LARRY RYAN: Tackling the Big Sam question

Last time Big Sam Allardyce interviewed for the England job, the FA’s Dave Richards was putting the key questions: “If a player came walking into the dressing room talking away on his mobile, what would you do?”

“My reply was instant,” Sam claims, in his autobiography.

“I’d take it off him and throw it in the bin, even if it was Wayne Rooney.”

An answer that drew unanimous approval, according to Sam, though the FA went for Steve McClaren in the end, who you can picture asking Wazza if he wouldn’t mind sticking it on airplane mode.

But now they have come back for Sam, perhaps taking into account Chris Waddle’s incisive criticism of England’s players at Euro 2016: “They’re all just headphones.”

Now they have a man who will be firm on audio devices, who has even given up his own headset, which he once used to keep in constant contact with Phil Brown.

What else will they get with Sam, besides a superhuman capability to do his job with Phil Brown in his ear?

If McClaren famously struggled to suppress a deep yearning to be foreign, this will not be an issue with Sam, who still makes liberal use of the expression “foreign fancy-dan”.

In Sam, they have a man in step with the times. At least in a country when they wish to step back in time. A vote for Big Sam is a vote to give England back to the English. It is a vote for anger at the way things have gone.

“I get even angrier away from football when we’re told we shouldn’t refer to it as ‘Christmas’ any more, it should be ‘The Festive Season’. What is this country coming to?”

Sam’s ‘Back to Basics’ manifesto is the perfect salve for a nation still recovering from the most shocking event in its history: conceding from a long throw against Iceland.

In the world Sam would rewind to, if you’re not interfering with play, what are you doing on the pitch? “As for offside … don’t get me started on that one! Good grief, it was so much simpler when offside was offside.”

Sam will ask the existential question many want reanswered: Can we not knock it?

It is a revealing book, Big Sam: My Autobiography; the no-frills title a statement in itself.

Foreigners don’t come out of it terribly well, though Sam has never ruled out missionary work, in that place they call abroad. “I would have been a success abroad if I’d cracked the language barrier.”

But this is no closed mind; to Prozone and data and nutri shakes and tai chi and more sinister modern developments.

“For the record, I haven’t got a problem with lineswomen.”

There is an ingenious ability to explain away setbacks that could prove very useful over the coming years. When standards began to slip at West Ham, the reason was simple: “We were suffering for our early season brilliance.”

The first chapter is, naturally, called Jumpers for Goalposts, wistfulness for a bygone age laid bare. But there is really no need to read beyond the first 11 words, supplied by his great pal Fergie, for the foreword.

“Sam Allardyce is one of the great characters of the game.”

It is Teddy Sheringham who gets the starkest glimpse of Big Sam the character, though the mental image is ours to share.

“He tells me that the first time we met, he was a kid helping the kit-man with first-team duties and when I invited him into my hotel room to collect my dirty kit I was standing there stark bollock naked, as I towelled myself down.”

And there was encouragement too for those pressmen who will busy themselves in the months ahead on the trail of ‘controvassy’.

“I was even warned at West Ham to be careful what I referred to as ‘banter’ because to someone else it might be deemed verbal abuse.”

The doubters might find Fergie’s faint praise telling. It is unlikely that being one of the game’s “great characters” featured prominently on his checklist when he was considering a new signing or a coach. Or when he was looking for his successor.

Though Sam’s enthusiasm for goading Fergie’s enemies such as Arsene Wenger and Rafa Benitez no doubt helped earn him certain privileges.

Tackling the Big Sam question

“If you beat United, he’d still invite you in and open a bottle of red. That is class.”

In truth, there weren’t many occasions when Fergie was forced to show his class. The relationship might be better characterised by an episode when Sam was again showing his class in Old Trafford defeat by offering what he thought was a bottle of red.

“I went redder than the wine I thought was in the bottle… they’d swapped it and got the Ribena from the canteen. They had done me like a kipper – and we lost 4–1.”

Yet Fergie feels Sam is the answer now. Depending on what the question is. “He’s certainly the top Englishman. You can search the world for a top manager but it was right to appoint an Englishman.”

Is it right? We must remember that England have been busy, for some time, planning to win the 2022 World Cup. Two years ago, in an effort to move things along, they plotted the “England DNA”.

Their findings were vague, though terms like possession and creativity crop up.

Earlier this year, Matt Crocker, the FA’s head of player and coach development, sounded almost McClarian in his wish that England could achieve some kind of foreign vibe.

“The 16s were recently in Florida and their performances were as close to being the DNA as we would wish for, not just because they won it, but they were playing Brazil and if the shirts had been the other way around, you wouldn’t know which was us and which was them.”

Crocker is certain about one thing: “The whole pathway has to change and we have to have some really clear messages and strategies of what we want our players to do.”

When Sam was interviewed by Dave Richards and the rest in 2006, he assured the FA he wanted input into the entire England structure, “from the senior team, through the Under-21s and down the age groups.”

It earned him “wholehearted nods of approval”.

When Sam helps lay the England pathways, there are some hints in Big Sam: My Autobiography that he will be paving over Crocker’s ideas about their DNA.

“I’ve always regarded losing possession in your own half as a criminal offence.”

And it may soon be very clear to England fans which side are them and which are us.

“There was one game where Kevin Davies headed 36 balls behind Wenger’s defence. That meant we created 36 opportunities. Had we passed it around and tried to play through them, we might have got five at most.”

There are many mentions of Arsene Wenger in Sam’s book, though not many complimentary ones. There is a chapter called ‘Allerdici 1 Arsene 0’.

Even at his finest hour, it might grate with Sam, that the FA seemingly went for Arsene first. But there is something else we must consider too, that might trouble both men.

If Sam is the obvious alternative to Wenger, the FA must be convinced that the pair share the same DNA.


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