How did Sam Allardyce not see that one coming?

As modern manager types go, so defiantly and ruggedly old school is Sam Allardyce in the cut of his jib, that every time you see and hear him it’s as if he’s walked out of a Pathe newsreel from back in the sepia-tinted day when shorts were unfeasibly baggy, even the youngest players looked older than your granddad and the WM formation was at the very cutting edge of tactical science.
How did Sam Allardyce not see that one coming?

All nonsense, of course, since surely only a most seasoned sophisticate, wise in the ways of the football world from bootroom to boardroom, would have made it all the way from Limerick to the Premier League and, ultimately, to “the second most important job” in England.

So my first reaction on learning Allardyce — formerly ‘Big Sam’, henceforth ‘Telegraph Sam’ — had been stung in a classic media ambush was simply this: how on earth did he not see that one coming? If I was made England manager — and at the rate they’ve been dispensing with successful candidates, I can’t entirely rule it out — very high on my list of ‘Things To Watch Out For’ would be just the merest mention of a proposed meeting with unknown businessmen from a Far East firm anxious to establish a foothold in the English football industry.

And if I was still tempted, the first thing I’d do would be to nix any suggestion whatsoever of a face to face summit in a “top London hotel” or, for that matter, a “top Manchester restaurant”, instead stating as a cast-iron precondition that I’d only be prepared to meet in the middle of a field in the depths of the country on a moonless night with everyone stripped naked and wearing brown paper bags over our heads. And even then I’d probably want my security people to sweep any passing livestock, just to be sure, to be sure.

But, no, accompanied by his advisors, in marched Sam, apparently as wide as he is big, and “less than 20 minutes into the meeting with total strangers,” as The Daily Telegraph put it, “Allardyce had agreed, in principle, to a £400,000 deal to represent a company he’d never heard of”.

This, having just landed his dream job on £3m a year and before he’d even taken his first training session as manager of England’s national team.

Which leads me to my second instinctive reaction to the story when it broke. And it was pretty much the same sensation I experience every time I see one of Hollywood’s aristocracy turning up on my television set, somewhere between the weather forecast and ‘Nationwide’, trying to flog me coffee, beer, or perfume.

Again, why? I mean, I know the answer but still…why? Or to put it another way: when is enough not enough, exactly?

The late, great American comedian Bill Hicks used to do a typically savage riff on this very subject in which he charged that: “You do a commercial, you’re off the artistic roll call, every word you say is suspect, you’re a corporate whore and, ah, end of story.”

Hick’s targets, he liked to make clear, were established stars with money to burn, not struggling actors trying to catch a break. From the ranks of the famous, he permitted only one exception.

“You do a commercial, you’re off the artistic roll call forever and that goes for everyone…except Willie Nelson. $24m tax bill? Willie was a little looser than the rest of us. I just avert my eyes when he sings about tacos, you know what I mean?”

Similarly, football fans have long-since learned to avert their eyes when top level players and managers use their status and fame to maximise their already sky-high earning potential. Actually, the truth is that nobody really cares once they’re delivering those all-important results on the pitch.

And there’s always the implicit understanding too that, unlike the biggest names in Hollywood, some of the biggest names in football — the gaffers, especially — can’t be sure they’ll be wanted in a year’s time.

Or, as it has turned out in the case of Sam Allardyce, after just 67 days.

Of course, it was hardly his apparent mutation into Sam Avarice which did for him in the eyes of the FA.

Indeed, he made it clear at the meetings he would have to run the deal by them for clearance. But that potentially interesting conversation was never going to happen once the recordings also revealed him to be dismissively, even derisively, at odds with his employers over their stated policy on third-party transfers.

That was the killer self- inflicted blow. Everything else was by way of collateral damage to his reputation, from his juvenile mockery of Roy Hodgson and his criticism of the FA for wasting money on redeveloping Wembley to his bizarre comments about Prince Harry. And I’d have some sympathy for him in this regard, at least in the sense that there can hardly be one among us who wouldn’t end up violently red in the face if some of the things we say for private consumption were suddenly made public.

Yet, for all his talk of entrapment winning the day, it was Allardyce who willingly, if unwittingly, put himself in a situation which blew up in his face, greed and hubris mixing to self- destructive effect.

The morning after the shit hit the Sam, he was outside his home in Bolton to say a few words to the media mob before heading “off abroad”.

I doubt there’ll be any postcards forthcoming this time so we may never know if, in the course of his hols, he might encounter a traveller from an antique land with a morality tale to tell.

Yes, the boy Shells will always have the first, last and best word on these matters, with his pertinent talk of “vast and trunkless legs”, “shattered visage” and “frown and wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command.” Yep, he knew his man. Altogether now: “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”

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Saturday, January 23, 2021

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