Commentary

Big Sam -- the worst possible candidate for U.S. national team coach

Steve Nicol’s opinions as a soccer-panelist guru do not often coincide with mine. No matter -- I like listening to Nicol when he takes part in those TV soccer panels. Because he brings to the studio, to the frequently tedious and over-clever discussions, a genuine soccer voice that, it seems to me, has managed to remain uncorrupted by both the modern -- and often ludicrous -- soccer jargon, and by the much more pernicious nonsense and mendacious drivel of the marketing mob.

When Nicol shows pleasure or anger you know it’s genuine, so different from the hyped-up fakery that TV demands. Nicol can make his point without waffling on for minutes and minutes and without trying to sound too smart. As he is usually surrounded by people who very much want to sound smart, his voice is refreshing and honest. Well, yes, I do have some problems with that heavy Scottish accent, but that just adds to the fun. When Nicol is holding forth, there comes a welcome gust of reality and down-to-earthness, it feels like fresh air blowing through the studio.

So there are times when the words don’t sound like words to me, but the meaning is never in doubt ... somehow you always know what Nicol is saying.

However (yes, after all that lauding there has to be a however) ... a week or so back there arrived a Nicol appearance when I wished I was not understanding him. Could he really be sitting there telling me that England’s Big Sam Allardyce would be a suitable choice as coach of U.S. national team?  Sam Allardyce for gawd’s sake?

Angels and ministers of grace defend us! Honestly, I cannot think of a worse candidate. Not one soccer-conscious American in a thousand has ever heard of Allardyce, for a start. That’s because Allardyce has only rarely been seen outside England (including 11 games for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in 1983 and, at the end of his playing career, a brief spell with the Irish club Limerick). 

Allardyce was that quintessential English player, a huge, bulky center-back -- archaically called a center-half in England, which fits, really, as there is something archaic about Allardyce anyway. His 21-year playing career (1971-1992) took in eight English clubs, none of them top-level. Since 1992 he’s coached 10 clubs, most of them -- again -- lesser clubs.

Despite that modest background, Allardyce’s big moment suddenly dropped out of the sky last year when he was offered the plum job of coaching England. He lasted just 67 days. Then a scandal forced the English FA to demand his resignation. He had been caught in a trap, talking too freely about his job to undercover journalists, discussing money matters, and at one point telling them how to get around certain FA regulations. The FA being his employers, that did not go down well.

So Allardyce departed from his “dream job,” with the taint of corruption and a humiliating flavor of farce -- the only English national team coach in history to have a 100% winning record. Even in disgrace, Allardyce’s career continued its links to minor teams ... the opponent his England had beaten -- with a lone goal deep into stoppage time -- was the lightweight Slovakia.

In his 26-year coaching career, Allardyce has won just two trophies. Not exactly major triumphs: with Limerick, the League of Ireland First Division title in 1992, and with Notts County the English Football League Third Division in 1998.

He has been heavily criticized for being devoted to long-ball, Route 1, thud and-blunder soccer. He denies the accusations -- “totally and utterly wrong” -- insisting that when he coached Bolton Wanderers (1999-2007) they played attractive attacking soccer.

That fact -- referring to things that happened over 10 years ago, at Bolton -- was about all that Steve Nicol could dredge up in trying to make a case for Allardyce. I never saw Allardyce’s Bolton. But I saw quite a bit of his West Ham team (2011-2015), more than enough to convince me he was a long-baller. Surely no one but a coach wedded to Route 1 play would sign, as he did, the huge old-fashioned (even archaic) striker Andy Carroll?

Anyway, the long-ball aspect was only a part of the problem. The main impression left by Allardyce’s West Ham was that it was a dull, flat, boring team.

When he took over, West Ham had been recently relegated, but Allardyce -- vowing to play “attractive” soccer -- got them back into the Premier League in his first season. Even so, the West Ham fans repeatedly expressed frustration at the unattractive style he brought. In 2015, his contract was not renewed.

Sandwiching Allardyce’s embarrassment with England, were short stints with Sunderland and Crystal Palace. Two poor teams. Allardyce saved both of them -- just -- from relegation. He chose to leave Crystal Palace in 2017, saying he would return to coaching only as a national team coach, which took quite a nerve considering his England fiasco.

Is there anything there, in that long playing and coaching career that recommends Allardyce as a coach for the USA? Absolutely nothing. But plenty that says -- loudly --that he shouldn’t, not for a moment, be considered. 

