In May, when Roy Hodgson was laying out his plans for the summer I can imagine that nowhere on his notepad did it say ‘July 25th – Watch Sam Allardyce be unveiled as my replacement’. But, here we are. Roy’s young England side underperformed at the Euro’s, somehow failing to hit the relatively low expectations we all had. Even the most optimistic England supporter probably only got to about the 50th minute of the Iceland game before he or she knew that Roy would be leaving before the end of the night.
Roy too, seemed to know. Maybe that’s why his post-game words where he announced his resignation were so articulate and well thought out. He’d spent the last 45 minutes writing them. But anyway, out with the old and in with the new. Roy was gone, surely jumping before he was pushed, and Sam Allardyce was in.
Once upon a time, maybe it was during the ‘golden generation’ of Becks, Scholes, Gerrard, Ferdinand et al, our expectations were loftier. We had genuinely gifted players, dare I say it world class players. We needed the best of the best to guide them. That era of England fan wouldn’t have accepted Sunderland’s Sam Allardyce.
But now, perhaps we’re past caring a little, no one seems to be put out by Sam taking the reins. Perhaps this was a fantastic piece of PR by the FA. Allegedly, they approached Arsène Wenger first and were rebuffed. Sam’s CV doesn’t really compare to Arsène’s. The successful relegation rescue missions don’t compare with the trophies and the wealth of Champions League experience that's come with the Frenchman and his tenure in charge of the Gunners.
Arsène would have even been acceptable to the golden generation fan base. But a last minute approach made by the FA to Steve Bruce suddenly made Allardyce the lesser of two evils. And that’s enough to appease our low expectations right now.
Sam’s an interesting appointment, especially when you think back to the coverage of Roy Hodgson’s appointment in 2012. It seemed that it was a two horse race, Harry Redknapp and Roy Hodgson. For the most part, Harry was the people’s choice. He was one of us, he was a normal bloke. He said what he thought, he had personality, he was a character.
Too much of a character it seemed, with rumblings that Harry didn’t fit in with the FA, Hodgson took the job. If you call Harry a wheeler dealer in an interview he’ll tell you to Fuck Off (YouTube it) and that wasn’t really who the FA wanted representing them. Hodgson was the safer choice no doubt.
Today, England have a manager who is somewhere between the two. He may not quite attract the kind of press and scandal that Harry would but neither is he a saint of Hodgson magnitude.
“I am a king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. I am the Messiah, the son of the living God”.
Sam Allardyce, upon being appointed England manager.
Wait, the above quote may have come from the Big Sam parody Twitter account, but you get the idea. He’s fun, he’s likeable. You can see famous videos of him dancing in Marbella to Rhianna, laughing in the face of a diving Chico Flores or making fun of a sulking Josè Mourinho at a post-match press conference.......
Sam: (laughing) he can’t take it can he, he can’t take it that we’ve out witted him, he just can’t cope.
Reporter: Josè said he told you he was unhappy as well.
Sam: I know he did, he can tell me all he wants, I don’t give a shit.
Cue laughter from a room of football reporters who are having a good time.
It’s a cliché to call him a breath of fresh air, but he’s something different and when watching England is so often bereft of entertainment we should be happy to take what we can get.
In fact he’s so entertaining, such a big character, that we’ve got 681 words exactly into this piece without discussing if he’s actually any good at managing a football team. So, is he?
At the risk of giving an overly simplistic answer, he’s not bad. He’s a Premier League manager, he’s earned his seat at the table of one of the best leagues in the world. When Chelsea, United or Man City have a vacancy to fill do they come calling for Big Sam? No, they don’t. But if a club like Sunderland or West Ham want to stay in the top tier then he’s a pretty safe bet.
During his managerial career he’s come in for criticism fairly often for what is perceived as his trademark style of play, but has always strongly refuted any negative suggestion that he is just a long ball specialist. When criticised for not playing attractive football during his time with West Ham he suggested that maybe the traditional West Ham way of playing was to keep the ball on the deck and ultimately get relegated. A timely reminder to the West Ham fans that his brand of football was proving more successful than the norm.
Although he has said before that this style of play that’s so closely linked to him isn’t his at all, that it’s just a necessity forced by the limited resources at the clubs he’s taken charge of. He famously claimed once that he could play football like Real Madrid if he was manager of Real Madrid. Now, with a young, talented squad under him, maybe this is his chance to show exactly how good he can be.
Maybe he can get this England team playing with the pace and desire that a less talented but far more successful Wales squad showed in Euro 2016.
Just one problem though, maybe this England squad aren’t all that? They certainly didn’t have enough to trouble Iceland. Perhaps it’s our lack of ability that has made Allardyce a suitable appointment. We can’t play anyone off the park, we’re not good enough. Maybe a difficult to play against Sam Allardyce side is the best we can be.
So, ultimately, what will we get from Sam Allardyce as England manager? Fun press conferences with honest and direct answers? Certainly. A manager who really cares about being in charge of England and shows it? Definitely. Call ups for Kevin Davies and Kevin Nolan-esque players? Possibly.
But more so than anything else, we’ll get something different. And I don’t know about you, but as an England fan I’ve long given up wanting something better. It’s just fantasy. Better might be impossible (it is England) so I’ll happily take different.