Five attempts at leading teams bottom of their leagues at Christmas to survival had seen mixed results, with three successes and two relegations on the card of Big Sam Allardyce. But, in this final edition of our festive Football Manager experiment concluding on Christmas Day, would he wrap up with a 50/50 record or celebrate a slightly more impressive 66% success rate?
Big Sam quit Metz with a rather sour taste in his mouth, then spent six months sunning himself while watching out for potential new teams he may be able to assume control of.
Bottom At Christmas Season 6
Big Sam’s final set of options included one standout team. Hannover were bottom of Bundesliga and 8 points adrift. Huesca were bottom of La Liga but only 3 points from survival. Strasbourg propped up Ligue 1 and Big Sam had no desire to go back to France. And Brescia were last in Serie A and 6 point from safety.
But the standout option saw West Ham propping up the Premier League with 12 points and 4 points from safety with a game in hand. And, interestingly, West Ham was also the final leg in last year’s FM Experiment!
Returning To The Premier League
Despite being bottom of the league more than half the West Ham squad have an average rating of 7.00 or higher, which didn’t make much sense! But West Ham also presented Big Sam’s first opportunity to play European football in the Conference League, which might explain why they were struggling in the league.
The best three players are all current ones in captain Declan Rice, who’s now 28 and has played 361 games for the club, 33-year-old Kurt Zouma and 31-year-old Jarrod Bowen. A strong defence is completed by Josip Sutalo, winger Ismaila Sarr already has 12 goals, and wonderkids Rhys Owen and Dragutin Budisa are players to build around. The squad as a whole is solid, including Sven Botman, Mitchel Bakker, Tariq Lamptey, Lucas Paquetá, Maxence Caqueret and Lukas Nmecha.
Despite the positives, there was plenty of room for improvement. Big Sam wasted no time in selling Dominic Solanke to Wolves for £20.5m, Tomas Soucek to Ajax for £14m, Héctor Bellerín to Ajax for £9m and Eric Dier to Barcelona for £2m to create a transfer kitty of £59m. His first move was to bring in Serge Gnabry, now 32, for £12.5m from Bayern. The biggest area of concern was in goal with Matt Turner the number 1 and, after struggling to find a replacement, Ugurcan Cakir arrived from Spurs for £10m. He also loaned in right-back Ridle Baku and wonderkid utility man Hakob Arzumanyan from Liverpool.
Big Sam thought he was done there but an interesting rumour caught his eye linking West Ham with a player who was out of contract in the summer. He followed it up with a cheeky bid to the club bottom of the Premier League and managed to negotiate a stunning Deadline Day deal. And, ridiculously, Harry Kane joined West Ham for £29.5m rising to £50m. He struggled in a woeful Spurs team, scoring just 4 in 23 this season and 9 in 34 last season, but Big Sam was sure he could get the best out of the striker.
The best fit for the players available seemed to be a 4-3-3 with Rice slotting into the holding role and Kane the main man up top with Bowen and Sarr occupying the wings.
Leading A Hammers Revival
Big Sam’s first game at the Hammers came the day after his appointment at home to Aston Villa. He started off with a cautious approach, which worked as Bowen scored the only goal. They were back in action 2 days later at Leicester and a rotated side won again with goals from Bellerín and Paquetá to climb out of the relegation zone on goal difference.
The games came thick and fast with two more home games in the first 5 days of 2028. The strong start continued on New Year’s Day as Budisa created the only goal for Nmecha to earn a deserved 1-0 win over 4th-place Chelsea then scored and created 2 more for Nmecha in a 4-0 hammering of Wolves. West Ham were suddenly up to 12th and 5 points clear of the drop zone.
They moved into the top half for the first time all season as Caqueret’s screamer was the only goal at 12th-place Palace, in a game the Hammers dominated 15 shots to 4. But the dream start ended with a 1-0 defeat at home to Everton before losing 2-0 at 4th-place Villa and 1-0 at 3rd-place Arsenal.
They got back on track with a 1-0 win at Wolves then Kane marked his full debut in style as he bagged a hat-trick in a 3-0 victory at Burnley, which brought his 18-hour goal drought at Spurs to an end. And he repeated the feat with all three goals in a 3-1 win at struggling Brighton, which moved West Ham into the top half and 13 points clear of relegation with 10 games to go. Kane finally made his home debut in mid-March and celebrated by scoring braces in his first 2 as West Ham defeated Forest and Sheff United 3-0. They got hammered at Liverpool but responded in style by thumping Man City 4-0 led by a late Paquetá brace!
A congested season conclusion included 2 games in 3 days at home to Bournemouth and Man UFC, 4 league games in 11 days and 5 in 11 in all competitions. Kane scored in both the home games, including beating Man UFC 3-1 in which Bowen scored his first goal under Big Sam, then in a win at Southampton before a rotated side lost at Leeds.
And that defeat was crucial in a thrilling relegation battle as it kept Leeds up. But, more importantly, West Ham and a rested-up Kane had a chance to relegate Tottenham on the final day.
They did their bit as Mads Bidstrup and Kane scored in a 2-0 victory. And elsewhere, Forest won – which relegated Spurs to the Championship! West Ham, meanwhile, recorded an impressive 9th-place finish, ending the season on 58 points as Big Sam racked up 40 points in his 21 games in charge. Kane scored 14 in 11 league games and finished 2nd only to Haaland as the league’s top scorer with 18 to Haaland’s 28. While Owen won Players’ Young Player of the Year.
Conference League Knockouts
Big Sam’s first match in Europe saw a trip to Turkey to face Konyaspor and Kane scored twice in the first 8 minutes to set up a 5-2 victory. And a fully rotated side drew 2-2 at home to progress with ease. That teed up a quarter-final with Osijek and Sarr, Paquetá and Kane goals sealed a 3-0 home win then a rotated side won 2-0 away.
West Ham’s semi-final opponent was Danish side OB with Wolfsburg and Getafe facing off in the other. A Kane penalty earned a 1-1 in the first leg in Denmark then an exhausted and rotated side absolutely dominated at home to win 4-1 with Bowen and Kane scoring late off the bench. So West Ham were into the Conference League Final!
Fittingly, this year’s Bottom At Christmas experiment concludes with the series’ first final as West Ham took on Wolfsburg in Germany at Dortmund’s stadium. West Ham came out and dominated from the off but only made it count as Bowen scored on 53 minutes, only for Reiss Nelson to immediately equalise. That took it to extra-time and the Hammers eventually got their reward as Paquetá bagged the winner in the 116th minute. And West Ham won the Conference League for the 3rd time in 6 seasons, setting a new record of 36 games unbeaten in the competition! Elsewhere, Wolves won the Europa League
This was a superb way to end this FM Experiment series, with silverware and easily the best squad that we’ve seen throughout this short series. Kane led the way with 19 goals in 17 games followed by Sarr (15), Nmecha (13), Bowen (9) and Paquetá (8) and the ridiculous signing was definitely a fun way to conclude this series!
Thanks for reading this Bottom At Christmas experiment, and we may bring it back for a third installment for FM24!