There is even a hefty dose of deja vu to consider: the sudden 2014 arrival here of another Brit coach, Scotsman Owen Coyle. Looking for a job. Just like Allardyce, Coyle had a long playing and coaching career with minor clubs, 10 of them Scottish, plus two years at Bolton Wanderers. His coaching included six modest clubs -- including Bolton. Houston, ill-advisedly, took him on, and Coyle began, at his first press conference, by denying any stories suggesting that he approved of long-ball soccer. His single season at Houston was uninspired, with no distinguishable style, and a failure to make the playoffs. Coyle returned to England to coach Blackburn, another less-than-major club.

Yet I am told there is a lot of talk -- in England -- about Allardyce getting the U.S. job. Well, these rumors have to start somewhere. They are usually launched by someone looking for a job -- maybe not by the coach himself, but by his agent, or by a friendly journalist. So we’re in the odd situation where the English apparently consider Allardyce a serious candidate, while here in the USA -- where it matters most -- there is no talk whatever of his chances.

None, that is, other than Steve Nicol’s sad attempt to find something positive to say about him. I’m hoping that Nicol will soon recover from his aberration and return to being the trusty soccer commentator that he has become, a true grass-roots voice of the sport.

24 comments about "Big Sam -- the worst possible candidate for U.S. national team coach".
  1. Kevin Leahy, November 24, 2017 at 1:43 p.m.

    Couldn't think of a worse candidate! Any international coach should be of the highest order with a proven track record. Would personally prefer an American coach. We might go another 6 months without an appointment.

  2. Karl Schreiber, November 24, 2017 at 3:55 p.m.

    Brian Schmetzer for USMNT Head Coach !

  3. Wooden Ships replied, November 25, 2017 at 12:06 p.m.

    No disrespect, but he's milk toast. 

  4. Bob Ashpole, November 24, 2017 at 4:54 p.m.

    We need to develop US coaches. It is just as important as developing US players. Hiring a foreign coach would deprive US coaches of an important step in career development. (Just to be clear, JK lives in the US and supports US soccer so this is not a knock at him. He had US assistants and staff, which you wouldn't expect to have if a foreign coach were brought in.)

    Better than a foreign head coach, bring in some foreign retired star players to assist the US coaches in developing elite field players. That step would take the U18 DA development experience to another level. The US players benefit as well as the US coaches from the retired players' experience.

    That is such an obvious step, but it won't happen because USSF, like any large US organization, resists change from top to bottom.   

  5. Bob Ashpole, November 24, 2017 at 5:10 p.m.

    Come to think of it, Bruce Arena would make a great National Coach--not talking about the MNT head coach. I mean someone in charge of technical direction for the entire country. I don't know if he would be ready or willing to do the job, but give him a minimum of 10 years to shape and execute a program and I have confidence that there would be a huge impact.

    He has extensive experience with College, MLS and the MNT levels. I suspect that he would do a great job unifying US coaches and former players to improve US socceer. The task is so huge that there is room for everyone. This is not a problem that can be micro-managed.   

  6. Wooden Ships replied, November 24, 2017 at 6:32 p.m.

    Bob, I don't believe Bruce would be the choice to reform youth/technical soccer in this country. It would be more of the same. I salute his accomplishments and longevity, like many former USMNT players, but I desire a cadre that will finally transition to a more skilled-possession based game. Soccer in the US has too often felt like a tenured track in education, with like minded people that close ranks. JK, was quickly disrobed, albeit voluntarily, with his continuance of more of the same. I'm alright with an international manager, as I believe that players at all levels will follow suit of the type of style I'm referring to. I want a manager that will quickly dismiss players that don't have a real touch on the ball and players that are so fragile that they do not give you 100% and have divided focus. 

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, November 24, 2017 at 8:45 p.m.

    I realize I may be the only one suggesting Arena. It is a voyage of discovery for everyone. Arena shouldn't be discounted just because it will be new territory for him too. I think you underestimate him if you think he cannot learn and does not already appreciate the advantage of better tactics and technique to raising the level of play. You didn't have to play for Cruyff or Pep to appreciate the importance of what they were doing.

    Some clubs and teams play possession style, but nations don't as a rule. Typically professional teams contain international players rather than players from just their country. So at most you would find a coach that had some experience with a club or team, but they wouldn't know US Soccer.

    Some people associate Barca with possession style play, but Spain is not Barca. Tiki taka was originally a derisive term for Spanish MNT's ineffective possession play.    

