The perfect storm has finally happened. The stars have aligned, and Sam Allardyce has realised his dream of becoming England manager.
One of the most divisive figures in the English game now has arguably the biggest (certainly the most high-pressure) job in the country.
In many ways, this is one of the most intriguing England managerial appointments in years. Everyone could see Hodgson wasn’t going to work out – one needed to have only witnessed how he sucked all the optimism out of Liverpool in only a few short months to see that.
This, however, feels a bit different. Allardyce has made no secret of the fact that he has always wanted this job, and firmly believes that he belongs in the top bracket of football management.
Such enthusiasm is welcome, but is a guarantee of nothing.
Allardyce, according to FA Chief Executive Martin Glenn, was the best man for the job. The word “English” should be placed in there somewhere, but after constantly going back and forth over whether or not the next manager in fact had to be of the same nationality as the team, hiring Big Sam surely answers that question.
Allardyce is perhaps the best English manager in the game today (which in itself speaks volumes), but the best outright option? That’s very questionable.
Like almost every managerial appointment, there are pros and cons to Allardyce becoming the England manager.
The biggest drawback relates, not just to his style of play, but his mentality surrounding matches. Having become accustomed to relegation battles and generally fighting his way up against the bigger boys, how exactly is Allardyce going to cope when his team are strong favourites?
Allardyce confidently opined, back in 2010:
“I’m not suited to Bolton or Blackburn. I would be more suited to Internazionale or Real Madrid. I would win the double or the league every time.”
And yet everything in his career up to this point has suggested that this is not the case. On the bottom punching up has always been his modus operandi, the plucky English underdog in a sea of foreign know-it-alls.
England are going to win their qualifying group, that can be said with some degree of certainty. With the greatest of respect to Scotland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta, that’s not a particularly strong collection of teams.
But then Allardyce has never been in a position like this before. His rallying cries of victimhood and boasts of “out-tacticing” stronger teams works against the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal, but that sort of talk won’t fly against Malta and Lithuania. He’ll be expected to dominate and crush.
For once, he’ll be the oppressor rather than the oppressed, and it will be fascinating to see how he handles that alteration in mentality.
Even more intriguing will be the prospect of him then reverting to type when he comes against the likes of Spain and Germany. This England side is the very definition of a flat-track bully, which in itself would be a test for any manager.
Of course, on the other side of the coin is the argument that this is exactly what England need. Not in terms of national team progression, but as a reality check.
There’s a reason why Arsene Wenger, or indeed any other top manager, would not want this job. Put simply, it is a career-killer. Rarely has a manager come away from this post with any sort of public dignity intact. They are bullied, berated and browbeaten to the point where every England manger over the past two decades is now regarded as a failure – not just during their tenure, but for the entirety of their careers before and after.
Steve McClaren’s league title with AZ? Nope, idiot with an umbrella.
Fabio Capello’s multiple trophies in some of Europe’s top clubs? Forget it, couldn’t beat Algeria.
Eriksson’s three consecutive quarter finals? Couldn’t make Lampard and Gerrard work together.
The FA, if not the fans, need to be told that the England job is not an attractive one. Allardyce and Steve Bruce wanted it, but then they’re of an age still drawn to the bright shine of the Jules Rimet statue – they can’t see the wood for the trees through their own misguided sense of romance.
England might have some very bright prospects in their ranks, but as a collective they are painfully average. The fans know this, which is why they cannot muster anything more than apathy that their new manager was battling Premier League relegation two months ago, and surely the lukewarm reception to the job’s availability from top level managers has made the FA realise it too.
Allardyce at England might work, it might go horribly wrong. There’s just no calling it right now. International football is a very different game to the club environment – it may suit Allardyce perfectly, or it might bury him.
However, this is the restart button that England needed to push when Capello walked out on them just weeks before Euro 2012 (if not before). This is the palate-cleansing sorbet before the real work can begin.
There is nothing wrong with this per se, admission of shortcomings is the first step to recovery after all, but the hope is that he can steady the ship while long-term plans are made.
The only problem is, we’ve been here so many times before with England. It’s hard to escape the feeling that nothing ever changes – the only difference this time is that now they actually know how mediocre they are.
If that alone does not terrify them into progressive action, then all hope for England is lost.