Big Sam: Better Than Advertised

So it’s confirmed: Sam Allardyce has left Sunderland and has taken his place as the latest manager of the England team.

His detractors – not to mention those of The Football Association – are underwhelmed.  The general reaction seems to be that we’ve appointed a typical, mediocre English coach.  My response is that Big Sam is actually far less typical and mediocre than he’s given credit for.  He was also among the front runners if importance was placed on appointing an Englishman.

With that said, the fact that a 61 year-old, who has never won a major trophy or coached at an elite club was a prime candidate, does say something about the depressing standard of our domestic field.

I’m not saying that Sam is a bad choice.  There were better; Laurent Blanc is available after parting ways with Paris Saint Germain, while nursing troubled or developing teams to health is the Modus Operandi of Guus Hiddink.  However Allardyce is certainly as progressive and knowledgeable a British manager as his generation has produced.

A keen analyst and proponent of sports science, he has a strong reputation as a man-manager and is known to prepare his sides meticulously.

A bias towards the pragmatic has earned him a harsh reputation as a long-ball enthusiast.  This is unfair and such conclusions are likely related to the methods used to get results against stronger opposition.  While we shouldn’t expect tiki-taka under his watch, the standard of the England team compared to many of the clubs he has managed, should reveal the more nuanced side of Sam’s approach.

His demeanor and cultural background will also mesh well with that of the players at his disposal.  Compared to a Fabio Capello who at times was reported to be too much of a taskmaster, a Sven Goran-Eriksson said to be too meek on big occasions and a Steve McClaren who tried to buddy-up to the players in the most cringeworthy approximation of a “hip Dad” since Hugh Dennis uttered the words “What’s this?  It’s got a good beat!”, Big Sam is closer to a firm-but-fair, Churchill-esque motivator.  It’s been said that players will “run through walls” for him.

I doubt we’ll see either revolution or evolution from this hire.  The most I’m hoping for is a rebuilding of confidence, the installation of a bit more nerve and steady, competent performances.

If Allardyce performs to the best of his ability, I see England simply being as good as they are.  We’ll continue to do well in qualifying.  We’ll consistently reach knockout stages.  When we go out, it will be to superior clubs, with bittersweet displays of heart and dignity.

Otherwise, we’ll likely see more of the same: serviceable results in general, with uninspiring performances and punching below our weight in finals.

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