England Appoint Sam Allardyce as Manager. a Risky Move or a Masterstroke?

61-year-old Sam Allardyce has fought off competition from the likes of Steve Bruce, Jürgen Klinsman, Arsène Wenger, Eddie Howe, Gareth Southgate and others to take the helm as Manager of the England football team, following Roy Hodgson’s resignation after England’s Euro 2016 exit.

Prior to England’s Euro debacle, Allardyce was expected to continue to lead Sunderland this season, whom he expertly guided from the brink of relegation, to safety at the cost of their biggest rivals, Newcastle’s Premier League status.

The former Bolton, Blackburn, Newcastle and West Ham man has signed an initial 2-year contract (taking him just past the next World cup) after compensation was agreed with Sunderland.

Allardyce, who becomes the 14th permanent England manager couldn’t hide his delight saying, “I’m honoured…it is no secret that this is the role I have always wanted. For me, it is absolutely the best job in English football.”

Following Hodgson’s resignation/end of contract last month, the FA made it clear on what their priorities and criteria were for a new manager. England won 10 straight qualifying games for the Euros, however, during the build up to this summer’s championship Hodgson experimented with different styles, systems and personnel. Many will argue Hodgson’s hand was forced thanks to significant injuries, as well as the form of players he ‘couldn’t ignore’. However, it was the lack of identity Hodgson seemed to bring to the team during his 4 years tenure that truly made his reign a disappointing one. The FA clearly believes Allardyce can provide a greater degree of certainty and provide the team with a coherent plan and playing style to take forward into major competitions.

Allardyce’s appointment remains controversial however, considering his reputation for ‘unattractive’ football – something he has always denied – yet can clearly be seen in West Ham’s rapid improvement in style and fortune since his departure and Slaven Bilic’s appointment. It’s of course believed Allardyce’s style has always been one that has matched the type of club he has managed – one fighting relegation. For the majority of last season Allardyce managed Sunderland. According to Opta, Sunderland had the highest percentage of long-balls played, the third-highest amount of goals scored from set-pieces and the fifth-lowest amount of set-piece goals conceded. Allardyce has been known for having an immediate effect on the teams he manages, improving results and style of play. However, for England it won’t be the immediate effect in regards to results, he’ll be judged on – as in the recent past have had exemplary qualifying campaigns. It will be how he prepares them for the World Cup in 2018.

What the FA clearly believes in, in Allardyce is his ability to get across a message, a style, and a way of playing that suits his personnel. Last season Allardyce transformed a relegation-bound Sunderland, who possessed talented players yet ones who didn’t have a clue how to pass to each other, into a dogged, hard working team, who ended up becoming difficult to break down and began to play attractive football. Do the FA want Allardyce to tell Gary Cahill to lump the ball up to Wayne Rooney? Probably not. But does the FA want Gary Cahill and Wayne Rooney to know precisely how they’re going to play and what they’ll need to do from now until the next World Cup in regards to playing style? Of course. They don’t want a repeat of Hodgson’s tenure: play well against lesser teams with varying personnel and varying styles for two-years. Get to a major championship and fall apart because of injuries, misguided-loyalty, poor decisions and the team coming up against better opposition who have a style of play ingrained in them for years – including Iceland!

Allardyce has not won a major trophy, however, did win promotion to the Premier League with Bolton and West Ham and has consequently been endorsed by his former fellow Premier League managers, José Mourinho, Harry Redknapp and Sven-Göran Eriksson. With Mourinho saying he was ‘more than ready’ and Redknapp adding Allardyce could bring, “a Premier League style and pace,” to the national team.

Allardyce was first interviewed for the England role in 2006 following Eriksson’s departure and the FA’s insistence on bringing in an English-man. However, the then Bolton-man was overlooked and Steve McClaren was infamously appointed. It’s been well documented that Allardyce has harboured a grievance since the 2006 snub.

Ten years later, with England’s fortunes unchanged, this time around, Allardyce was an early favourite however and Steve Bruce seems to have been pipped to the post – who subsequently has resigned as promoted Hull’s manager following his publicised FA interviews.

So now Allardyce has been officially announced as the England manager, what will the affectionately known as well as self-proclaimed, ‘Big-Sam’ England team look like?

Kevin Davies, who played under him at Bolton said, “There will be discipline…it was the rules and regulations. The way we trained and prepared for games was all in there. It was a 20-25 page document that everyone had to adhere to.”

