Sam Allardyce has moved up in the world... from a Portakabin office at West Ham to Sunderland's state-of-the-art training centre

Sam Allardyce will enjoy state-of-the-art surroundings after being appointed the new manager of Sunderland
  • Sam Allardyce has been appointed as the new Sunderland manager
  • 'Big Sam' will enjoy state-of-the-art facilities at Black Cats' training ground
  • Academy of Light was opened in 2003 at a construction cost of over £10m 
  • Allardyce worked out of a small Portakabin during his spell with West Ham
  • Former Bolton boss has revealed he enjoyed winding up Arsene Wenger 

When he sets to work at Sunderland this week, Sam Allardyce undoubtedly finds himself facing one of the biggest challenges of his long career. The squad of players that he inherits from Dick Advocaat have looked unfit for purpose for some time.

In terms of the facilities at his disposal, however, Allardyce will want for nothing at his new club's training centre and that is something that will come as a welcome change after four years at West Ham's rather rudimentary set-up in Essex.

Anybody who has ever been to Chadwell Heath will tell you of its charm. Situated on the edge of a housing estate, it's certainly a throwback. Visiting Allardyce there a couple of seasons ago, however, I was astonished to find one of the Barclays Premier League's most respected and time-served managers conducting his business in a Portakabin that served as his office.

Sam Allardyce will enjoy state-of-the-art surroundings after being appointed the new manager of Sunderland

Sunderland's Academy of Light training ground was opened in 2003 at a cost of over £10 million

Sunderland's Academy of Light training ground was opened in 2003 at a cost of over £10 million

Allardyce was forced to work out of far more Spartan surroundings during his time at West Ham

Allardyce was forced to work out of far more Spartan surroundings during his time at West Ham

 By contrast, Allardyce looks more happy in his Sunderland office - although he hasn't changed his printer!

 By contrast, Allardyce looks more happy in his Sunderland office - although he hasn't changed his printer!

Allardyce has replaced Dick Advocaat and has been tasked with saving the bottom of the table Black Cats

Allardyce, typically, just laughed when I mentioned his rather Spartan surroundings.

'It doesn't matter what your office looks like,' he said.

'It's what you do in it that matters.'

Some will argue that Allardyce's work at West Ham was never fully appreciated. One promotion from the Championship and then two top flight finishes of 13th and 12th represented a reasonable return on the faith paid in his my David Gold and David Sullivan.

That, however, is an argument for another day. What is beyond conjecture is the fact that Allardyce will have everything he needs at Sunderland's training centre situated just beyond the village of East Boldon in the north-east.

Sunderland players want for nothing from the modern facilities available to them at the Academy of Light

Sunderland players want for nothing from the modern facilities available to them at the Academy of Light

The training base also acts as a rehabilitation centre with one of the biggest gyms in the Premier League

The training base also acts as a rehabilitation centre with one of the biggest gyms in the Premier League

Sunderland defender Wes Brown is examined by the club's medical staff during pre-season

Sunderland defender Wes Brown is examined by the club's medical staff during pre-season

SUNDERLAND'S ACADEMY OF LIGHT FACILITIES 

  • Media lounge, including a television studio and working press area
  • Academy library, games room and classrooms for the under-18 players
  • Open-plan office space for coaching and administration staff
  • A full refectory serving a wide range of food
  • Players’ entrance and dressing rooms for senior, reserve and Academy players
  • Fully-featured gym and weights room with the latest equipment
  • Hydrotherapy area including swimming pool
  • Treatment area with doctors’ rooms and physiotherapy areas for players at all levels
  • Indoor warm-up room with artificial turf
  • The site has room for between 12 and 18 pitches, depending on the sizes they are marked out to.
  • One of those pitches is an exact replica of the playing surface at the Stadium of Light
  • Built in 2001 and opened in 2003 - at a construction cost of over £10 million 
First team players (above) mix with academy players at the ground to aid the youngster's future development

First team players (above) mix with academy players at the ground to aid the youngster's future development

Sunderland players make use of some of the gyms latest training facilities during pre-season

Sunderland players make use of some of the gyms latest training facilities during pre-season

Jack Rodwell poses in the halls of the Academy of Light after signing for the Black Cats in 2014

Jack Rodwell poses in the halls of the Academy of Light after signing for the Black Cats in 2014

Opened in 2003, the Academy of Light is situated in 220 acres of land and houses both the first team and the club's academy players.

There, Allardyce will find his spacious, air-conditioned office situated next to that of the club's sporting director Lee Congerton. Let's hope they get on.

In terms of his players, meanwhile, Sunderland's first team pool want for nothing day in, day out. On a recent visit, I was astonished to see the size of the first team dressing room. Think of your average school assembly hall and you just about have it. There will be Premier League stadia, never mind training grounds, that do not offer facilities like this, even on a match day.

In terms of the players' well-being, Sunderland's stars have a first team lounge equipped with the perquisite table tennis table, leather sofas and huge TVs and a plush canteen that is used on rotation by senior players and the academy youngsters. 

'Big Sam' has become the first person to manage both Newcastle and their fierce North East-rivals

'Big Sam' has become the first person to manage both Newcastle and their fierce North East-rivals

The door to the manager's Portakabin office at West Ham is jokingly titled 'Signor Sam Allardici'

The door to the manager's Portakabin office at West Ham is jokingly titled 'Signor Sam Allardici'

The 60 year old spent four years at Upton Park but was never really appreciated by the club's fans

The 60 year old spent four years at Upton Park but was never really appreciated by the club's fans

At the facility, the first team essentially occupy one end of the building and the academy players the other. Some clubs in the Barclays Premier League like to use this one-site model to encourage the players to mix, thus making sure the youngsters are not overawed if and when they are asked to join the first team.

Other clubs, meanwhile, like to keep the two groups on separate sites, the theory being that academy lads have to earn the right to mix with the senior pros.

The Academy of Lights acts as a rehab centre, too. The gym is one of the largest I have ever seen at a Premier League training ground while the complex has three swimming pools sitting side by side, each set with a different water temperature and current strength. These can be used to aid the recovery of muscle injuries of varying grades.

Allardyce dines at a Pie and Mash shop in east London, but can will enjoy a plush canteen on Wearside

Allardyce dines at a Pie and Mash shop in east London, but can will enjoy a plush canteen on Wearside

Allardyce takes a training session at Bolton's threadbare Euxton training ground in 2004

Allardyce takes a training session at Bolton's threadbare Euxton training ground in 2004

In terms of the actual football, Allardyce will find he has about a dozen training pitches to choose from as he looks to find a way of dragging Sunderland out of a winless run that currently sees them stuck fast at the very foot of the Premier League.

Always one for innovation and technology, Allardyce will be at home immediately at Sunderland. Certainly it's a far cry from his early days in the Premier League at Bolton where his players used to share their Euxton training base with the OAPs who also used the facility as a social club.

It was not uncommon at Bolton to see players like Kevin Davies and Jay-Jay Okocha taking their lunch plates back to be washed just as the senior citizens were shuffling in.

Bolton still reached a League Cup final and frightened people at the top end of the Premier League, mind. As Allardyce settles in up on Wearside a few weeks outside of the bottom three would suffice.

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By Shane Walker 10/13/2015 09:06:00
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