Wham Bam Thanks West Ham, Your Big Sam Is England’s Man
If West Ham manager Sam Allardyce still harbours any ambition to one day be England manager, and I know he does, then he should forget any thoughts of trying to convince us he isn’t a exponent of the long ball game, and just keep doing what he does best. Uttering phrases like “long ball” and “direct football” are dirty words these days, but if it’s the type of football that’s achieved results, how can any football aficionado insist there is only one way to play. If we want to take on the might of the Spanish at their own game, we’re going to have a hell of a long wait until we’re as good as them. And if you’re going to upset teams who are more attractive but less physical, who else better to stop them than Big Sam. There’s a man down at The Emirates who’ll testify to that.
I can understand the thinking behind his attempt to distance himself from his reputation as a manager with a one dimensional approach, but it feels as if he’s admitting that he’s been wrong in his approach to the beautiful game by turning his teams into ugly but efficient winning machines. And it’s the winning part of this equation that needs to highlighted here, as the success he’s had down the years has ensured his teams continually punched well above their weight. Ever since his hat was thrown in to the ring for the England job, it seems as if Big Sam has become ashamed of being labeled for the very thing that has brought him the success that got him there in the first place.
After all, the perception of the England national team is one of perennial underachievers. Instead of giving the job to the best man, perhaps we should give it to the man who is going to get the most, and maybe a little bit more, out of a group of English players. Say what you like about Sven Goran Eriksson’s reign but he identified the strengths of the English games and played to them. In retrospect, two quarter final exits to eventual winners, Brazil, and a defeat to home finalists, Portugal, aren’t the disasters we thought at the time.
After all, the perception of the England national team is one of perennial underachievers. Instead of giving the job to the best man, perhaps we should give it to the man who is going to get the most, and maybe a little bit more, out of a group of english players.
Last month I sat in the away dugout at the Boleyn Ground and watched our defence get battered with an aerial bombardment reminiscent of a scene from Pearl Harbour. We had dominated possession but ultimately we were bullied into submission. Despite losing the game 1-0, we jumped back on the bus to Barnsley with an almost satisfactory feeling we had won some sort of moral fight. But it was on that long, pointless journey back north that I began to wonder if playing good football mattered if, ultimately, you finished up losers. For some reason I got to thinking about Kate Moss’s old adage that “nothing tastes as good as thin feels” and wondered whether the satisfaction of sticking to your footballing principals feels as good as being a winner. At that moment in time, it didn’t and neither did it when Allardyce’s Notts County team steamrollered my pretty passing Darlington side in the late 90’s.
The game I had just watched had been a horrible affair and as the final whistle blew, I prayed thanks to God that I hadn’t paid to sit there. I had an image of a headline in a newspaper that read ‘Big Sam’s Route One Back To The Premier League”. However, if West Ham do end up getting promoted, any argument against their style of play will diminish quicker than the bubbles from a glass of their celebratory champagne.
Go to The Emirates or The Britannia Stadium and you will hear unhappy Gunners and deliriously gleeful Potters back this up. The trouble for football purists everywhere is that as long as their are successes such as Stoke and on a more modest scale, Stevenage, there will always be a case for what is essentially ‘British style’ football. It’s this style of direct, high tempo football that is in our genetic make-up. It encapsulates the honest endeavour that is synonymous with our national character. Admittedly the game has moved on since 1966 but that victory was built upon the foundations of hard work and a solidity which proved victorious. We certainly weren’t the best team at that tournament and neither are we ever to be in the any future ones either until we have developed our game from the very tip of the roots up. Don’t get me wrong, I‘m not advocating this as the blueprint for the basis of our nation’s footballing future. Far from it. I actually think that an Ajax/Barcelona like system of development should’ve been brought in decades ago but even with the correct steps that have been taken in recent years, how long will it be before our players have “tiki taka” branded into their DNA like Xavi and Wesley Schneider?
The trouble for football purists everywhere is that as long as their are successes such as Stoke and on a more modest scale, Stevenage, there will always be a case for what is essentially ‘British style’ football. It’s this style of direct, high tempo football that is in our genetic make-up.
If Big Sam ever succeeded in his application for the big job, I dare say there would be quite a bit of opposition to his appointment but my argument to that would be that it is those exact people who have put Sam in that position. In my experience as a player, there is no one more impatient for players to get the ball forward as quickly as possible than the average fan. I’ve never been able to fathom the amounts of moans and groans that come from the crowd whenever there’s a sequence of sideways passes across the defence, or God forbid, a back pass to the goalkeeper, regardless of keeping the possession. Yet, parodoxically, away from the stadiums we have all become connoisseurs of the passing game who snobbishly look down on anyone who takes less than 3 passes to launch an attack. It’s ALL football.
The only rival he has to the job is the current front runner to replace Fabio Capello, Harry Redknapp. Of course, Harry has done a great job of transforming a traditionally attractively styled, but essentially soft-centred, Spurs side into real title contenders but would he be able to do the same with a squad that doesn’t include a Bale, Modric or a Van der Vaart but IS likely to include a Bobby Zamora, Andy Carroll or even the criminally underused Peter Crouch?
The friendly win over Spain in November was a great result but the victory was more to do with defensive endeavour rather than beating them at their own game. Did you see how uncomfortable we looked in possession? It was more a “paint by numbers” style of passing rather than the natural fluidity that the Spanish players possess, and until our players have that ability and imagination, with and without the ball, we should stop being a pale imitation of those elegant teams we aspire to become. Our obsession with copying whoever has won the last World Cup or Euro’s has left us without any identity as a football nation. Insecure, trying to be something were aren’t. So, until we have decided who we want to be in the future, why don’t we put someone in charge who will not only get the best from the group of players we have now but also show them how to do it in a way the players are familiar and comfortable with. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time an-ex West Ham manager has done it.
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