Sam Allardyce the English saviour of England? Odd then that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was the FA's first choice...
- England confirmed Sam Allardyce as their new manager on Friday
- He has a win ratio of just 34 per cent from his 467 games in the top-division
- The FA's initial instinct was to approach Arsene Wenger for England boss
They will straighten his tie and mop his brow. They will remove the chips from his shoulders and the chewing gum from his jaws. And then the movers and shakers at the Football Association will cross their fingers, mumble a prayer and wheel him out to face the world: Big Sam, the Saviour of England.
If custom is observed, questions from the media will be vetted. Certain delicate words or phrases will be banned: 'Long ball... foreigners... agents...' Instead, we shall be treated to stirring talk of 'Pride, Passion and Playing for the Shirt'. And when all the shop-soiled slogans are exhausted and Big Sam is led away to his latest sports science seminar, we shall all sit back to contemplate the consequences of a truly calamitous appointment.
It should be remembered that the FA's initial instinct was to approach Arsene Wenger, a worthy if futile attempt to hire the very best. But then, absurdly, they changed tack.
Sam Allardyce was appointed the new England manager on Friday - leaving his previous post at Sunderland
The 61-year-old former West Ham and Sunderland boss has signed a lucrative two-year contract
Arsenal's long-serving French boss Arsene Wenger was the FA's target before they decided to go English
What they really, really wanted, it seems, was an Englishman. The England set-up should be English through and through. Us against Them, in the Little Englander spirit of the times. Now I'm not sure how far down this goes: English coaches, masseurs, press officers. English bus drivers, perhaps? It is not a strategy, it is a slogan.
When Allardyce was still at Sunderland, there were just four other English managers in the new season's Premier League: Eddie Howe, Sean Dyche, Alan Pardew and Steve Bruce. Why are there not more? Because Premier League clubs believe they can do better elsewhere. Consider the statistics, as Sam might say: four major Premier League clubs changed their managers over the summer: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton. Respectively, they brought in Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Antonio Conte and Ronald Koeman.
And why? Because the Premier League have money coming out of their ears and their clubs can afford to hire the very best. But wait, the FA can also afford the best, since the national manager's salary of more than £3million is twice or thrice what the managers of, say, Spain, Germany and Portugal are paid. Yet perversely the FA head-hunters, led by the chief executive Martin - 'I'm not a football expert' - Glenn, suddenly turned in on themselves.
English it had to be. And English did not mean, say, Eddie Howe of Bournemouth, with his civilised attitudes and his passing football. No, it meant the jargon-spouting chest-thumper who led Sunderland to just one place and two points above relegation in last season's Premier League. The appointment was endorsed by Sir Alex Ferguson, a close chum of Allardyce. Now, since Ferguson left Manchester United, the club have appointed three managers: David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. Ferguson would have had a powerful voice in each appointment. If he ever pressed the case for Allardyce as United manager, then the secret was well kept.
Legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson would've endorsed chum Allardyce to the FA
Then there is David Gill, another of the three-man panel, who is a director and former chief executive of Manchester United. He plainly - and quite correctly - never remotely considered Allardyce suitable for United. And yet, like Ferguson, he has decided he is just the man for England.
And, of course, there is Mourinho. You may recall that match at Stamford Bridge two years ago when a desperate West Ham pulled trick after cynical trick to steal a draw against Chelsea. Mourinho was justifiably disgusted, and accused his opponents of 'cheating, pretending injuries, time-wasting from the very first minute, 10 defenders in the box, very basic... this is football from the 19th century'. Allardyce cackled when he heard of the outburst. 'He can't take it,' he gloated. 'We've out-tacticed him, we've outwitted him.'
Well, the tactical master who plotted that elegant little coup is now manager of England, so how did Mourinho react? 'I think he's a good choice... Sam never had the chance at the highest level.'
Think what you will of our Jose but the fact is that he has won eight league titles in four countries, as well as two Champions League titles and the UEFA Cup. He recognises '19th century football' when he sees it. Yet still he can stand reality on its head when it suits him.
Jose Mourinho, now United boss, compared Allardyce's football to the 19th century during his time at Chelsea
Finally, and most fatuous by far, was the contribution of yet another old pal, Peter Reid, aka 'Reidy'. He has known Sam for more than 40 years, and he remains his greatest admirer. When 'Reidy' speaks of the Bolton side Allardyce managed, he sounds like Pep Guardiola recalling vintage Barcelona. And 'Reidy' believes that criticism of his hero is merely the 'snobbery' of people who believe that 'a working-class centre-half, a boy from a council house with a Dudley accent' cannot possibly become England manager.
It is the kind of drivel which may be treated with the derision it deserves. And yet, in his increasingly bizarre search to justify the appointment, 'Reidy' reveals his chum's secret weapon: patriotism. 'There's no one more patriotic,' he confides. 'We've shared a few St George's Day dinners, and he's always belting out Jerusalem as loud as anyone.'
Well, that clinches it. Forget the banality of the long ball, forget all those self-serving rants at referees. Why, you can even forget the damaging evidence of those stats he loves so well: last season, Sunderland enjoyed less than 40 per cent possession and 21 per cent of their passes were hit long. Allardyce has a win ratio of just 34 per cent from his 467 matches as a top-division manager. And, with each of his five Premier League clubs, he has never won more games than he lost.
No, you can forget all those figures because, when it really counts, we can rely on Big Sam to bellow the anthem with lung-bursting, eye-bulging passion. Give that man £3m a year. As the Saviour of England, he's cheap at the price.
Allardyce has a win ratio of just 34 per cent from his 467 matches as a top-division manager
A couple of years ago, I visited the course which would stage the Olympic golf tournament. It was then under construction, being prised, inch by inch, from the swamp of a nature reserve.
The man in charge was helpful. 'Do many Brazilians play golf?' I asked. 'They can't afford to,' he said. 'But is there much interest in the game?' 'Not a lot,' he replied. 'Will it be used after the Games?' 'I shouldn't think so,' he said.
I thought of that gentleman last week, when Rory McIlroy was the target of another censorious bout of finger-wagging for declining to play in the Olympics.
Rory McIlroy has come under criticism for declining to play golf at next month's Rio Olympics
For Rory knows, as we all know, that golf owes its place in the Games to American television.
It is the game to which Joe Six-pack can relate. And while the rest of the world clamours for Usain Bolt, NBC Sport needs to satisfy Joe. McIlroy expressed the situation perfectly. 'Most athletes dream of competing in the Olympics. We dream of Claret Jugs and Green Jackets,' he said. When they come to catalogue the multi-million-dollar blunders that crippled the Rio Olympics, the scandal of that unwanted golf course should come high on their list.
Rory is well out of it.
The golf course in Brazil has seen many high-profile withdrawals damaging its credibility at the Games already
Cursed by cheats and distorted by drugs, track and field is fighting for its life. But on Friday evening at the London Olympic Stadium, 40,000 people acclaimed a young American woman named Kendra Harrison as she flickered across the low hurdles in the world record-shattering time of 12.20 seconds. And as we marvelled at the sublime spectacle, we realised once more that for grace, beauty and breathtaking drama, the sad old sport still stands alone.
Kendra Harrison set a new world record in the women's 100m hurdles on Friday at London's Olympic Stadium
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