  8. Wooden Ships replied, November 25, 2017 at 12:14 a.m.

    Bob, mostly I was referring to players that can do what they need to with the ball, not Barcelona per say. There has been an ignored clammoring, for years, with regard to more skilled players. These players have been available, just not selected. Which was my reference about tenure. This inability to adjust/recognize can and does afflict any organizational structure, not just soccer or education. What you have suggested with Bruce Arena, to me, would have bad optics/symbolism. I felt it strange, but not surprising knowing the history of US soccer, that he was on air at the Portugal game. Concerning a manager that knows US soccer, that's a head scratcher. Are the current attributes (which I can't name) something that only a US immersed manager can understand? For me, I want someone that has a vision of a more technical player, as with CONCACAF, most of the oppossing palyers have better touch. Thats a regional failure on our part and selections have been in concert with our present non Russian pilgrimage. Our US style of play is still almost moot, because our player selections have mostly mandated the same approach for several decades. Players with a complete ball skill set can play any style, and have we ever demonstrated that? Paul, is right about Sam and I have no idea, clue to why Stevie thinks that. I would hope we entertain the selection of a latin coach, I could definitely go for Hugo. But, make no mistake, soccer in this country is political and those that have been the guiding force will not willingly go away or likely experience an eppiffany. Other than JK, in recent times, have you heard much from the elite running soccer demand an emphasis or express a concern about the quality of our senior players skills? Not me, just that good old American fighting spirit. That isn't enough and we haven't seen that on a consistent basis since South Africa. Enjoy your thoughts Bob.   

  9. Bob Ashpole replied, November 25, 2017 at 1:41 a.m.

    I see your point about the optics, Arena is associated with the past. In my view, that would give him credibility with "establishment" which is important to work change.

    Your suggestion of Hugo was for the MNT coach, correct? Right now would be a perfect time to bring him in--make it a 5-year cycle.

    Do we have a US coach with experience working with highly skilled players? Arena's experience (as far as I know) has been the typical US approach of having a few highly skilled attackers (3 at most) and playing direct through them. Seems to me that step 1 has to be creating the culture starting at U18 and ramping up training of technical and tactic fundamentals at younger ages to prepare for it.

    I am encouraged that you say there are more technical players that are not selected. I don't get around so I haven't seen them, unless you are talking about Hispanic leagues and players. In Northern VA in the 1990s and 2000s I figured that the majority of the best amatuer players were Hispanic and not USSF developed or even affiliated. Beginning in the 2000's local governements began an expensive permit system for all fields and playgrounds and effectively prevented the Hispanic leagues from access to any fields. To the point where I stopped seeing Hispanic leagues in Northern Virginia. This isn't from any survey, just what I saw while out and about. My hope is that Hispanic leagues are still alive and well in other states.    

  10. frank schoon replied, November 25, 2017 at 9:36 a.m.

    Ships , I agree with you on this..Arena is not the person I want either..I was not impressed with his insights on the game with Portugal. We have to turn over a new leaf and bring in fresh blood.

  11. Ric Fonseca, November 24, 2017 at 7:40 p.m.

    Bob, REALLY??? The only words that came to me, after reading them above, are: prenicious andmendacious drivel!!!

  12. Ric Fonseca, November 24, 2017 at 7:42 p.m.

    Hey Woodie, don't knock us "ternured" teachers in the wondeful and wide-ey
    ed world of education!!!

  13. Wooden Ships replied, November 25, 2017 at 12:31 a.m.

    Ric, education was what came to mind initially as, like you, I've been at the university level too. I do know that many professors have been denied tenure, because they didn't fit into the "club-group." You have to go along to get along, much like US soccer for years now. I'm not to interested in the same old faces, they haven't made a measurable difference. I've been around this for almost as many years than you, we both know how much politics has hurt our national develpment. Getting back to tenure, it was suppose to protect/reward academic freedom in the classroom. A noble ideal. But, man I have seen real incompetence and irresponsibility, that are in a postion of non-accountability.  

  14. Ric Fonseca replied, November 25, 2017 at 11:45 p.m.

    Woodie, I recently retired with over 45 years as a non-tenured and tenured professor - and I am now known as a Professor Emeritus. Having uttered this I can say that I know something about this topic, and fyi, I come from a long-line of teachers/professors.  Cheers, amigo!

