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Big Sam's Big Fall
by Paul Gardner, October 3rd, 2016 2:58PM
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TAGS:  england, international


By Paul Gardner

LONDON -- Poor Sam Allardyce. Well, maybe. Depends how you see things. Not long ago, Allardyce was one of the few English coaches in the English Premier League ... he had a lowly job with a lowly team -- Sunderland, which he just managed to save from relegation last season. But that background -- really, nothing more than showing he's good at teaching a poor team how to play survival soccer -- was enough to get Allardyce his dream job.

It happened quickly. On June 27 England was knocked out of Euro 2016, beaten by Iceland. A result so utterly humiliating that Coach Roy Hodgson resigned immediately. Within a month, Allardyce was installed as his replacement.

A hasty decision for sure, but maybe none the worse for that. Allardyce had been known to tout his own suitability for the job. After all, he had enormous experience of English soccer, he knew the players, and he was decidedly English.

That last point seemed important. England had appointed its first-ever foreign coach in 2001, the Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson. A move that offended many, who termed it a humiliation and an insult to the English game and in particular to English coaches.

Eriksson, having accomplished very little, departed in 2006, replaced by Steve McClaren, an Englishman. But McClaren flopped badly and lasted only 18 games. In 2008 the Italian Fabio Capello arrived.

Another highly paid foreigner and therefore not widely popular. Capello lasted until 2011. His teams won 28 out of 42 games and produced a goal difference of +54. Which ain't at all bad. Except that it didn't get England any nearer to winning the World Cup, which was the aim, albeit a fading one, of appointing expensive foreign coaches.

So, once again, the English FA decided that an English coach was necessary. Enter Roy Hodgson, whose qualifications for the post always seemed slender. But his results, like Capello's, were quite good ... until that disastrous loss to Iceland. A coach who couldn't beat Iceland was never going to lead England to World Cup glory.

And so we arrive at Sam Allardyce, who at once let it be known that this was the best of all possible worlds for him: "I am extremely honored to be appointed England manager especially as it is no secret that this is the role I have always wanted ... For me, it is absolutely the best job in English football." At nearly $4 million a year, the salary no doubt looked good, too.

But there were clear reasons for questioning the appointment. Not least because it looked too close to being a re-run of Hodgson. Hodgson had taken over at age 65; Allardyce is a tad younger at 61, but both belong to the "older" generation. Can they really understand the modern game, never mind the modern players?

Hodgson did his best to appear more modern, bringing in younger players, but it would be stretching things to say that his teams looked like a new more streamlined England. There was always a hint of same-ness, even staleness, about Hodgson's teams.

Hodgson did have one huge advantage over Allardyce. International experience. He had coached in Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, the UAE, and Finland. He had been the national team coach of Finland and Switzerland, taking the Swiss to the 1994 World Cup. Against that, Allardyce could offer only a career that -- apart from short spells with Limerick in Ireland and 11 games with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the old NASL -- was based entirely in England.

There was one other fault in Allardyce's portfolio, one that probably ought to have worried the FA. In 2006 Allardyce had been accused in a BBC documentary of taking "bungs" from agents -- i.e. payments in return for which he made sure that his club signed players who were on the agent's books. Allardyce denied everything. A later investigation found no evidence of bribes, but stated that he had a "conflict of interest."

Considering that the FA states that its own aims are "the highest standards on and off the field. Nothing less is acceptable," it is surprising that more attention was not given to Allardyce's history.

Then, on Sept. 26, came the bombshell. The newspaper The Telegraph published the results of an undercover investigation it had been conducting for 10 months into corruption and bung-taking in English soccer. A huge photo of Allardyce and a bold-type headline proclaiming "England Manager Sam Allardyce for Sale" dominated the paper's front page.

The gist of the Telegraph's revelation was that Allardyce had agreed to meet with people who he believed to be "businessmen" representing a cash-loaded Far East firm anxious to get in on the player transfer market. The businessmen were really Telegraph journalists.

Allardyce had been filmed making extraordinarily incautious remarks about how easy it was to circumvent the rules against third-party ownership of players -- rules that his own employers, the FA, were enforcing. He then stated that the FA was "all about money" and called them "stupid" for spending £870 million on rebuilding Wembley Stadium.

All of that could almost be dismissed as Allardyce, new to the most powerful job in his career, simply showing off. But greed also entered the picture -- Allardyce was under the impression he was also negotiating a £400,000 ($514,000) job with the fictitious Far East firm, to act as their "ambassador" and deliver the occasional keynote speech.

This was all way too much for the FA. Within 24 hours Allardyce had been fired -- officially, had agreed to an amicable parting. Indeed. Allardyce is reported to have been granted a £1 million severance payment. Count me among those who cannot see any reason at all why the FA should be giving Allardyce money. His tenure of the job, his dream job, had lasted just 67 days. He had coached only one England game, a labored 1-0 win over Slovakia. A result that will enable him to go down in the records as the only England coach to have a 100 percent winning record.

