Failure can be defining, so can scandal: Sam Allardyce and a lifetime dream destroyed

'In happier days' writes Richard Jolly, 'Sam Allardyce liked to imagine what his legacy as England manager might entail'. All too soon and all too exactly, we now know.
Sam Allardyce shown at a press conference last month. Oli Scarff / AFP
Sam Allardyce shown at a press conference last month. Oli Scarff / AFP

In happier days, and there were 66 of them before the disastrous 67th, Sam Allardyce liked to imagine what his legacy as England manager might entail.

He had stayed in the Sir Bobby Charlton Suite at the St George’s Park training centre. He asked: “Do you think there might be a Sam Allardyce Suite here one day?”

No. It is safe to say there will not be. Not after a reign that encompassed one game, one clean sheet, one win and a 100 per cent winning record, but which nonetheless ended in disgrace.

Allardyce was driven out by stupidity and greed, departing for what the English Football Association politely deemed “inappropriate” comments.

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The prospect of pocketing £400,000 (Dh1.9 million) from an Asian firm prompted Allardyce to ask not what he could do for his country, but what managing his country could do for his already bulging bank balance.

He did not need the money. The England job paid him an estimated £3 million (Dh14.3m) a year. In his autobiography, written before he took over Sunderland in2015 and secured a sizeable bonus for keeping them in the Premier League, he wrote: “I don’t need another job, the kids and grandkids are set up financially for life.”

When Allardyce’s life ends, it is a guarantee that the first line of his obituary will reference his brief and ignominious spell as England manager, just as David Moyes’s will draw attention to his unsuccessful time at Manchester United. Failure can be defining, even in the context of long and often laudable careers.

So, too, can scandal. Allardyce’s managerial career has spanned 957 games over 24 years. The last and briefest of jobs will loom large in any appraisal.

But humiliation is becoming a constant for England. Six years ago, Time magazine branded them “the world’s most disappointing team”.

That was long before the tragicomedy of 2016 where they lost to Iceland and lost two managers. The third man to take the helm, the caretaker Gareth Southgate, is less likely to embarrass the FA than Allardyce, whose ego got the better of him.

Southgate is prefect material, an eloquent, uncontroversial figure. Unlike Allardyce, he is largely unproven as a manager but it is easy to imagine the FA trying to persuade him to remain in charge on a permanent basis.

Southgate has no reputation as a visionary and no medals as a manager. He would not get close to landing an elite club job. But nor would any other Englishman. There is a crisis of coaching among them.

The Premier League can lure the world’s finest, and increasingly does. Too many of the natives complain, as Allardyce did, that opportunities at the top are not afforded to them, without acknowledging they are not the multilingual ideologues the superpowers tend to target.

Their CVs are lesser than those of the men the mid-table clubs import. Too few have broadened their knowledge and skills by working abroad.

Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche are the two brightest candidates in a Premier League featuring only four English managers, one a caretaker, but it should be too soon for either.

Older contenders might not be whiter than white, as Allardyce was not. There is a moral element to a job which, despite England’s mediocre tournament results, many leave for off-field reasons.

But none went as quickly as Allardyce; a lifetime’s work was put into getting the England post and, misguided as his motives and conduct were, he still merits sympathy that a dream was destroyed so quickly.

His footballing errors – dropping Marcus Rashford and allowing Wayne Rooney to play wherever he wanted – were not his undoing. He leaves England on course to qualify for the 2018 World Cup but in a mess nonetheless. The last two English managers to go mid-season, Kevin Keegan and Steve McClaren, were replaced by foreigners.

A dearth of alternatives is only one reason why history should repeat itself.

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Published: September 28, 2016 04:00 AM


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