A few months ago, the nation heralded the arrival of a saviour. The man to save a nation’s blues and take them to skies of glory. That man, was Sam Allardyce, the newest England football manager. He is now known as the England manager with the shortest reign – one game – 90 whole minutes as the national manager and a lifetime of disgrace and disappointment after he was caught in a sting by the Telegraph. Upon his appointment, I wrote this: read it, make of it what you will and then read what I think now about the Big Disappointment:
Jose Mourinho was “the Special one” and later “the Happy One.” Jürgen Klopp was “the Normal One.” Anyone who watched England’s newest manager’s unveiling could tell that Sam Allardyce is “the Excited One.” The 61-year-old isn’t everybody’s first choice, but he clearly is one of the most passionate candidates for the job as he went on to claim that there is “no bigger job than this for me.”
To have a passionate manager is one thing. But to have someone who is extremely experienced and has managed five different teams in the premier league – teams, which Sam has helped them, avoid relegation and turned some into top 10 challengers. With Guardiola at City, Mourinho at Manchester United and Wenger still sat atop his dusty Arsenal throne, the FA weren’t exactly spoilt for choice when it came to top quality managers to choose from.
Reports that Eddie Howe was linked with the job seemed farcical, as despite the wonder job he’s done at Bournemouth, he’s too inexperienced to hold the highest job in the land. Steve Bruce was rumoured to have had an informal interview for the position however, this was assuming the FA’s attempts to throw the media off the scent.
Big Sam was the obvious English candidate and when the competition is Jürgen Klinsmann, a man who’s managed the national team of the USA for a number of years – you give the job to the man who’s saved teams in the most competitive league in the world.
The phrase ‘Poison Chalice’ is often thrown around certain teams. Be it the managerial merry-go-round that is Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea; the ever chopping and changing going on at Sunderland or the 43 managers hired and fired by former Cagliari and now Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino.
But in terms of International management, the England job is the biggest one. With new managers carrying the weight of the ghosts of the 1966 World Cup triumph bearing down on you, young and exciting players that are hyped up by the press only to be dragged down and destroyed by the newspaper columns that initially praised them and a trigger happy FA that’ll back you till the hills and then fire you at any given opportunity.
Big Sam claims that he “fits the chair,” in his first press conference going onto add “It’s not a poison chalice for me. I’m here because I want to be here.”
“My style of play is something I can’t seem to shake.” This is how Big Sam responded to a media question about whether England would adopted a long ball system often used by some of Big Sam’s teams. Its ugly football but it gets the job done. Allardyce knows that results come from how many goals you score and not how big your possession is.
England under Roy Hodgson was boring. A 1-1 draw with Russia. A 0-0 draw with Slovakia. And of course, THAT 2-1 loss at the hands of minnows Iceland. The 68 year old’s win rate at a major tournament with England was 27.3%. Often Sam’s predecessor’s style of Tiki-taka was considered boring by England fans and pundits alike. There is nothing wrong with hoofing the ball up field to a big striker who’ll actually score you goals. That’s why pragmatic Sam Allardyce had Andy Carroll at West Ham. Or Roque Santa Cruz at Blackburn. Or Nicolas Anelka at Bolton.
At Bolton, Big Sam had the likes of Jay-Jay Okocha and Yuri Djorkaeff. Attacking players. Skillful Players. Not typical long ball players. The England job is Big Sam’s first ‘fashionable club.’ The pressure will shift from ‘not to get beaten’ like at his smaller clubs but to ‘beat other teams’ as England Manager.
Sometimes you have to make a system where below-par stars can beat world-beaters.
Leicester took a similar sort of long balls system used by Sam, and turned the premier league on its head by winning week in week out. It’s about doing what’s best for your team and Sam knows how to manage individuals as well as a team. He himself said that his biggest asset is his “man-management skills.”
Sam doesn’t need to implement radical changes as England manager. But undoubtedly, the tough talking England manager will be ruthless if players do not deliver the goods. He’s already talked about bringing in his own special sports psychologists that he’s used at his other clubs to make sure that the Three Lions don’t freeze on the big stage again. “Lets get started from day one and put the past to bed,” is what he insisted will happen.
