Ah, yes, the England cycle begins again.
Bottle it in a major tournament, sack previous under-achieving manager, swiftly appoint a similarly under-achieving manager with ‘new ideas’ who selects a ‘youthful’ and ‘exciting’ new squad. The new squad absolutely smash Latvia and San Marino in qualifying and everyone gets excited, sings three lions and dares to be hopeful for the upcoming major tournament, and then bottle it in said major tournament.
Frequent readers will know me as the fool who supported Roy Hodgson / the bitter fool that tore him apart. After that, I took a break from writing about football, probably to calm my nerves, but when the lovable ‘Big Sam’ got the England nod I just had to add a ‘Part 3’ to this miserable affair. So here goes, an assessment of Mr. Samuel Allardyce, the new brains behind the England national team.
Firstly, I’m inclined to remain hopeful (although I did this with Capello and Hodgson and look where that ended). Big Sam has never been a particularly bad manager, his recent stint at Sunderland saw him miraculously swerve relegation, a feat achieved by Allardyce 3 times. You just cannot send him down. This resilience is achieved through Sam’s managerial style – man to man sort of stuff. He jolts confidence and self-belief into previously written-off premier league teams, gives them a simple blueprint and drills them until they know the system so well they can do it in their sleep. Allardyce teams are typically difficult to break down defensively and don’t exactly produce inspiring performances of world class talent and finesse – all this “tippy-tappy” rubbish has no place in his team.
In the capital, where our focus is, he did a bang average job at West Ham. He seemed ok until a certain Slaven Bilic turned up with a Frenchman called Payet – people quickly forgot Sam’s contribution. But Sam brought the Hammers back from an awful time in their history, returning them to the top flight within a season of relegation, and gave them a mid-table base to push forward from. No easy task.
Similarly, we saw Sam’s stabilizing effect on Sunderland, who, last season, were haemorrhaging points and looked certain to drop. Allardyce successfully led Sunderland to safety from relegation after beating Everton 3–0 on 11 May, a result which also ensured the relegation of rivals (and one of his former clubs) Newcastle United. Allardyce earned praise for his management of Sunderland from some pundits, particularly for his organised approach and emphasis on a strong defence.
Ok, we’ve done the nice bit, what does all this stabilisation and simplistic football mean for the long-suffering England faithful? Well, on the face of things, England need stability, we were awful for the majority of the Euros with the team looking poorly rehearsed, no chance of that with Big Sam. As we have seen, training and simplicity has a huge role in Allardyce teams, and this could be good for England, particularly at the back as, let’s face it, defensively we were awful. There would also be no room for Prima Donna characters, which would also be refreshing, team spirit aside from the shampoo commercials would be something relatively new.
Now on to team speculation. Personally, and I really do mean this just personally, I’d like to see Joe Hart lose his No. 1 jersey. He faced 5 shots in the entire competition and only saved 1. I mean really. Come on. This is subject to debate, and please do feel free to disagree with me on this, but the England goalkeeper responsibilities should go to Stoke City’s Jack Butland, he was great until he broke his ankle and every Stoke fan’s season went down the toilet. In other wild team speculation, I quite liked the youthful set up Hodgson implemented, I just think they need to be trained harder, better disciplined, and to be honest more respectful (or scared, that also works) of the manager, so that they might show a little determination on the pitch when things aren’t going well, say, hypothetically, if you were 2-1 down to Iceland in the European championships.
I would say then that, with all things considered, big Sam might not be the right man for the job for the future – not known for winning trophies or pulling out flicks and tricks – but rather he is the man for the time being. Allardyce can stabilize the ship, plug a few of the holes and get the England team to a state of being slightly competitive again, after that, other managers can build on this foundation (as we have seen with West Ham). Sam isn’t the miracle cure to England’s football disasters, but he just might be the first aid kit.
By James Doherty.