This was an important day for the Football Association, or at least their most important since that defeat to Iceland four weeks ago. And while chief executive Martin Glenn and technical director Dan Ashworth came equipped with arguments for why they were right to choose Sam Allardyce as Roy Hodgson’s replacement, the most forthright arguments came from Allardyce himself.
There has been little dispute over the last week, from the inside the game or out, that Allardyce was the right man to take over.
He was certainly the available coach with the best recent experience of working with English players, having improved every team he has taken over since he worked miracles with Bolton Wanderers more than 10 years ago.
He comes to the job with more Premier League consistency behind him, in fact, than Hodgson did when he replaced Fabio Capello in 2012. When Glenn listed the three criteria for the appointment, it was clear that Allardyce was the only man who could have fully met them.
“Strength of character” was the first, given the pressure in the job. Then “tactical nous”, which Allardyce has. And then the “ability to inspire players”, which has been the cornerstone of Allardyce’s successes for years. Given that the next most plausible candidates for the role were Jurgen Klinsmann and Steve Bruce, it was very obvious why Allardyce should have got the job.
But when Allardyce fielded questions at the Hilton Hotel at St George’s Park, he continued to make the case for himself with the same chest-out directness he is well known for. Some managers would go in for faux-modesty or faux-humility at a time like this but not Allardyce. He knows that he is the best man for the job and if there is any surprise in his mind about his appointment it is that it has taken this long.
Allardyce was interviewed by the FA 10 years ago, in the search for a replacement for Sven-Goran Eriksson. After failing to persuade Luis Felipe Scolari, the FA went for Steve McClaren. Allardyce said that it was the FA’s improvements, rather than his, that explained why he is now in the chair.
“I was good enough then,” Allardyce said. “Perhaps it was political, I don’t know. There’s obviously a different and, without criticising the old regime too much, a much more streamlined [FA] now. With the development of St George’s Park, it’s much more forward thinking than it was in 2006.”
I have managed some world class players. Fernando Hierro, Youri Djorkaeff, Jay Jay Okocha, Gary Speed, Nicolas Anelka and Michael Owen.
Since then Allardyce has excelled at turning round struggling teams, at Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers, West Ham United and Sunderland. He is a guarantee of improvement, of Premier League safety, of consistency and of solidity. After his most recent rescue act at Sunderland, saving a team that looked certain to go down, he could surely have spent the rest of his career repeating the same trick over and over again.
But that is not how Allardyce sees himself and he bristled at the suggestion that firefighting was the extent of his usefulness. “People see me as someone who can go into a club and turn things around very quickly,” he pointed out with some regret. “That comes from taking West Ham up, saving Blackburn and Sunderland. I consider myself to be much more than that personally. But I can turn things around pretty quickly and I can get among teams and staff and try and create a successful journey.”
The most important point of all, the one that is inescapable with Allardyce, is the criticism that he only knows how to play bad football with bad footballers. That is why Jose Mourinho’s dig about “19th century football” stuck, and why some have wondered whether Allardyce can do any better.
But Allardyce, again, responded by saying that he had in fact worked with the best. “I have managed some world class players,” he insisted. “Fernando Hierro, Youri Djorkaeff, Jay Jay Okocha, Gary Speed, Nicolas Anelka and Michael Owen.”
The complaint that his teams did not play football the right way met the same response. Allardyce seized on the chance to defend his style of play, saying that he could not have been a long-ball manager reliant on old-fashioned target men, because of his use of Jermain Defoe up front for Sunderland this season.
“That style of play has always been a tag for me that I can’t shake,” Allardyce said. “But I played with Jermain Defoe down the middle on his own at five-foot ten. That style cannot be associated with me, when I did that. Players who join up with us will enjoy the opportunity to develop.”