When Sam Allardyce was appointed England manager the usual pros and cons were trotted out before he faced the media at St George`s Park for his public unveiling. `The only man for the job` said some, Back to the Future said others in an ironic juxtaposition of criticism of his type of 1980s football and the iconic movie.
Perhaps the most significant, and pertinent, comment came from one of the few remaining, `old-fashioned` managers, Mick McCarthy. Mick, like Sam, graduated from the old school of football defending and when asked if Sam was the right man for the England job he had no doubts.
“If you want England to win football matches, Sam is the man”. The Ipswich manager went on to quote numerous examples of when, as a club manager, Sam had to win specific games against specific opposition he generally won those games. Arsene Wenger, in particular, can attest to that.
Yes of course England fans want to see stylish, exciting front-foot football from the national team, and silverware but believe me, as one of the millions of England supporters who have suffered over the years from abject failure, we`ll take winning football matches. Flair and style would be a welcome bonus but let`s get our priorities right.
Sam Allardyce is a motivator of men, no question, but there are those who question his tactical acumen, unproven at international level. But look a little deeper at exactly what international football is all about. Basically there is more to it than putting, arguably, the best 11 footballers of a nation into any one fixture. And therein lies the rub as that olde English scribe William Shakespeare would have put it.
Whoever is England manager he can only pick from the resources available and when those resources ARE available they do not always deliver. You can be the Golden Boot winner but as Harry Kane showed in France, you can be well off the pace. You can be one of the best goalkeepers in the world but as Joe Hart proved you can still be fallible. As for defenders, well, if Sam Allardyce cannot get the best out of underperforming defenders, although John Stones never got a chance, no one can.
Although the pool from which Sam can select England players has diminished over the past decade no question that the current crop are capable but not to order or so it would seem.
One factor that doesn`t seem to get too much of a public airing is personal responsibility. All top professional footballers in the elite are spoon fed from a ridiculously early age. Told what to eat and wear, picked up and dropped off for work, they are rarely encouraged to develop their thinking mechanism. And when the manager or coach sends them across the white line they are playing to instruction. What is needed, and Sam Allardyce is a pragmatist, is players who can adhere to a game plan. But, as is often the case, if that plan is nullified or two teams cancel each other out, a Plan B, or even C, is required when an inventive player, like Adam Lallana, can take the game by the scruff of the neck and think outside the box and execute something different.
Sam is likely to insist that, in the case of defending, if Row Z is required then Row Z it must be. Too many footballers, and it seems strange to be writing about top professional players who earn fortunes a week, try and be too clever and do things of which they are incapable. And if they are capable they err because of a poor decision regarding time and place. The very top players are very good decision makers, when and where to do what. It`s a simple as that. That comes with experience and gets better as a players gets older, one would hope.
The new England boss`s desire to introduce a midwinter break, good luck with that by the way, is a start. Shocking that the BPL is the only major European league not to allow physically and mentally taxed athletes time for recuperation. The benefits of such a break vastly outweigh the drawbacks, however actual or perceived but it isn`t going to happen before we start ploughing the long furrow towards Russia 2018.
So Sam needs to hit the floor running or to be more accurate, the players, current, fringe or way outside consideration, need to justify the faith in them when selected for England duty. They need to maintain club form, if it`s good enough or exceeds what they dish up for those who pay their salaries but, and it`s that great imponderable, above all they need to play to potential AND expectation.
If Sam Allardyce can deliver what Mick McCarthy reckons he IS capable of, winning football matches, and let`s face it when it comes to actual tournaments, six or seven games can win a trophy, everyone will be lauding the FA for a good pick. If it doesn`t work it won`t be so much a case of back to the drawing board more a case of chalk and slate because failure, after trying just about every avenue, with the exception of making the England manager`s job a competition prize, would be irreparable. Sam has his long awaited chance, only time will tell if he, and those who are to wear the Three Lions, are up to the task.
Written by Brian Beard