So the FA's search for a coach continues. The arguments pro and con a foreign coach are circulating again. For now, the interim coach is Gareth Southgate, certainly younger (46) but with litte coaching experience: three years at Middlesbrough, which saw the club relegated, since then, Southgate has coached the England under-21 and under-20 teams.

There are few, pitifully few, other English candidates. Maybe Eddie Howe at Bournemouth. But not really.

Foreigners? Yes. Arsene Wenger for a start, who is French but has coached in England for 20 years and might therefore be considered half English. Wenger has given coy, non-commital answers when asked if he's interested. The Argentine Mauricio Pochettino, also coaching in England, says he's not interested. The name of another Argentine, Diego Simeone, has come up -- his contract with Atletico Madrid ends with the season. Jurgen Klinsmann has been mentioned. If only. His appointment might not redress England's problems, but it would go a long way toward solving the USA's.

And there you have it. Allardyce, having been, as he put it, "silly," has fled to his villa in Benidorm, Spain.

So, as I asked when I began, is it "poor Sam Allardyce"? Should we feel sorry for this man who has seen his dream job suddenly swept away from him? He has apologized to the FA for what he admits was "an error of judgment on my part ... a silly thing to do"?

But was it merely silly? Allardyce has been pilloried in the British press, not for being silly, but mostly for "naked greed" and selfishness.

There is another possible factor: naivete. That seems unlikely in a 61-year old who has spent his entire career working within English soccer. Yet how else to explain his willingness to meet people he did not know and to discuss openly with them obviously shady topics and to mock his own employers?

That scenario becomes even more inexplicable when one recalls that virtually the same deception (getting him to talk openly with undercover journalists claiming to represent wealthy interests) was practiced on Ericksson in 2006. How could Allardyce not be aware of that?

There is also the perplexing fact that, while discussing the £400,000 "ambassador" job, Allardyce is on tape as saying that he would have to run the idea past his employers -- the FA.

That, alongside his blindness to the similarity of his experience to the Eriksson incident, sounds like extraordinary naivete. Either that, or blatant hubris.

As he headed for Spain, Allardyce remarked that "Entrapment has won on this occasion." Entrapment is generally regarded as reprehensible, an unfair, maybe illegal, way of incriminating someone. The police, aware of the problems surrounding entrapment, like to distinguish it from "enticement": entrapment involves luring some one into nefarious actions he would not otherwise have committed, while enticement is seen merely as providing the opportunity for some one to do things he is only too willing to do.

By that definition, Allardyce looks much more like a willing victim of enticement. Which does not make him a criminal. At the moment, it seems that he has broken no rules, nor committed any crime.

But the London police are investigating Allardyce (it is not clear what their interest is), and the FA will surely take action against Allardyce -- probably a limited banishment from soccer for "bringing the game into disrepute."

Naivete, stupidity, hubris and greed are all part of this mess. Plus something else: Allardyce has always come over as a gregarious, affable man who liked talking to people. He has always been good at interviews. He is a good speaker -- indeed, keynote speech-giving was part of the lure of that £400,000 ambassador job.

In short, talking comes easily to Allardyce. Too easily in this case. When it was clearly time to shut up, Allardyce simply kept talking. And was taped doing so.

I'll admit to feeling some sympathy for Big Sam. Being naive and stupid and too mouthy are not crimes. But greed may be, and is nasty business anyway. It is greed that most flavors this whole mess. How can a man earning £3 million a year seek another £400,000 from people he doesn't even know?

His actions -- whether stupid or sinister -- have caused a lot of problems for other people. No doubt losing the England job -- the job he had "always wanted" -- is a huge punishment for Allardyce himself, but in the end I find I have little sympathy left.

  1. Kevin Sims
    commented on: October 3, 2016 at 4:37 p.m.
    Allardyce's declaration that entrapment won is inaccurate. Integrity won.
  1. Swami Soccer
    commented on: October 3, 2016 at 5:53 p.m.
    I know this is Off topic but is Klinsmann really the problem here?
  1. charles davenport
    commented on: October 3, 2016 at 6:41 p.m.
    I had a good laugh at least: " Jurgen Klinsmann has been mentioned. If only. His appointment might not redress England's problems, but it would go a long way toward solving the USA's."
  1. R2 Dad
    commented on: October 3, 2016 at 8:44 p.m.
    The "solution" from the FA absolves them of the buyer's remorse from hiring him in the first place. It seems the Brexit folks have influenced more than just politics. England have run out of safe choices and now the job is a poisoned chalice. JK will now wait out the upcoming failure of England in 2018.
  1. Daniel Clifton
    commented on: October 3, 2016 at 10:38 p.m.
    Doesn't Sam's actions in this situation he was totally inappropriate for this position? It is hard to feel sorry for a guy who could be so stupid to do what he did. Klinsmann has made it clear he is not interested. I have no problem accepting that. I think he has grown as a manager of the USMNT. England is in a situation now where they need to pick the best manager possible regardless of nationality. England has some talented young players and they need to get a manager who can put these young guys in a position to succeed. Sam was probably not the guy for that situation. I agree with R2 Dad that this absolves the FA of buyer's remorse. Now they have a second chance to make a better hire.

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