Sam Allardyce is the favourite to take the reins from Roy Hodgson and become the new England manager. The 61-year-old Englishman has been made 10/11 to take over the vacant managerial position by bookies.
Allardyce is a well-established figure within the English game. The tough-talking Sunderland boss has managed throughout the English leagues, but has made a home for himself in the Premier League since he raised Bolton from the second tier to the UEFA Cup in his eight-year spell at the club.
A ‘specialist in survival’, Allardyce has continued to save clubs from the drop throughout his career. After promotion with Bolton, the club struggled to compete on financial grounds with the rest of the division. Instead of signing a plethora of new players upon promotion, the ex-Notts County boss invested in the club’s facilities and backroom staff, which he believed would allow Bolton to compete with clubs with ‘bigger budgets that paid bigger wages.’
His focus on developing existing facilities instead of expensive transfers is the perfect fit for international football, where managers have to rely on the pool of national players available to them.
Allardyce took his Bolton side far in English football, climbing from relegation candidates in his early years to a side pushing for Champions League qualification by the time he resigned in 2007. Allardyce’s relationship with chairman Phil Gartside had become strained, following Gartside refusal to sanction increased transfer spending. to really push for qualification. Allardyce resigned shortly after, leaving the club in fifth place with two games of the 2006/07 season to play.
The way Allardyce established his Bolton side previously attracted interest from the England FA, and he was shortlisted to replace Sven-Goran Eriksson after the 2006 World Cup. He made the final two-man shortlist, according to then-FA chief executive Brian Barwick. Many England fans still rue the FA’s eventual decision to appoint Steve McClaren, who remains one of only two England coaches to never qualify for a major tournament.
McClaren has come out and said that the next England manager should be English, further establishing Allardyce’s claim to the throne.
‘Big Sam’ went on to manage Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers, having reasonable tenures at both, and securing the latter’s position in the Premier League after Paul Ince’s devastating managerial campaign.
His four-year spell at West Ham is, perhaps, what Allardyce is best known for. He was appointed manager of the relegated club before the 2011-12 season, vowing to play “attractive football according to the traditions of the club” to attain promotion back to the top flight. The club were promoted that season in what Allardyce described as his “best ever achievement.” West Ham went on to finish tenth in their first season back in the Premier League, and Allardyce was rewarded with another two-year contract.
His tenure at the East London began to turn sour in 2014, when the direct, physical style of football being cultivated under Allardyce fell foul of the club’s supporters.
Changes to players and staff made before the 2014-15 season began to morph the way the Hammers played, with pundit Robbie Savage labelling it as a “more attractive and attacking playing style.”
Allardyce’s West Ham finished 12th that season, and he parted company with the club after his contract expired.
Despite criticism, Big Sam’s managerial talents were truly displayed throughout his time at the Boleyn Ground. Former Bolton player Kevin Davies highlighted his man management skills, which were evidenced by his ability to integrate everyone from youth players to senior foreign internationals into a solid, organised structure. Disputes with players were near unheard of, a stark contrast to the controversy surrounding other Premier League managers at the time.
Said criticism was echoed by Jose Mourinho, the Chelsea manager at the time, after a 0-0 draw in 2014. He likened West Ham’s performance to “football from the 19th century.”
The stereotype has been discounted by Allardyce himself on several occasions, but also by his former players. Former Newcastle midfielder Lee Clark said “from working with him, never once did I hear him talk about long balls. He’s massive on set-plays and massive on the organisation of the team but that’s only right, that’s football and that’s what happens.”
The revival of attractive football in his last season in charge proved ‘Big Sam’ to be adaptive in his tactics and the way he sets up his teams, a vital skill for a manager that could potentially come up against a diverse range of teams with different levels of ability and tactical nuance as England manager.
When Allardyce joined Sunderland on October 9, 2015, the club were in turmoil. They had scraped survival the previous season and sat 19th in the Premier League. However, Sunderland gained a string of important victories, and they eventually secured safety on May 11 with a 3-0 win against Everton, pulling off what is regarded as one of the greatest escapes in Premier League history. Allardyce earned considerable praise for his organised approach and emphasis on a strong defence.
While a strong defence is hardly a by-phrase for attractive football, it shows a degree of pragmatism often overlooked by more arrogant managers. Sunderland had one of the weakest squads in the league on paper, yet formed a complete defensive unit that allowed them to build from the back and win matches.
Throughout the Hodgson era, England looked unbelievably unsure at the back. Despite combining players from some of England’s top clubs, and one of the Premier League form players Chris Smalling, fans twitched nervously at every corner and passage of play in the England half. Quality players formed an inadequate system that failed to keep goals out.
Allardyce’s pragmatism in defence would surely help secure the England back line, allowing the considerable attacking talent in the side to flourish.
His prevalence at creating set pieces almost certainly wouldn’t place Harry Kane on free kicks or corners, at any rate.
While Big Sam has had his fair share of controversy, there is not a great number of talented managers, let alone English managers, available at the moment. While successful Frenchman Laurent Blanc is currently without a team and Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth side continue to impress, Allardyce remains the bookies favourite.
His tactical versatility, focus on preparation and his position as “one of the pioneers of sports science in English football”, according to journalist Martin Hardy, perhaps make him the most attractive candidate for the FA to consider.
Despite his criticism for unattractive football at times, it has to be argued that football is not always a love letter to Cruyff’s total football, to Brian Clough’s theory that “if God wanted us to play football in the clouds, he’d have put grass up there.”
In the words of Allardyce himself, “when they hit a 50-yard ball it was a cultural pass; when we did it, it was a hopeful hoof.” The beautiful game is a subjective beast, but at it’s core, football is about getting a result, which is something that Allardyce’s teams do better than near any other English manager in the game today.
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