In the last blog post I shared the views of Robbie and Spencer regarding the appointment of Sam Allardyce as the new England manager. Here are my initial thoughts on the matter.
Recently I finally got round to watching the documentary Alan Shearer put together reminiscing about Euro 1996 when football was coming home. Among other things during the hour of a love letter to yesterday, what was apparent was how that England team were full of leaders – Neville, Southgate, Adams and Pearce were leaders and that was the back four! Add to that Ince and Shearer himself and that’s the majority of the team being outstanding leaders on the pitch. Seaman was a capable leader in his own right too. Terry Venables nurtured a strong team that got the team a penalty away from the final.
Twenty years later and the state of play as far as the England side is concerned is very different. Some looked at the squad and were mildly glad of the attacking threat, but beyond that there was little in the squad in the way of motivational or exemplary leadership. Unsurprisingly when such qualities were called for in scoring goals and winning matches, England fell short. The accusation could be made that this was reflective of management that likewise came up short when it came to motivational or exemplary leadership.
So a country wailed again at their failings at tournament football when it mattered most. The thing about football is that it’s a matter of expectation. In the past, expectations have been slightly overhyped where England were concerned. One of the few achievements of the Hodgson time in charge of the national team is he was very successful at lowering expectations. It was amusing, the team would qualify for the tournaments relatively comfortably but there was something about the mediocre aura of Hodgson that never allowed you to aspire too much. One or two optimists thought England could make the semi finals of this year’s tournament, but the overriding feel was that it was realistic to expect this team to make the quarter finals. That England failed with such ignominy to even make that left some looking glum. As Hodgson left the question surrounded his replacement.
As someone who has never been that excited about the national team, my observations and musings on the side was based on what is to be reasonably expected from anyone taking on the challenge. The appointment of Sam Allardyce as the new England manager filled me with an overwhelming sense of ‘meh’. Is he really the best England can come up with? If the remit was not limited by nationality then the answer would surely be ‘no’. If the remit was to identify a man who could enthuse, galvanise and motivate a group of players to achieve something beyond themselves then the answer would surely be ‘no’.
It is clear that the remit that mattered was nationality. Not aspiration or ambition. Certainly nothing about a system and identity that would run throughout the system. The remit based on the appointment was about which manager can make the team difficult to beat and play to a clear system fit for purpose in its immediate context and no further. Fans of the national team should not be excited at this appointment. This is not a progressive appointment. Hodgson was a mediocre manager who did well with mediocre sides. The argument about Allardyce is he has been unlucky because he has never had the chance to play with the bigger teams. Yet those big teams were very clear that Sam Allardyce was not the best choice to win. He was a more suitable choice to merely survive. In essence, Sam Allardyce is a mediocre manager who has done well with mediocre teams. He did well at Bolton to make them a decent mid table side. Outside that, though, the teams he took charge of were of that standard anyway. Even the job at West Ham was to get a mid table Premier League club back to being a mid table Premier League club. That he managed that would be an encouraging sign for a mediocre national side. If that’s what England expects, then congratulations.
It’s not even about critiquing his ‘style of football’. Allardyce is committed to playing functional and relatively stable football that will look to contain the threat of the opponent whilst maximising opportunities to get the ball forward as quickly as possible. That doesn’t have to be the long ball all the time, but it is not the football to get anyone excited or be a threat to the better nations in a tournament setting.
Of course it is a case of ‘wait and see’. The quality of England players is at an interesting stage. The Spurs contingent, despite a disappointing tournament, are on the way up. There are sufficient points of hope for the two year cycle towards the World Cup. Maybe Allardyce can do something that suggests he can deliver the goods. What those goods look like now, however, will be something that Allardyce is responsible for in terms of cultivating expectations through the selection and performance of the teams in this two year cycle.
Following the two views on the matter in the last post, here’s a good balanced view on the matter.
C. L. J. Dryden