One change Big Sam needs to deal with is the behaviour of Joe Hart. The City Shot stopper pumps himself up in the tunnel before a game, screaming and shouting. During games he can be heard barking out random messages to his defenders and smacking his head after conceding a goal.
Sam himself is no stranger to odd antics on and off the field like laughing hysterically in the face of Swansea’s Chico Flores after he dived in front of the then West Ham manager.
But he needs to calm Hart down who had a lot of potential and has pulled off some stellar saves for City over the years but with the emergence of Fraser Forster and Jack Butland, Hart needs to keep his cool under Sam or risk losing his place and Allardyce is the man to help Hart channel his aggression into his goalkeeping.
Sam may not have been the FA’s top choice as many of the world’s quality managers all have secure jobs. But Big Sam had one of the best references in world football – Sir Alex Ferguson. Fergie himself backed Big Sam ten years ago when Sven left the England job. Sadly, it came to no avail but it has clearly worked this time.
To have a managerial powerhouse like Fergie back your bid to become the most powerful manager in all of England is a clear indication that Sam is the right man for the job. He hasn’t had any previous international managerial experience.
But the man has managed in the premier league for many years and is a hard-hitting man who says it like it is and that’s very respected by players. Sam himself said in his autobiography, “If a player came walking into the dressing room talking away on his phone, I’d take it off him and throw it in the bin, even if it was Wayne Rooney.”
This is a man who in his first interview as England manager on FA TV, couldn’t contain his excited by smiling and laughing and in his first press conference nearly shed a tear. To have such emotion in football is often unheard of. Managers are bland, monotonous people who never take responsibility and often churn out cliché after cliché after cliché. Sam clearly wants this job. The man himself said he wants to come into the England job and “create some team spirit and have some fun.”
Compare that with Fabio Capello or Sven-Goran Eriksson. Two foreign managers who clearly didn’t care as much as an Englishman would. There are some top class foreign managers out there who could turn England into world-beaters like Del Bosque, Mancini or Klopp. But what makes someone like Sam Allardyce the perfect fit for the England job is that he’s English. There is no greater honour in English football than to be England manager. Even his former employer, Karen Brady at West Ham said “if Sam Allardyce was the manager of Manchester United and the England job came along, he would take it without hesitation.”
No club is bigger than the national team. Being a national team manager isn’t about winning everything because that’s a difficult task to perform. It’s about following the Wales model at the recent Euros – to go into a tournament and not expect to do well, and have fun at the same time.
Wales got an open top bus parade around Cardiff not because they won the tournament but because they surpassed expectations and made the nation feel good again. England’s return from the Euros was a disparaging shuffle back to reality. The Premier League may be booming with its bottomless pit of money but for England, a combination of large influxes of foreign players and inflated prices on young talented English players highlights the destitute English football finds itself in. Sam Allardyce may not have Champions league football experience or hasn’t ever managed a ‘fashionable club.’ But his blend of Charisma, man-management and love for what he does shows that he’s not so bad after all. The man who calls himself a “footballing pragmatist” rules the roost in English football.
You already have the Special One, The Happy One and the Normal One. But this Black Country boy doesn’t have a title – “I don’t call myself anything, I’m Sam Allardyce, manager of England.”
Now Sam finds himself languishing in the bottom half of the table with Crystal Palace. One of the most inconsistent teams in the Premier League. They had the most losses in 2016, an underperforming roster of talented stars and they now have a disgraced manager who really shouldn’t be there. Not because he is better than Palace, but because Big Sam shouldn’t be allowed to manage again. Sam got off stupidly lightly – even reportedly getting a £1 million pay off. How does he deserve that? Glenn Hoddle was caught in a scandal and humiliated much like Sam. But Allardyce has found a new home a mere few weeks after losing his “dream” job. He was disrespectful to many highly regarded managers and players but he did not deserve any pay off or sympathy.
I saw Sam as the best person for the job. For years, I always said “Get Big Sam.” And now I sit with as much egg on my face as he does. Big Sam was a big disappointment. who broke the hearts of many England fans, and he certainly broke mine.