It’s half time in England’s 3rd last World Cup qualifying group game and they are 0-2 down to Slovakia at Wembley. It’s a game they need to win to rescue any chance of making the Finals in Russia. England’s players stare at the floor as Sam Allardyce tears them to shreds. His face shines a brilliant shade of Buckfast purple as he flings a magnetic tactics board (still in its original plastic wrapping) against the dressing room wall.
“What part of get up-em, do you lot not understand?!” he screams. “Now get back out there, hit big Andy early and pick up those bits and pieces.“
Upstairs, the journos are rattling away on keyboards, trying to out-do each other with headlines for tomorrow’s back pages. “Big Sham” is the winner so far. One tabloid’s “F*ck off you fat b*astard” suggestion wins the award for subtlety.
FA Executives exchange knowing looks. He is a goner.
First Brexit and now this. Talk about kicking a country when it’s down. As a footballing nation, England is on its knees. They are in dire need of an enormous positive pick me up – but instead they could be getting Sam Allardyce, a candidate from the deepest depths of underwhelming potential appointments.
Another shocking performance at an international tournament is being followed by another managerial swticharoo. Things have moved past deja-vu and in to formulaic ritual with the England national team. Fail – apportion blame – hire the wrong manager – repeat ad nauseum.
Now it looks as though it will be Sam Allardyce’s turn to have a bash at a job he is completely unsuited to, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Instead of modestly assessing his own skillset and appreciating the sort of scenarios his methods do and don’t work in, Big Sam is ready to jump in with both feet. He should be running a mile in the opposite direction, but he has never been short of self-confidence:
“I don’t think there is any coach more sophisticated than me any more, that’s not trying to criticise any other coaches. But there is only Arsene Wenger who has done it longer than me. I’m just as good as everybody at this stage.” he once said.
“It rankles with me at times that I have to remind people what I have done. You have to accept it for what it is. If you start talking about it too much, you just get labelled big-headed, people go ‘He’s blowing his own trumpet again, what’s he on about this time?’ but if no one else is going to talk about it, you have to talk about it. You have to fight your own corner.”
Strong words from a man sacked from 3 of his last 4 club appointments. Newcastle, Blackburn and West Ham didn’t appreciate his genius it seems.
It would be churlish to fail to appreciate that Allardyce can be a good manager in certain situations. He could be classed as a “specialist” in many ways. If your club is struggling and in danger of relegation, then Sam is an ideal appointment. He can guarantee you defensive organisation and prolific set piece utilization – two huge assets to teams low on overall quality.
And maybe that’s the kind of idea being thrown around the headquarters at the English FA. They might be drowning in negativity post Euro 2016 and are resigning themselves to mediocrity. A “We’re crap, so let’s hire a guy who can organise crap teams” kind of thing.
They are half right, England do need a manager who is capable of organising a team defensively, but they also need someone capable of tactical innovation and instruction in the attacking third of the pitch, maybe even more so. If you look at the balance of England’s current squad, all their potential is in attack. Kane, Sturridge, Rashford, Welbeck, Sterling, Alli, Barkley….say what you like about the English hype-machine and their overrating of players, but that’s an exciting set of attacking players to try to sculpt a team around.
If young players need inspiration as well is instruction, then having them work under Allardyce at national level, while working for Mourinho, Klopp, Guardiola, Wenger et al at club level would be counterproductive to say the very least. Of course I’m not privy to training sessions under each individual coach, but I don’t think it would be a stretch to say there might be a difference or two between their methods and Big Sam’s. If a sizeable chunk of England fans reacted with dismay at the news of Allardyce’s England interview, you can be sure that the majority of their current players did too.
If you questioned Allardyce’s ability to get the best out of technical footballers, he would certainly have his protestations. He once said:
“The lingering long-ball sh*t, the old style, all that rubbish that’s never been me and never been a part of what I am.”
Read that quote to most West Ham fans and they’ll laugh. Their banners reading “Fat Sam Out, killing WHU” , unfurled during Allardyce’s final few months in London were testament to their frustrations at Sam’s direct, no frills style of play.
Sam also said “All this tippy tappy stuff people keep going on about, the right way to play football is all a load of bollox sometimes.” Which would be a more apt, if contradictory reflection of his footballing philosophy compared to the quote above.
The whole idea of appointing Allardyce to try to resurrect England’s fortunes seems bizarre to everyone but the select few making the actual decision. Finding a way to unlock England’s attacking potential is the key to any possible future success but it seems as though the English FA are seeking salvation in 70 yard diagonals instead of their rising stars.