The Deflation of England’s Big Sam

by | Sep 27, 2016

At the very moment that this is being written, we do not know whether Sam Allardyce will be able to cling onto his position as the manager of the England national football team. Superficial readings of the case against him do not make for great reading. Allardyce has been caught red-handed, giving implied approval to breaking FA rules concerning the third party ownership of players, a practice which has been described more than once as being akin to “modern day slavery”, and further injudicious comments do little to present an image of a manager who has grasped that this particular job is as much about diplomacy as anything else, when we consider that the likelihood of the team actually improving its performance on the pitch in the foreseeable future is next to nil.

The need for instant and definitive judgement, of course, makes nuance next to impossible, and this is only further accentuated by the binary nature in which this story can only play out. Ultimately, either Allardyce will stay in his job or he won’t. There is no middle ground, although the Daily Telegraph has already promised that there are numerous other revelations to follow regarding other managers which will reveal a rotten core at the heart of top-flight English football, and no matter what the verdict of the FA is and no matter how quickly or slowly it is arrived at and handed down, it will prove to be a divisive decision.

Although it may be tempting to be sidelined by the sheer volume of things that he had to say for himself, we should probably retain our focus on those that are actually likely to threaten his ongoing problem. Allardyce’s decision to stick the knife into his predecessor Roy Hodgson to strangers – most notably by calling him “Woy”, a sure-fire indicator of the banter levels that anybody sharing any time with him would have to endure – may have been stupid, but they are opinions that he is entitled to, as are his views on Gary Neville, Hodgson’s assistant this summer, while his savagery of an England team too afraid to be able to perform may not be an especially popular, but it does at least confirm a suspicion that many supporters have held for many years, and his opinions on Wembley Stadium seem fairly inarguable.

Broadly speaking, though, it is on the matter of the third party ownership of players that Allardyce’s England future will come to stand or fall. The matter of being paid £400,000 as a keynote speaker in Hong Kong is curious, if for no other reason than, after several Premier League contracts and the England job, Allardyce should by now be a not unreasonably wealthy man. His interest in this “project” hints at an individual interested in the accumulation of money for the sake of its accumulation but, while that may seem distasteful to those of us who struggle along on a fraction of his income, it should be added that he did add that this engagement would need to be cleared by the FA before he could accept it. 

His comments regarding the third party ownership of players, however, is the area in which he is most likely to come unstuck. The Football Association banned such ownership in 2008 with FIFA later following suit, and it is clearly and obviously not a strong look for the manager of the national team to be briefing anybody on the circumvention of these rules. We might have expected a little more circumspection on this subject from Allardyce when we consider the allegations levelled against him in an edition of the BBC’s Panorama in 2006 which highlighted signings that he had made through his son – he refused post-match interviews with the BBC for many years afterwards, though nothing ever came of the legal action that he threatened against the corporation – but apparently no, this is something that Allardyce considers fair game for conversation whilst running the national team. 

Perhaps, though, Sam Allardyce is the perfect manager for England, when we consider these revelations in a broader context. An undoubted braggart and aficionado of the “banter”, obsessed with the making of money for the sake of making money, and fundamentally opposed to regulations put in place to do something towards financial, sporting and moral propriety within the game in this country, he sounds like a perfect match for England in the twenty-first century. And it is this that sits at the heart of the conundrum that the Football Association faces, a conundrum far broader than the reflex reaction question of who would replace him in the event of his position becoming untenable. Sam Allardyce’s opinions are probably not that uncommon amongst those who already make a handsome living from professional football. The biggest difference between him and the rest of them is most likely that others are a little more cautious over who they hold these discussions with. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers and the names, the specifics of a story that offers a broader narrative of where our priorities rest at this point in time. There seems little question that various degrees of underhand dealings have been going on in football in this country for as long as people have been able to make money from it, and that where the game has been most successful has been in brushing it under the carpet and keeping it from the general public’s gaze for such a long time. English football has been telling the world for a century and a half that its shit doesn’t stink, a superiority complex that the rest of the world has broadly ignored as it got on with the business of bringing through more – and better – coaches and players, whilst periodically dumping the national team out of tournaments in increasingly humorous ways. There was something to admire in the stand that the FA took as the full extent of the corruption that rests at the heart of FIFA became increasingly apparent – although that didn’t stop them from bidding for the 2018 World Cup finals, of course – but unless corrosive effects of money are seriously addressed, the occasional sacrificial lamb will occasionally be tossed to one side, whilst the broader cultural issues surrounding the game in this country will largely go unaddressed. Time will tell whether Sam Allardyce is added to that pile but, while it’s difficult to find a great deal of sympathy for him, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that getting rid of him would be little more than addressing a symptom rather than the root cause. Yet again. 

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