At 3:45 yesterday afternoon, Sam Allardyce was appointed as the new England manager on a two-year deal. His brief is simple: pick up an England team fresh off their round of 16 elimination by Iceland in the recent European Championship and restore public faith in the team that is seen by many as full of overrated and overpaid players lacking desire.
I, for one, was reluctant to put any store by the England after their June nadir in Nice but I believe that Allardyce is the best man for the Three Lions job.
The 61-year-old had a 21 year playing career, spending time at various teams throughout the English football league system. He began at Bolton before moving to Sunderland, Coventry and Preston among others, not before also having spells in Ireland and the USA. As a player he was a no-nonsense defender who was robust in the challenge, had a fiery temper and chipped in with the odd key goal.
Big Sam began his managerial career at Blackpool in 1994, guiding them to 12th and then 3rd in his second season – their highest league position for 19 years. A play-off defeat saw him leave the club but he returned to management in January 1997 with Notts County. He couldn’t prevent their relegation that season but they topped the Third Division the following season with 99 points. He took them to 16th upon their return to the Second Division before departing in late 1999 to take up the Bolton job. It was there he made his name as a manager.
When he took over the Lancashire club, they were in the bottom half of the Second Division table. He took them to 6th and the play-off final, where they lost to Watford. The next season was third time lucky in the play-offs for Allardyce as Bolton finished third and then beat Preston 3-0 in the play-off final to secure promotion.
Allardyce’s football may not have always been pretty but it frustrated opponents and made Bolton Premier League regulars. Their Premier League finishes read 16th (2002), 17th (2003), 8th and a League Cup final (2004), 6th and European qualification (2005), 8th and UEFA Cup round of 32 (2006) and 7th in the 2006-07 season. He resigned from Bolton in April 2007 and was then went to Blackburn, by way of a tumultuous spell at Newcastle.
He steered Rovers clear of relegation in 2008-09, before achieving a hugely creditable 10th in 2010. The following season saw him leave the club and from there he went to West Ham.
He took the Hammers job at the start of the 2011-12 season and spent four seasons with the East London side. He earned promotion from the Championship at the first attempt before achieving Premier League finishes of 10th, 13th and 12th and then making way for Slaven Bilic, who was able to build on the solid foundations already established by Big Sam.
Last season saw him take over from Dick Advocaat at Sunderland and keep the Black Cats clear of relegation, ensuring that his record of never being relegated in over 10 years of management at the top level remained intact.
Throughout his managerial career Allardyce has not had the most talented squads at his disposal and may not have a trophy cabinet bursting at the seams, but he has been efficient in the transfer market and got the best from his players. His sides have always been hard to beat and defensively solid, especially from set-pieces – a weakness painfully apparent for England both in that Iceland defeat and throughout the Euros.
Those critical of Allardyce’s appointment will point to his football as being physical, direct and perhaps not adhering to the notion of the ‘Beautiful Game’. However, if the Euros taught us anything, it is that pragmatism is now key in international football. Simply throwing the best players you have on the pitch together like the Dutch in 1974 or the Brazilians in 1982 doesn’t work and England have tried fancy, expansive football before and that hasn’t worked either. The Portuguese side which triumphed two weeks ago won, not because they were the best side, but because Fernando Santos had a formation and stuck to it. They set out not to lose, hence why they drew 6 of their 7 games in normal time, and it worked. Roy Hodgson’s failure to know his best team and the baffling team changes were part of the madness at the Euros. Allardyce, meanwhile, is a pragmatist and will work out the system that best suits the talent he has at his disposal. He is a coach who will pick on form and not on name value or because of which club you play for. You can be certain that Danny Drinkwater and Andros Townsend and not Jack Wilshere and Raheem Sterling would have gone to France this summer if Big Sam was at the helm.
Similarly, some will suggest that Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe was a better choice. However, to appoint Howe would neglect the very nature of international football. Howe has done wonders with the Cherries where he can work with the players every day, working on the fine details of their game. He is a moulder and shaper but at the international level you only get 10-20 days a year with those players and therefore require someone more experienced and more pragmatic. That is not to say Howe will not and should not take over later, but at the moment, our lowest since 1950, we need immediate consolidation and improvement. That is just what Allardyce will provide.
His first assignment will be a friendly in early September and a World Cup qualifier against Slovakia. He has many questions to answer – what to do with Rooney? Does he opt for Fraser Forster ahead of Joe Hart? What formation does he play? How does he pick up tournament flops like Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling? He will have those answer and will have to make England a team to be feared and a team difficult to play against and in my opinion he is the right man to do so.
It does not matter if we win all qualifiers in turgid fashion and by a one-goal margin, but under Allardyce we know we will be more defensively solid, more organised and perhaps a team that the English people can be proud of again.
To some it’s a gamble, to me it’s sensible. Allardyce is perfect for England and a successful qualifying campaign and performance at the 2018 World Cup would be the icing on top of his impressive managerial career that more often than not gets unfairly overlooked and disregarded.