Feature

Big Sam is no mug but he’s not England’s solution

I had the pleasure of lunch with Sam Allardyce many years ago when he was the manager of Blackburn Rovers. A more charming, personable man you could not wish to meet.

Sam

Source: Getty Images

 

He was genuinely inquisitive about my own professional path - an unusual trait for a modern day English manager, who tend to view the press as some sort of mosquito collective. Always buzzing annoyingly in the background, always looking for blood. 

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Instead, it was easy to see why he is viewed so fondly. A supreme networker, it’s also easy to see how he loved the transfer market as much as another wheeler-dealer, Harry Redknapp.

Amid the rolling of the eyes from the cognoscenti that England have plumped for “Big Sam”, it’s worth pointing out what he will bring to the job. 



There will be a no-nonsense approach and players will have a better understanding of their roles in the team, something that was rarely apparent under Roy Hodgson. 

He’ll clearly have no problems handling the press. He’s always milked them well and they, in turn, have played up to his jolly larrikin persona. 

Allardyce has been managing continuously since 1994 and is well-regarded by fans of four clubs: Blackpool, Notts County, Bolton Wanderers and West Ham United, in particular. Experience is not an issue. 

He’s never been relegated from the Premier League. He’s always produced defensively tough teams, but there’s always been a penchant for flair players in attack. 

That’s the case for him. But if we’re honest, he’s only a candidate for teams outside the top ten of English football. Is that really acceptable for perhaps the most important job in English football?

Unfortunately, it says more about the quality of coaching in England than it does about Allardyce that he was anointed as the saviour by the FA.
Allardyce rejects the theory that he is a simple operator, preferring long-ball football. He says he plays to whatever strengths his team has. 

Maybe, but the proof is in the pudding - which is why Allardyce is the unwitting poster boy for route one football. 

At Bolton, the plan seemed to be to knock it up to Kevin Davies (or before him, Michael Ricketts), then wait for any of Jay Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff and Stelios Giannakopoulos to win the second ball. 

It actually wasn’t a bad system and with such gifted players in attack, made them more than watchable, especially when they nearly made the UEFA Champions League in 2004-2005. But it was as direct as you can get. 

Interestingly, Allardyce was also an early adopter of Prozone, the data analysis system that came to dominate football - and still holds sway at many of the world’s best clubs. 

But he utilised it less for tactical immersion and more for mathematical analysis, working out that a third of all goals came from set pieces, and structured his teams accordingly.

He placed great emphasis on positioning at throw-ins and inswinging crosses. There wasn’t too much variation in his style at Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers, West Ham and Sunderland.  

It would have been a bolder, more daring move for England to take on Bournemouth's Eddie Howe, who looks a fabulous young prospect.
One suspects it would have been more fitting with where football is heading. 

Arsene Wenger would have been great if he had brought his full energies to the task, but I don’t think that is possible any more. 

That Alan Shearer loomed as a serious candidate probably also says something about the depth of talent on offer.

His professional coaching record: one win in eight games. 

I don’t doubt that Allardyce can coach, but I do doubt that he’s what England really needs. This was the time for a visionary. 

Sure, he’ll only get a limited time with the players, but when I look at the work of Antonio Conte with Italy, Jorge Sampaoli with Chile, Guus Hiddink (various) and Ange Postecoglou with Australia, it shows what a top manager actually can achieve with a national team in a narrow window. 

England have a youthful crop of talented players but they are extremely disorganised, as EURO 2016 showed. 

As we press towards the next FIFA World Cup, they needed a manager who could lead them to greater heights. 

It’ll take something exceptional - and unexpected - for Big Sam to be that man.


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4 min read
Published 24 July 2016 at 5:09pm
By Sebastian Hassett