  15. Ric Fonseca, November 24, 2017 at 7:43 p.m.

    ooooops, that should've been "t-e-n-u-r-e-d..."

  16. Gary Levitt, November 25, 2017 at 8:43 a.m.

    I am one of those U.S. soccer guys....been around for a long time and passionate about our National Team and it's performance. The hiring of a new MNT manager is not an easy task and I hope the Federation will take it's time to employ the type of manager we need to ensure we reach Qatar (ridiculous venue for a WC) and set the MNT up for success into 2026 and beyond.  The real issue is matching up the new manager who can take the player pool for short periods of time and have them adapt to the system/style the new manager demands.  Not an easy task, unless you are Germany or another country who has a distinct system of play that all age groups are comfortable playing.  People screamed for the Federation to emply Tata Martino, but Tata is smart enough to know that his system of play (high pressure, attack from the flanks, attack at all costs) would not bode well for our player pool when he only can train them a few weeks per year.  Very tough decision for the Federation and hopefully not take lightly.

  17. frank schoon, November 25, 2017 at 9:28 a.m.

    Let me put it another way..NO ENGLISH COACHES, PLEAZZZZE......The very fact that Nicol even suggested Alerdyce tells me this guy is clueless and it is an insult to American soccer to suggest him. And why am I not surprised by his suggestion because he is also English/Scottish...
    We are at a stage now where we shouldn't be hiring a National Team Coach "willy Nilly" without having put into thought what "DIRECTION' ,style of play the US should follow, for that has also implications about future training of our players, and future teaching of  our coaches and how they should teach and what to focus on. There is more than what meets the eye when it comes to hiring a coach USMNT now, furthermore whoever is hired we need to figure out who his assistants (are) like the last bunch made up of "hangers on " college coaches who see this as resume enhancer....
    And for those  love Diversity maybe we should  think of hiring a woman this time to coach the men's  team......
    IMO, we should hire a foreign coach with lots of experience who can bring New Insights to the game,for at present we don't have an American coach with the DNA ,perhaps later in years but not right now, no way.
    I like to see Brazilian or Argentinian coach or whatever as long as he can contribute to improving the American game.

  18. Ric Fonseca replied, November 25, 2017 at 11:47 p.m.

    Hear-hear, no English blokes, thank you very much!

  19. Kevin Leahy, November 25, 2017 at 12:21 p.m.

    What DNA are we speaking of. Tab Ramos played @ the international level and appreciates skillful players. There are other American coaches that, I could look favorably on. Arena was able to do well especially, his first go round without, the benefit of international experience. Also am leery about someone that doesn't have a personal investment. No one will be more invested in how well an American team does, more than an American coach!

  20. frank schoon replied, November 25, 2017 at 2:38 p.m.

    KEVIN , First of all Tab has never coached or has experienced  the highest coaching level the USMNT ,Period. Like Bruce Arena once said when he learned so much the first time when he took on  coaching the USMNT. In other words, Bruce had little idea of how much is involved when he took the job on the first time. We cannot afford a rookie making mistakes. We're turning the corner , a new president has to be chosen as well as what are going to do withour game. Tab is a good guy but what we need right now EXPERIENCE and like Bob Ashpole stated bring in retired star players to help us out. Personal investment?? it is all about results at the highest level. Tell that to do coaches who get fired about their personal investment

  21. Bob Ashpole replied, November 25, 2017 at 6:24 p.m.

    Frank, Tab Ramos is one of several US coaches that I think would make the core of an excellent group. Yes they are relatively inexperienced as coaches and haven't been a MNT head coach before, but I don't care about that. They spent the first 35 years of their lives as elite players, so they are a little behind the curve on their coaching carreers. As a nation we have a wealth of international coaching experience that they can draw on: Arena, Bradley, Ellis, Dorrance, Klinsmann, Sampson, Ryan, and Heinrichs.  

    I want to grow the sport, so who is handling the national technical direction is more important to me than who the next MNT head coach is going to be. Soccer, even international soccer, is more than just the MNT. 

    I know you favor coaches with professional playing experience. Wanting them also to have significant international professional coaching experience is a "Catch 22." (From Joseph Heller's book of the same name.)

    Ramos, Perez, Vasquez, Friedel, Wynalda, and Reyna. All of those former players are coaches or technical directors. There are many other former players who could contribute to the effort, including Caligiuri, McBride, Akers, Hamm, and Lilly.

