'Unless I become the worst ever ...'


The then Blackburn Rovers manager Sam Allardyce takes to the pitch before the Premier League match against Stoke City at Ewood Park, Blackburn, on Dec 20, 2008. Andrew Yates / Agence France-Press

LONDON - West Ham manager Sam Allardyce admits he is under pressure to secure an immediate return to the Premier League as he prepares for the most fascinating Championship campaign in years.

The action in English soccer's second tier kicks off on Friday when Hull host Blackpool and a full program follows on Saturday before Allardyce's team takes on promotion rival Cardiff on Sunday.

That fixture should set the tone for an enthralling season and Allardyce knows only promotion will satisfy co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold after the agony of relegation.

Sullivan and Gold - nursing concerns over the club's 80 million pounds ($130.8 million) debts - can take comfort from the widespread view that Allardyce is the ideal man to restore West Ham to the Premier League. His no-nonsense style will erase memories of the feckless Avram Grant era and Allardyce has his own incentive to return to the big time after acrimonious departures from Blackburn and Newcastle in recent years.

"We want to go up automatically," Allardyce said. "And if we don't quite achieve that goal, then we are going to be left in the playoffs, at the very least, unless I become the worst manager ever overnight and the players become the worst there has ever been."

To achieve that goal, Allardyce has signed Kevin Nolan, Matt Taylor and Abdoulaye Faye - battle-hardened pros who won't shirk their responsiblities whatever the situation - and it would be little surprise to see the Hammers on top of the pile come May.

If West Ham stumble, there will be no shortage of candidates to leapfrog them in what should be a fiercely contested race for those three lucrative spots among the elite.

Leicester, managed by former England coach Sven Goran Eriksson, has embarked on the Championship's biggest close-season spending spree and the club's Thai owners expect a significant return on their 8.5 million pounds ($13.9 million) investment in nine new players.

Eriksson has added the likes of Paul Konchesky, David Nugent, Matthew Mills, John Pantsil and Kasper Schmeichel to an already solid squad and that should make Leicester strong contenders for a top two finish.

"They (the owners) want to take Leicester City up to the Premier League and they want to stay there," Eriksson said. "We have a big squad so I am very positive. We all know what it is about - we want to be promoted."

Agence France-Pressep