.”

Confused here, Keysey? Do you want Allardyce to move away from the formulas that have made him so ‘successful’ in your eyes, or should he slap an aptly-named ‘Big Sam-ball’ patent on it and stop other managers from using it? After all, if he is such a visionary, others should surely follow.

Who knows. England would go on to lose in the final, though, which we are absolutely, definitely, positively sure would not have been the case if Allardyce was never sacked and instead remained in charge – because they’d have likely never gotten that far in the first place.

Decade-long love affair

A visionary in the eyes of some (very few), borderline obsessive in the eyes of others, you’ve got to respect Keys’ undying admiration of Allardyce.

Here he is back in 2011, listing him among quite an astounding list of – in his words – ‘All Englisjh’ list of potential Three Lions managers.

One can only assume that Southgate declined to come and shoot the ship on beIN SPORTS once upon a time, hence why Keysey is no longer so keen on the man.

Je m’appelle Big Sam

Amid some healthy tactical debate following a France game at EURO 2020, the panel are discussing France’s tactics of opting for a more vertical, long-ball approach and trying to analyse how effective it was.

Right in the middle of that debate, Keys interjects with his thoughts: “If Big Sam’s teams do that [play long] then he’s a dinosaur!”

He becomes rather upset when the others try to dispute that Didier Deschamps’ outfit are not directly inspired by Big Sam-ball. If that’s not love, we don’t know what is.

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