    Rarely have coaches been influential in bringing change to another country: Jimmy Hogan and Johan Cruyff succeded, and now maybe Pep Guardiola (all 3 were exporters of total football a/k/a technical play). None of those 3 are available so we are going to have to grow our own Johan Cruyff. For now we should use the people we have to get a little better every day.
       

  22. frank schoon replied, November 26, 2017 at 9:30 a.m.

    Bob, I see the situation in a two-pronged manner. Both the USMNT and the National Technical direction  are important. The former has good international PR implications for our soccer and the latter for our domestic ,national, growth. Lets face it the USMNT is the Flagship for our soccer. For if we do well it accrues a lot of benefits and creates positive ripple effects upon our soccer, like more respect for our soccer league, our coaches who stand to have a better chance of getting a job internationally ,perhaps with the "Big Boys" and perhaps more of our players will play internationally, and more higher quality players from abroad will play here. The USMNT put soccer here on the map long before the MLS began. When we think of Brazil ,we think of their National Team, not their league play , Italy, Holland, Germany, Argentina, idem ditto. The reason why so many US fans our upset, like Kevin, and demand changes that will not only effect the type of president we choose as well but also the kind of coaching training our players which is all due to what USMNT failed to do, it certainly has nothing to with the MLS soccer. In other words the USMNT and our Technical Direction both have to do well for both are intertwined...
    BTW, you forgot Rinus Michels' input for he started it all for Dutch soccer, the same for Helenio Herrera in Italy, LOL.
    You had mentioned Klinsman,for I think he brought a realism to the US game, not before seen. And I think he got a bad rap by so many of those who post here. I was watching on Youtube a weekly Dutch soccer talk show which invites coaches, journalists and players together. A young German coach, speaking in Dutch was raving about Klinsman and credited him for a great many changes in German soccer. It made me think considering the comments posted here who don't have anything good to say about him. SA should do an indepth interview with Klinsman

  23. Bob Ashpole replied, November 26, 2017 at 10:37 a.m.

    Great example of Herrera in Italy, especially if his 532 is considered 352, and Michels was certainly an innovator too.

    In fact all your points were excellent. 

    The Development Academy and elite youth leagues are good, but historically great players were products of the streets and great soccer tactics were products of a few professional clubs. I am reminded that you and many others are saying that we need to recreate the street soccer environment.

    The initial job need not be to transform the entire nation's youth soccer and every professional club in the country. To transform youth soccer in one state and raise the level of play at one MLS club would be successes that could be imitated.     

  24. frank schoon replied, November 26, 2017 at 11:30 a.m.

    Bob, I agree. It takes ON-GOING success of one team and others will follows. It starts with the specific and the general follow, for it is never the other way around. That's how it began with Ajax and InterMilan. As for Inter's catenaccio , it was a sweeper playing behind 4 defenders, 3 midfielders and 2 strikers, 1-4-3-2.  It was not a 5-3-2 as we know it today for they didn't apply attacking outside backs.  After WC'74 and the succcess Holland had along with Ajax , Dutch coaches were in high demand worldwide as well the knowledge of coaching taught by the dutch KNVB coaching Academy which is still reaping the fruits of Rinus Michels. Here is the irony, the dutch KNVB Coaching Academy had nothing to do with  the success of Ajax, or the Dutch National Team of '74. It was Ajax and their style of play and philosophy, Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff, Period.
    This is what I mean by the ripple effects of when your National Team is successful. Here is another mistake the rest of the coaching world and other Coaching Academies made was how Rinus Michels created Total Soccer with Ajax and Dutch WC'74 team. Everybody in the world studied and copied how Rinus Michels trained and as a result  it changed the way soccer was played becoming much more physical, more running, hard play and less technical. HOW CAN THAT BE??? Michels had nothing but GREAT players, GREAT technicians of the game who learned their trade playing street soccer  and what is so ironic Cruyff wasn't even the best technical player, it was GERRIT MUHREN.
    Rinus Michels , stated what possibly could he teach about technique to them? The only thing he could improve them on is perhaps the physical side of the game not technical. All these coaches thought 'oh, you have stress and train the physical part of the game". These Nitwit coaches totally overlooked  that Rinus Michels had GREAT technical players. AS a result world wide the technical aspect of the game was less emphasized ,and worse , "street soccer' began to dissappear due to car traffic. The developing players were hit with 2 whammies, diminished their skills, less street soccer and coaches at club level de-emphasizing technical skill training, due to reading improperly what Rinus Michels actually did.

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