A key ingredient to a Big-Sam team is experience and steel. We only have to look at the cores of his various Premier-League teams: Kevin Davies, Kevin Nolan, Ryan Nelson, Gary Speed, Fernando Hierro, Ivan Campo, Joey Barton, Michel Salgado, Mark Noble, Lee Cattermole…Could this mean a reprieve for the likes of Cahill and Milner who would be expected to be deemed too old in a very youthful pool of England players available?

For all of Allardyce’s reputation for his love for a strong, combative player, he’s also been known for deploying wildcard flare players in his squad: Wahbi Khazri last year for Sunderland, Jay-Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff, Stuart Downing, Mark Viduka for example. In this case, whilst the likes of Eric Dier might thrive under Big-Sam, so too may the smaller, more technical players he’ll have it his disposal.

In the Guardian in 2015, Allardyce said he always has, “exact positions for players to gain the best possible chance of scoring,” – hence his well-renowned meticulous preparation on defending as well as attacked set-pieces. This could also mean the end of what seemed to plague England’s Euro 2016 campaign: Wayne Rooney in midfield, Kane on freekicks and corners and Sturridge on the wing.

So who could be tipped to be brought in from the cold? The obvious thought goes to Andy Carroll whose game is about physicality and presence in the air. Similarly, one of Sunderland’s top performers last year, consistency-king Jermain Defoe. England currently have a plethora of strikers at Big-Sam’s disposal – but don’t be surprised to see one of, if not both feature in an initial Allardyce England squad.

Known for his long-ball style of play, could the likes of Michael Carrick, Jonjo Shelvey or even Gareth Barry be given the nod by Big-Sam? Last season 21% of Sunderland’s passes were deemed ‘long’, compared to only 8% of Arsenals.

Similarly to Carroll and Defoe, West Ham’s Cresswell and Noble were deemed unfortunate to not be even considered by Hodgson this summer and could both be selected by Big-Sam come September.

Of course Twitter has done what Twitter does best and whilst there have been some genuine wishes of good luck, there have also been many satirical Tweets about the deemed controversial appointment of Big-Sam.

Sam Allardyce is an interesting choice for England manager, surrounded by debate. In the past he has had his greatest successes by preventing teams such as Bolton, Blackburn and Sunderland from being relegated. However, when given the opportunity to spend money and build a team with a more attractive style of play has fallen flat, for example with West Ham and Newcastle.

What is clear with Big-Sam however, is he’s a tactician and can motive a team. He can clearly set-out a style of play and ensure his team works together under it. Yes, he’s been labelled as a long-ball manager, but this style often suited his players. Whilst he’s an advocate for combative, strong-tackling players, he too enjoys flare and wildcard ones who can change a game in an instant. England have these flare players in abundance, but until now haven’t been able to utilise them whilst ensuring a solid defensive unit and shape – that’s where Allardyce comes in. He’ll allow England’s equivalent of Okocha and Djorkaeff to roam and dazzle, whilst ensuring the Campo’s and Nolan’s are organised, disciplined and protect the defence.

Will Allardyce’s style suit some of England’s recent flops? Probably not. However, it’s now down to Allardyce to adapt England’s youthful, talented pool of individuals who shine for their clubs week-in week-out to his style, whilst also adapting to theirs. The England role is a poison chalice. Everyone wants to job. But it’s a minefield to navigate in order to be successful.

I think Big-Sam is a positive appointment. He’s not the celebrity or fashionable appointment some called out for such as Klinsman. He’s not the youthful Englishman that can bring ‘something new’ to the role such as Howe or Southgate. But what he will do is he’ll instil discipline, strategy, and importantly an identity to the England national team – something the FA has been trying to do since Sven departed in 2006.

England has the biggest and most popular league in the world. Yet its popularity and development of talented English players hasn’t translated onto the International stage. The Premier League has a specific identity: it’s fast-paced, strong-tackling, combative yet allows talented, skilful players to thrive if deployed correctly. England have these players. England now have a manager who understands this style inside-out. Therefore, hopefully this time in 2018 we’ll be looking back at this appointment by the FA as a masterstroke and all our fears and concerns about Big-Sam alleviated.

Comment below with your opinion on Sam Allardyce’s appointment and how you think England will fare under his reign.

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