Being Big Sam

Welcome to Tuesday Team Talk. Every week, the H+K Sports team will give a unique perspective on the week’s football action and the stories making the headlines across the beautiful game.

It’s been said to the point of cliché, but England manager is one of the most high pressure jobs in football. The media scrutiny and collective irrational belief of England fans means that the top job comes with a huge spotlight, and it might be about to get even worse. Sam Allardyce starts his England reign with the shortest leash of any English manager of recent times, and it’s his reputation that’s to blame.

The last few England managers have come into the job from stage left, not from the front of English football fan consciousness. Roy Hodgson had a track record but not a recent Premier League history. Fabio Capello made his name outside English football as did Sven Goran Eriksson. Steve McLaren had experienced some success but most of it as an assistant and over a relatively short period of time.

Contrast that to Big Sam and his big persona. He's been around the top flight of English football forever and as a result we have a pretty good idea of what he's about - his personality and just as importantly his style of play. As Allardyce has moved around clubs his style of football - direct, efficient and with the result as the ultimate aim - has followed him.  It’s the main reason he never really connected with West Ham fans who still require their team to play the ‘West Ham way’. Love it or hate it, there is no denying that Big Sam has a style.

But therein lies his problem. We know too much about Big Sam. He’s developed a management brand and we therefore think we know exactly what to expect when he takes over the England job. The result is that he starts the job with the shortest leash of any England manager to date. If the team plays boring football (as to be fair they generally do anyway) Sam won’t get the benefit of the blind optimism of England fans convincing themselves things will improve, the performance will be seen as just another example of his own style. If he clashes with a club manager over player selection, it will be his trademark combative personality coming through, and not a symptom of a wider issue with the English game.

This has already started to play out even as Allardyce picks his first squad. Before the names were announced there was already speculation that it would be full of Allardyce favourites, players who he had coached in the recent past. The assumption being that this was a manager who knows what he likes and would transfer the same attitude to the England team. When it came, the squad was noticeably missing names like Mark Noble and Jermain Defoe, and with the likes of Andy Carroll injured the squad doesn’t really feel like an ‘Allardyce squad’ at all. But that won’t stop Allardyce being judged through the lens of his own management resume. He starts his England reign with a history that England fans won’t ignore. Unless his England reign starts well, Allardyce could find it is his reputation that becomes his ultimate downfall.

James Fenn

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search