Belfast Telegraph

England score victory for common sense with Big Sam

By Ian Herbert

New England manager Sam Allardyce is entitled to curse those who arrive in Britain and make immediate assumptions about him and his style of management.

Pep Guardiola was at it, a few weeks back. About five minutes into his inaugural press conference at Manchester City, he referenced "Big Sam" as one of the bleaker British aspects of the challenge ahead. "Cold," "wind" and "Boxing Day" were what Guardiola grouped Allardyce with. You got the picture.

This game we love is analysed to death and yet we seem to be stuck with a binary notion of football management. The "old school" British one, proponents of which ask players to lump the ball long and defend to death.

And the exotic "modern" school - populated by more glamorous individuals than a son of Dudley like Allardyce, who ask players to shift it around at speed.

To say that Allardyce is incapable of anything but the former seems a grossly unintelligent and narrow interpretation of an individual who has managed football teams for more than 20 years.

The recipe for getting England right really does not need the powers of an Einstein, much though we agonise over it.

Pick the right team in the right formation and give it a plan, you have a chance. If not you have an inquest.

That pretty much sums up it up. Because England do have players. The humourless, self-regarding culture of the national team needs sorting out, certainly, but no-one needs to rip up the squad list and start again.

It's why the notion of seeking Jurgen Klinsmann, Arsene Wenger or any other individual who might pass a Conservative Party points-based immigration test always created layers of complication.

Guus Hiddink had a ring to it, except he failed abysmally with the Netherlands. Claudio Ranieiri satisfies our love of the next new thing, except he lost to the Faroe Islands with Greece. Germany put seven past Luiz Felipe Scolari. And after that little lot, who are you going to call?

You could have bet the house on Allardyce getting the necessary done against Iceland in Nice last month and, for what it's worth, not needing to ask his assistant to make telephone calls on the eve of a World Cup squad announcement, to see if Jamie Carragher and Paul Scholes fancied venturing out of retirement, as that £10m maestro Fabio Capello did in the summer of 2010.

Players love him, too. They just love him. That's not an insignificant factor when international football is the Premier League's poor relation. The more benign temperaments, or the less benign temperaments: Allardyce seems to get things out of them.

Nicolas Anelka, Youri Djorkaeff, El Hadji Diouff are just a few of the difficult souls he handled at Bolton but they work for him because he sets the parameters. They might not admit as much but they have loved him for that.

The clue to the opprobrium about this appointment in some realms of social media comes in a background that doesn't tend to fit the FA establishment test. The Midlands accent. The indelicate way with words. None of it plays well in the Home Counties.

Yet he is light years ahead of Gareth Southgate for powers of motivation, streets in front of Steve Bruce for tactical acuity and his reputation as a Red Adair of the relegation zone belies his work as a moderniser and early analytics crusader.

He's curious, modern and happens to 'eff and blind a bit. "A long ball man," people will say, as if he would actually deploy Dele Alli, Raheem Sterling (whom he would reinvigorate) and Daniel Sturridge in that kind of work.

Sir Alex Ferguson was always taken with the way Allardyce could extract performances from players that other managers would not.

He would quote to us how Allardyce made a top striker at Bolton out of Kevin Davies, who was not the fastest, and was always taken with the way he knew precisely which ball into the penalty area would cause opponents most problems.

From those exercise bikes in the dug-out that Allardyce went in for, to the science of nutrition, recovery techniques and statistical data, he has always wanted to re-think football's parameters. He looks outside, not just within.

So yes, some will consider this appointment to be a retrograde step, though the notion that England must scour the world for a £4m manager simply reflects the hubris of those who feel the best in the world is required to manage one of the best squads in the world.

England are not a top five nation. They are barely a top 10 nation. They simply need an individual to get more out of their players.

To hear Roy Hodgson, on the eve of the European Championships, saying at England's Grove Hotel base in Hertfordshire that tactical discussions were "over-rated" underlined England's abandonment of the basics. Now they have found them again, they can breathe the fresh air of football sanity.

Belfast Telegraph


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