Why Sam Allardyce should swap Sunderland for Soho Square
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | Updated September 28, 2016
Big Sam the leading homegrown choice
Perhaps it’s the paucity of credible candidates, but Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce has emerged as one of the leading contenders to become the next England boss.
Since Coral published this article, there have been major developments in who will now be the new England manager, so read the latest.
Not that Three Lions fans would’ve minded the perceived physical Big Sam style when up against robust Russian, Slovakian and Icelandic outfits – all of which the resigned Roy Hodgson couldn’t tactically outwit.
Odds for Allardyce to become next England boss have tumbled since the immediate aftermath of Hodgson’s resignation, twice being slashed in half – first from 16/1 to 8/1 and then again into 4/1 and shortened into the current odds-on 8/11 price on offer with Coral.
A burning ambition?
Big Sam has coached England during the charity event Soccer Aid, but doing the job for real is understood to have been an ambition of his as far back as 2006 when Sven-Goran Eriksson stepped down.
Three Lions supporters were feeling penalty pain a decade ago following a World Cup quarter-final shoot-out loss to Portugal and Wayne Rooney’s sending off just after the hour mark.
Allardyce, who had taken Bolton Wanderers into Europe for the first time in their history, had high stock in 2006, but was overlooked for the England job in favour of Steve McClaren, who had served on Eriksson’s staff.
No quick fix for England
The FA do not have a quick fix from inside this time, however, with Under-21 boss Gareth Southgate ruling himself out and Hodgson assistant Gary Neville leaving his backroom role.
Not that McClaren’s managerial move from dugout background to hotseat was successful anyway, and should serve as a stark warning to anyone at Soho Square of promoting from within too soon.
It is probably a blessing in disguise this isn’t a viable option this time. The only trouble is there aren’t all that many people to turn to, but Allardyce is one of them. Like every manager, he’s made mistakes or been a scapegoat for those of others.
Mixed bag in club coaching
Big Sam proved deeply unpopular on Tyneside with Newcastle United during the early days of the Mike Ashley era, for example, but what manager apart from Kevin Keegan hasn’t attracted criticism from the tribal Toon Army? Allardyce’s reign at St James’ Park lasted less than eight months (May 2007 to January 2008).
Despite decent subsequent work stabilising Blackburn Rovers, a club like Bolton and Newcastle that have since fared far less well, another set of controversial ownership in Venky’s harshly removed Allardyce in December 2010.
Hard done by at Ewood Park, it is his great work with West Ham United (2011-15) – foundations upon which successor Slaven Bilic has built – and saving Sunderland during their seemingly annual relegation battle last season that have re-established Big Sam’s credentials.
Substance over style?
A 29 per cent win rate with the Black Cats is a stick you could easily use to beat Allardyce with, but 36 of the 39 points the Wearside outfit picked up in the Premier League came under him.
This potential England appointment would be made for practical reasons rather than exciting ones. Big Sam has got results whenever given the chance, and that must be desirable to the three-man FA panel looking to fill their top coaching post.
Technical director Dan Ashworth, chief executive Martin Glenn and vice-chairman David Gill convened in Paris during the aftermath of yet another Three Lions tournament exit at Euro 2016 to discuss what went wrong and how to take things forward.
A sense of identity
What Allardyce may lack in international experience is more than compensated for by his knowledge of English football. It is understood the kingmakers of Soho Square want their new coach to have a strong team identity and approach.
That is one box Big Sam ticks, but are his tactics lacking in finesse to make him attractive to the FA?
It is easy to presume, but former Hammers charge and target man Andy Carroll could well be the focal point of Allardyce’s England frontline, given his previous preferences for a good, old-fashioned centre forward.
Proper strikers still fit the bill
A glance at the goal charts shows that Euro 2016 has been more about the modern all-round attacker, yet there are some physical presences among those to have caught the eye.
Olivier Giroud of France and Arsenal has three tournament goals going into the final for the hosts, while Mario Gomez of Germany and Italy’s Graziano Pelle were effective battering rams before becoming injured and eliminated respectively.
Some of Europe’s elite; Les Bleus, Germany and Italy are all still calling upon strikers of similar style and stature to Carroll, so Allardyce’s penchant for the target man still suits a clear purpose.
Other approaches en vogue
And yet, the Euros have thrown into sharper focus the value of more mobile options. Antoine Griezmann is a lock for the Golden Boot now, because he has double anyone else’s tournament tally.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani are wingers pushed into nominal striking berths by Portugal, while Giroud and Griezmann have been supported superbly by Carroll’s West Ham clubmate Dimitri Payet.
Pace merchant Gareth Bale is the polar opposite to the traditional Big Sam frontman, admittedly used by Wales in a similar vein to Real Madrid colleague Ronaldo for Portugal due to an absence of other attacking options.
Spain striker Alvaro Morata represents the rangy channel runner who exploits space between full back and centre half to not only score, but bring others into play.
British football brand
Going back to the future could be Allardyce’s manifesto. FA Cup tie intensity with Carroll partnered by 2015/16 Premier League Golden Boot winner Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney, if he still has an international future in-behind or deployed in midfield.
Being bold enough to play two up front can reap rewards – a lesson taught to us all by plucky Iceland at Euro 2016. Leicester City did likewise to great effect en route to an against all odds Premier League title triumph.
One notable change you would also expect of Big Sam is to bring back some proper wingers into the England set-up. These have been notably absent in recent years with Raheem Sterling making a poor case for the breed.
A look to Allardyce’s old side would present an option out wide to explore in Hammers right-sided player Michail Antonio.
Form over reputations a way forward
Indeed, many of the West Ham contingent whose considerable claims for Three Lions call-ups that were ignored by Hodgson could inject the sort of passion and effort fans expect of England.
Big Sam wouldn’t be afraid to pick the bustling, no-nonsense central defenders like Ryan Shawcross with the established names all disappointing.
Now that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has retired from international football, surely it is safe for the Stoke City skipper to return to such a stage and be given further caps as a reward for steady performances throughout his Premier League career.
Big Sam makes a big case
The English football fan could identify more with Allardyce’s approach than the abandoning of principles we saw from Hodgson with disastrous results at Euro 2016.
German-born USA coach and former Spurs striker Jurgen Klinsmann might also be fancied to take on the Three Lions, but are his two short stints at White Hart Lane as a player enough exposure to British sporting culture?
Possession without penetration is Hodgson’s epitaph from yet another tournament disappointment. With Big Sam in charge, England wouldn’t be afraid to win by any means necessary.
You’ll find more international football features like this on Coral’s dedicated page.