It’s 2006, England have just been dumped out of the World Cup by Portugal in the quarter-finals and Sven Goran-Eriksson, a meticulous if uninspiring manager, has stepped down. The hunt is on for a new boss and Sam Allardyce of Bolton Wanderers is waiting for the call.
But instead the FA turn to Steve McClaren.
Allardyce probably thought that was his chance gone, after McClaren’s disappointing stint they went for a foreign boss again with Fabio Capello – another poor appointment that never really seemed to fit. Then came Roy Hodgson and here we are, 10 years later in an almost identical, if not slightly more embarrassing/depressing/worrying (delete as appropriate), situation to when Sven left, and Big Sam’s back on the table.
Sam Allardyce Pros.
Man Management: Many who have played under Allardyce highlight his man management skills, he considers it one of his strong points himself and he does have a record that largely proves that theory. Under his guidance Bolton finished in the top eight of the Premier League four years in a row (he left before the end of the fourth year but the job was basically done), Blackburn were relatively comfortable in mid table during his time as boss, somehow he kept Sunderland up last season – these were over achievements considering the squads he had. Newcastle was a blip but he’s had a long career, a perfect record would have been unlikely and in any case he wasn’t given a fair amount of time on Tyneside.
Passion: I can imagine Allardyce giving under-performing players an absolute roasting at half-time and sometimes you feel that’s what England need. I can’t envisage that kind of stuff from the Hodgsons and Erikssons of this world.
Comedy: Let’s face it, England are a poor team and failure is inevitable at some point. They’ve won one major trophy in their history – compare that to the Germans, Italians etc, woeful – really, semi-finals is about as good as it gets. Knowing this, having a manager who offers a bit of entertainment would be a welcome bonus in the painful world of following the England football team, and I for one have had enough of dour interviews; at least with Big Sam you get an attempt at wit, a sound bite for the press, some razzle dazzle of sorts. Here are a few good quotes to demonstrate this.
“I’m not suited to Bolton or Blackburn, I would be more suited to Internazionale or Real Madrid. It wouldn’t be a problem to me to go and manage those clubs because I would win the Double or the league every time.”
“I won’t ever be going to a top-four club because I’m not called Allardici, just Allardyce.”
He’s on Twitter: That’s right, you could troll the England boss if Allardyce is handed the reins. Not my thing (the odd spot of Boris Johnson baiting of late aside in my first-foray into the crazy world of cyber bullying, and he’s big enough and ugly enough to take it) but it is nice to have the option, even if there is a very real chance he hasn’t worked out how to see his mentions/replies etc, yet alone bothers to check them. Find him @OfficialBigSam.
Sam Allardyce Cons.
He’s never won a major trophy: The closest he’s come so far is runner-up in the League Cup with Bolton back in 2004, losing to Middlesbrough in the final in a game that may have ultimately seen McClaren get the nod at his expense two years later. He has won in high pressure situations though – winning the Championship play-off final twice, first with Bolton and then West Ham, as well as countless relegation ‘six pointers’. So yes, the fact he hasn’t landed any big silverware is a blow but by no means a terminal one to his chances of replacing Roy.
Tactics: One-dimensional, long-ball merchants, uninspiring, boring… these are among the more polite adjectives used to describe Allardyce’s teams over the years but personally I think he gets a bit of a rough ride. He’d argue that it feeds on a perception created during his time as Bolton boss, inspired by rival managers like Arsene Wenger, Graeme Souness and more, that has dogged him ever since. There is more than a grain of truth in both the criticism and his own defence, but some of the football played under his watch at Upton Park and the Reebok Stadium was pretty decent. Besides, have England’s tactics worked particularly well in competitions in recent times? No, no they have not.
West Ham have been much better under Slaven Bilic: This is a fair call, they have. Allardyce guided them to 12th place with 47 points in his final season in charge, Bilic managed 62, a seventh place finish and they scored 21 more goals. The one stat in Allardyce’s favour is goals against, with his Hammers conceding four less. In three seasons in the Premier League Allardyce’s best result was 10th with West Ham. There are a few mitigating factors, Bilic had Dimitri Payet for one and it turns out he’s one of the best players in the world now so that always helps. It was also the last campaign at Upton Park but I can only speculate as to what, if any, impact that had on results. My guess for what it’s worth would be it was quite the motivator. Bilic has made the better signings – but you don’t get to do that as England boss anyway so that’s perhaps a moot point.
Big Sam probably wouldn’t be my top choice in a world of endless possibilities but in terms of English managers he’s the pick of a slim selection. Eddie Howe is also up there as a contender and again I’d be happy enough with that. This has been a bit of a pro-Allardyce piece granted, but the English have a tendency to just slam a manager and a need to be won over, how about this time the fans get behind whoever is chosen as boss until he messes up? Rather than wait for the opportunity to say ‘I told you so’. A radical idea I know but after being humbled by Iceland anything’s worth a shot.