Welcome to the Virgin Media Midweek Kick-off! As Sam Allardyce prepares for his first game as England manager on Sunday – a World Cup qualifier against Slovakia – we ask writers Joel Golby and Matt Blake if “Big Sam” is the right man for the job.
YES! He’s on a roll
“Allardyce might not be glamorous, he might not get the pulse racing, but he knows how to lick footballers into shape” – Joel Golby, football writer, Mundial Magazine
English managers are, on the whole, quite bad. But, ever since the Fabio Capello debacle, it seems important to the FA that they have someone English in charge – someone who understands that peculiar English wavelength of caring for our national football team above all else, to think we can truly win everything, and to galvanise a nation. Also, the fans are slower to hate an Englishman. Essentially, Big Sam is the right appointment because he is capable of shouting “WAZZA!” at Wayne Rooney so loud he stops running. Can one of your fancy continental managers do that?
He’s not glamorous
Big Sam is often seen as a long-ball merchant, a slightly unfair assessment of a man who has consistently guaranteed Premier League football for an array of low-to-mid-level clubs. He has never won anything of note, but he did manage to get one of the worst squads I’ve ever seen (Sunderland’s 2015/16 vintage) to survive the drop. He’s wrung clean sheets out of appalling defensive line-ups at Blackburn, Bolton and Newcastle. Sam’s never been given either the budget or the time to take a team from relegation candidates to league contenders, but he can do magic with the mediocre. Given England’s team of pedigree players, he could mould them into something brilliant.
He loves sports science
Sam might carry the aura of those 1970s managers who thought you could run off a broken leg and that metatarsals were a myth, but at Bolton he was at the cutting edge of sports science developments that helped extend the careers of ageing stars like Youri Djorkaeff and Colin Hendry. Much was made of Germany’s 2014 World Cup win and the squad’s use of expensive cooling gloves at half-time, designed to increase stamina by lowering the temperature of blood through the palms. The English FA turned the gloves down because they didn’t have enough time to test them. Big Sam wouldn’t allow a slip like that.
He matches England’s ability, if not ambition
England have consistently failed in international tournaments, with our last decent performance on the big stage 20 years ago. Allardyce might not be glamorous, he might not get the pulse racing, but he knows how to lick Premier League footballers into shape; how to set a team up to defend and attack a set piece. He’s not the best football manager in the world: this is a fact. But England are far from the best team in the world. Maybe operating at our level for once might actually wring a performance out of our players.
Agree with Joel?
NO! He’s not got the CV
“He’s the journeyman king you bring in to defend your besieged castle; but can you imagine him conquering an empire?” – Matt Blake, sports writer, Virgin Media
Sam Allardyce was overlooked for the top job three times in the last ten years. So why now? Was he the only Englishman available? According to reports, he only won the job after it was turned down by Arsène Wenger – whose focus on the aesthetic of possession through silky movement and knife-edge passing couldn't be more divergent from Allardyce's sledgehammer pragmatism. It's as if a Hollywood studio found out that Martin Scorsese was unavailable to direct a film about love in the Italian Renaissance, so went straight for Guy Ritchie instead.
He’s always the underdog
Big Sam is the journeyman king you bring in to defend your besieged castle; he'll drop the portcullis, pour boiling oil from the battlements and, when the food runs out, he’ll be the first to eat the zoo. But can you imagine him conquering an empire? With Bolton, Newcastle, Blackburn, West Ham and Sunderland, he has only really managed teams expected to lose, never ones plain sailing at the top of the league. I'm not sure a specialist in damage limitation and avoiding relegation is the right fit for a team whose brief is to challenge for international silverware. It has a heavy crown, the England job, and I’m not sure he’s got the neck to support it.
He lacks experience
His only foray into international football was eight games with Bolton in the UEFA Cup in 2005. He's never managed abroad (Ireland doesn't count), let alone tasted life in the UEFA Champions League. So he's never really managed the world's absolute best players, nor has he got first-hand experience of the cultural and tactical nuances of the European game. He is excellent at getting the best out of limited resources, but sitting back and defending deep shouldn’t be England’s footballing philosophy. It should be using the ball quickly and efficiently to break down teams. That's what the best international teams do. To succeed with England, he'll have to adapt his philosophy fast.
His winning record is poor
The cornerstone of victory is consistency. Yet, with the five Premier League clubs he's managed, Allardyce has never won more games than he's lost. Isn't that worrying? His best spell was with Bolton where he won 80 and lost 80, followed by Newcastle (7/9), Blackburn (26/29), West Ham (35/51) and Sunderland (9/12). Given England’s form of late, it’s hard to see him making anything worse. But is that a reason to give him the most scrutinised role in English football? Is Big Sam the right man for the job, or just the only man? We’ll have to wait and see.
Agree with Matt?
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