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Why Sunderland’s Sam Allardyce is the right choice for England manager

The Boot Room

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Ruben Loftus-Cheek deserves England start after Tunisia cameo

The 22-year-old proved the catalyst for England in his second-half cameo.

Jake Jackman

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England managed to get their World Cup campaign off to the perfect start with a win over Tunisia.

It wasn’t straightforward and they had to wait until stoppage time, but Harry Kane popped up at the crucial time to deliver three points.

Their next match is against Panama on Sunday and a win will almost certainly be enough to see them through to the next round.

Germany’s loss against Mexico means that it may be beneficial for the Three Lions to finish second in their group, but Gareth Southgate will be focused on qualifying first and foremost.

The performance from England was a refreshing one as the players looked to play in a positive manner and were confident in their ability to play out from the back.

There were some sketchy moments, but mistakes are part of the process and there is now real hope for a better future.

Southgate has put his faith in a lot of younger players and one made an impact on Monday.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek was a surprise selection, but the midfielder was brought on against Tunisia and he had a positive impact.

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England looked like they were tiring and it was important that Southgate made the necessary changes to get a win.

It was a risk to bring on the 22-year-old considering his lack of experience, but he provided dynamism in the centre of the park when it was required.

During his short time on the pitch, he looked to be aggressive in his movement and managed to break free in the final third on a couple of occasions.

He completed one dribble and won his only aerial duel. Loftus-Cheek had a breakthrough season with Crystal Palace and he could emerge as one of the breakout stars of the competition if he continues to play in a positive manner.

At times, England looked lightweight and lacking ideas in the middle of the park.

Dele Alli was a shadow of his usual self and appeared to be carrying a knock. He managed to produce one key pass, but his influence was limited.

Meanwhile, Jesse Lingard offered threatening movement, but his final ball was poor. He had a number of chances in the final third and none of them resulted in a goal.

Although he was only on the pitch for roughly ten minutes, Loftus-Cheek provided athleticism and drive that the team were previously lacking.

All of his contributions were made with the right intentions and he seemed to grow on the world stage.

It would have been easy for the midfielder to come on and play it safe. He didn’t do that and Southgate would have been encouraged by that.

Panama is a game that England should be targeting for three points. Southgate saw that his chosen formation worked against Tunisia, but there could be a change of players that makes it more effective.

Loftus-Cheek has to be one of the players lined up for a start for either Lingard or Alli. There is an opportunity for experimentation and if the 22-year-old can deliver over ninety minutes, it could be a sign of what is to come this summer.

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Three things learnt from England’s World Cup victory against Tunisia

They left it late, but The Three Lions grabbed a deserved opening game victory.

Martyn Cooke

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England kicked off their World Cup campaign with a victory against Tunisia on Monday evening and gave their chances of qualifying for the knock-out stages of the tournament a significant boost.

However, it was far from straightforward and it took a last-gasp injury time goal from Harry Kane to secure the three points.

Here, The Boot Room highlights three things that we learnt from England vs Tunisia.

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Harry Kane is key to England’s prospects

We have often seen England players struggled to perform at major international tournaments, but Harry Kane quickly squashed any doubts over whether he would be able to transfer his domestic goal scoring form onto the international stage.

The Tottenham Hotspur forward scored 41 goals for his club this season and he further underlined the claim that he is one of the best striker’s in Europe with two crucial strikes on Monday evening. Neither were particularly impressive, both were close range finishes, but his knack of being in the right place at the right time was ultimately the difference on the night.

It is easy to forget that Kane is only 24-years-old and is one of the youngest captains at the World Cup, yet he showed no signs of feeling the pressure and his clinical instincts in front of goal will be key if England are to progress to the latter stages of the tournament.

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Need to be more clinical in front of goal

In many respects, Harry Kane’s injury-time winner has meant that the attention has been directed away by how wasteful England were in front of goal during the opening period.

Whilst the team produced an impressive first half display, a number of individual players were guilty of missing a host of guilt-edged chances. Dele Alli saw his header deflected onto the bar whilst Jesse Lingard failed to convert two clear-cut chances, one clipping the post whilst the other was fired too close to the Tunisian goalkeeper.

In truth, England could have been out of sight by half time and Tunisia were fortunate to reach the half time interval on level terms.

