Sam Allardyce's managerial methods make him right for England job
If England want to succeed at an international tournament, they could do with a man like Sam Allardyce. Why? For a start, he has something significant in common with Portugal coach, Fernando Santos. Speaking on the eve of his team's semifinal with Wales, Santos said: "When they talk about the way we play, that's music to my ears. I'm just focused on the next match. That's all that's important."
England managerial candidate Allardyce doubtless approved of a man who eventually led his country to winning Euro 2016 in the face of criticism that his team was dull to watch. In 22 years as a manager, current Sunderland boss Allardyce has done plenty of defending of his teams' style, having railed against pretension for his entire career.
"The way that they're playing is so good, their fans love it," he said in April of imminent Premier League champions Leicester City "Whereas fans at some bigger clubs might moan about it and complain about them playing 'not the right type of football.'"
Allardyce marked that statement by sarcastically miming the inverted commas in that second sentence. Like Santos, he has his ideas and will stick to them. Long balls, set-pieces and the expulsion of "tippy-tappy" football work for him.
"He finds a way to win, that's what he does," Dean Holden, who played for Allardyce at Bolton Wanderers from 1998 to 2002, told ESPN FC. "He won't copy and paste a Spanish or a French system. Portugal found a way to win with the players at their disposal. They weren't pretty on the eye. All this bulls--- that people talk about being pretty but they won."
Recently retired goalkeeper David Preece was coached by Allardyce at Sunderland during the 1996-97 season when the former club captain was between jobs at Blackpool and Notts County. Preece, these days a columnist on the Sunderland Echo, reported on the Black Cats' escape from relegation last season -- after that survival, ESPN FC sources at the club have said they are worried he will now land the England job.
"The people that say Portugal don't deserve it are probably those who are anti-Allardyce," Preece told ESPN FC. "The national team's problems run deep. If things stay the way they are, then someone like Sam Allardyce who is pragmatic is the right man. And he deserves it more than anyone. He's put the hard yards in."
Allardyce thought his chance of the England job had gone. "Big Sam: My Autobiography," published last year, contains a chapter entitled "England And Sweet FA," detailing deep disappointment at failing to land the role in 2006, when losing out to Steve McClaren in the fight to succeed Sven-Goran Eriksson. Now, with the likes of McClaren fallen by the wayside after his sacking in 2007, he is the sole Englishman with the credentials to replace Roy Hodgson, though there remains significant dissent against his candidacy.
Within the game, though, Allardyce has plenty of admirers, with former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson reported to have advised English Football Association vice-chairman David Gill to consider his friend. "The knowledge that he's got, and he is as seen as a Neanderthal, I think that's very disrespectful," Preece said.
As a pioneer of sports science since developing an understanding when a player with Tampa Bay Rowdies during 1983, Allardyce has never been the dinosaur that detractors label him, and pairs that with an innate grasp of the game. "He judges with his eyes, and will not just listen to computers," said Holden, who believes that man-management and human qualities are foundations to the success of someone he calls a "father figure."
"People find it easy to relate to him," Holden continued. "Players enjoy playing for him. He finds a way of making everyone feel important. You know exactly what your job is. He doesn't ask you to do what you are not good at and he wouldn't pick who he thought he had had to pick."
Hodgson was accused of picking stars like Wayne Rooney on reputation alone and then shoehorning them into positions they were unsuited to.
"Too many managers go in and think 'we have all these great players, we can't restrict them too much,'" Preece said. "You have got to have a structure and this is the misconception about the way someone like Pep Guardiola plays it. There's a method behind it, it's not just freeform jazz, improvised off the cuff. There's still a structure, just a more complicated structure."
England's round-of-16 exit at the hands of Iceland was followed by reports of players bored with life at the squad's high-security HQ in Chantilly. Holden believes that Allardyce, a man who knows how to enjoy himself at the right times, could be ideal for a group away from home for weeks on end.
Holden said: "He's a normal bloke, he knows what footballers are like. We are not monks, you cannot expect them to live like monks for four weeks. He'd have the families around. He would keep it as normal as possible."
As the FA work out the strategy and structure within which the next England manager will work, one suggestion is that the next appointment can mentor a younger man to be his eventual successor. At 61, Allardyce is an elder statesmen happy to pass on the know-how.
Holden is currently a coach at League One club Walsall, and, in 2015, had a brief spell as interim manager of Oldham Athletic. He admits he leans heavily on Allardyce.
"When I was manager of Oldham last year, I had a problem with a player," Holden said. "I rang Sam and he picked the phone up, while walking into West Ham's dressing room, two minutes before he was giving the team talk before a match. No bulls---, no fluffiness, he just gave me the answer, and it was a 30-second phone call."
Allardyce's sometimes abrasive personality is by no means everyone's cup of tea yet it has inspired admiration among those who have worked with him. "People say how arrogant he comes across but I think that comes from being so meticulous," Preece said. "It's more that he trusts in his plan than his arrogance about himself. He trusts in his methods."
The same can be said of Santos.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.