Sam Allardyce presented with the chance of a lifetime
And so, just like that, Sam Allardyce is England manager. A man who has, depending on how you see it, done great/unusual/routine deeds as a football manager has been finally presented with a chance to move out of the shadows that have followed him throughout his career. One of Allardyce’s primary laments has been that he has faced way too much hate, despite having delivered results more often than not, and has remained an oddly unloved character.
And yet the clubs that he has touched and transformed at various stages in his career, the players that he has managed and the staff that he has nurtured will stand by him and agree that he has been one of the best bosses they have worked with.
There is some merit in the claim that Allardyce is a proponent of a rather boring form of playing football. For a manager who has mostly managed clubs in the lower half of the table though, and who, amazingly, has never faced relegation as a Premier League manager; Sam brings an innate toughness needed for the job he has now taken on.
It is not to say that his sides were incapable of any form of entertainment. At Bolton for example, he played with stars such as Jay Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff and Nicolas Anelka at various points in time. Each of them were capable of dazzling audiences and dazzle they did; as Allardyce set up his side around these playmakers to devastating effect.
With a limited budget he assembled a great squad at Bolton; buoyed by veterans who he got the best out of and egged on by an amazing spirit within the team. His Bolton side were consistent top-half finishers and also embarked upon a European foray, famously holding Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena.
Brilliant at getting the best out of players
Allardyce’s success came as much from his ability to create a functioning team environment off the field as from his tactical know-how and a mastery in analysing and interpreting data. It was at Bolton, where Fernando Hierro played the last years of a fantastic career, that he booked a section of the stands and invited his family and friends on the last day of what was his final season.
Hierro’s was not just a symbolic gesture, but in his own words, a celebration of the great time he had had at Bolton, and one he wanted his dear ones to be a part of. Time and again, Allardyce has also shown the ability to deal with and the bring the best out of characters with a toxic reputation in football, the likes of Nikolas Anelka and El-Hadji Diouf at Bolton and more recently, Younes Kaboul at Sunderland.
Both Anelka and Diouf had fantastic stints with Bolton, with Anelka, in particular, talking about ‘finding peace’ in his time at the Reebok; a much needed interception in the life of a talented; eccentric footballer.
By turning Kaboul around from a rebel to a changing-room leader; Allardyce confronted his latest challenge at Sunderland, escaping relegation in the most dramatic of circumstances.
Just how he does it is anybody’s guess; but like the best bosses in a corporate environment, Sam Allardyce has the knack to make people work with him rather than for him. His wards display a trust for him that is rare to find for today’s managers.
The perfect template for England
By getting the job done at Sunderland, Allardyce displayed the perfect template required for the England role. England’s squad at the moment is bereft of any sort of breakthrough talent and lacks confidence. It is the sort of hole that Allardyce can slide in perfectly and work his way towards providing his England with an identity which will bring their confidence back.
Of course, there will be problems, in dealing with inflated egos, in ensuring co-operation from fellow Premier League managers who will supply players and from the fact that managing in club football is very different from taking on a national side. But it is safe to say that Allardyce has, in his long and chequered career, faced most of these problems in different forms and found a solution to them.
This is not to say that he is sure to succeed in this assignment though. Success in any managerial assignment is tough to predict and the England job is one with the most complex set of variables. What it presents Allardyce with, however, is a chance of a lifetime.
He currently carries a broad frame on a pair of lanky, thin legs. It is a little like his piece of work, which in spite of being impressive, doesn’t seem to have the legs to carry its glory far and wide. If he can bring his best to England and flourish in this role, he might just get those legs.