However, if Gareth Southgate’s side are to progress to the latter stages of the World Cup then they can ill afford to be as wasteful in front of goal as they were on Monday, especially when they come up against better opposition.

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Impact substitutes

Midway through the second half with the game tied at one goal apiece Gareth Southgate would have undoubtedly glanced back at the England substitutes gathered on the bench as he considered how to change the game.

The good news is that the squad has good strength in depth, particularly in forward areas, and there are certainly plenty of players that have the capacity to make an impact when coming off the bench.

On Monday evening Southgate opted to place his faith in Marcus Rashford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Both came on and made a significant impact on the game with their energy, pace, power and movement and their introduction certainly helped to generate new momentum in the closing stages of the contest.

It is refreshing to see an England squad that has so many options, Jamie Vardy and Danny Welbeck were not involved, and it will be crucial that Southgate utilises all the talent in his squad as the tournament progresses.

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World Cup One To Watch: England’s 24-year-old goalkeeper Jordan Pickford

The England international will be a player to keep an eye out for in Russia.

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Jordan Pickford
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After an impressive Premier League season for Everton, it perhaps comes a little surprise that Jordan Pickford has been named as England’s first choice goalkeeper for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

At a time when the country’s goalkeeping options have never looked stronger, the Everton number one has emerged as Gareth Southgate’s preferred option ahead of this month’s competition in Russia.

The 24-year-old, preferred to Stoke City‘s Jack Butland and Burnley‘s Nick Pope, now has the opportunity to build on an outstanding season at club level.

To see who else features in The Boot Room’s World Cup Ones to Watch series, click here.

Who is he?

Jordan Pickford became the most expensive British keeper in history after Everton paid £25 million – rising to what would be a club record £30 million – to sign him from Sunderland last summer.

A product of the Black Cats’ Academy, after joining the club aged eight – he has had spells on loan at Darlington, Alfreton Town, Burton Albion, Carlisle United, Bradford City and Preston North End.

Despite a turbulent season for the club as a whole, Pickford enjoyed an impressive debut campaign at Goodison Park, which saw him named the Toffees’ Player of the Season, Players’ Player of the Season and Young Player of the Season.

Playing every minute in all 38 Premier League fixtures for the Blues, the 24-year-old has quickly begun to repay what had previously been considered a hefty price-tag.

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What is his international experience/record?

Having represented England at all levels from Under-16s, Pickford his senior bow in a 0-0 draw against world champions Germany in November 2017 before keeping a second clean sheet in a 1-0 away win against Holland in his second appearance for The Three Lions.

The 24-year-old made only his third international appearances when he started in a 2-1 friendly victory over Nigeria last weekend before he was all-but confirmed as Southgate’s number one shot-stopper ahead of the summer competition.

It is suggested that his superior ability with the ball at his feet and distribution is more conducive to the possession-based pressing style the relatively inexperienced England boss wants to implement.

Why will he be a breakout World Cup star?

“I was really pleased with what Jordan did,” Gareth Southgate revealed, as per BBC Sport, full of praise for Pickford after his performance against Nigeria.

“Normally, when you play for England, there’s not an awful lot of opportunity to produce a lot of saves. But his decision making on crosses, the punch he made, his distribution and calmness to slide passes into midfield… that was really important to the way we want to play.”

Pickford’s form will be absolutely key for an England side that has struggled for creativity in recent years.

The Three Lions’ progression from Group C – competing with Belgium, Tunisia and Panama – is likely to come down to the slimmest of margins and, in keeping goals out at the other end of the pitch, the 24-year-old will be instrumental.

(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

What is his future after the World Cup?

While many Premier League fans would initially consider Pickford content to stay at Goodison Park, an impressive showing in Russia could prove a springboard to even greater things.

According to recent reports by The Sun, Bayern have been scouting Pickford in recent months as they look to bring in a new long-term first-choice goalkeeper.

The former Sunderland favourite’s progress since his £30 million move means the Bavarian giants have identified the 24-year-old as a top choice for succeeding club icon Manuel Neuer.

Ahead of the World Cup, Bayern will surely not be the only side monitoring his future, with assured goalkeepers becoming increasingly difficult to lay hands on.

Involvement in Russia could result in an unexpected and somewhat premature Goodison exit for Pickford. Watch this space.

To see who else features in The Boot Room’s World Cup Ones to Watch series, click here.

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