I’m done with England – and Big Sam can’t change that

The month was September. The place was Trnava. And as Danny Rose stumbled his way past the Slovakian left back and laid the ball inside to Adam Lallana who bundled his shot past Matúš Kozáčik in the 95th minute.

Nearly a thousand miles away I went back to my pint and didn’t even bother getting up.

The pub in Baker Street didn’t erupt; it barely even gave a collective cry. Somewhere close to the bar, a bearded man in an England shirt (one of the stylised polo tops – these days, hipster dominated central London has few who brave wearing the traditional England shirt) let out a roar before looking around with a mixture of awkward guilt and hopeful excitement.

If he was looking for support, none was coming. The clientele looked at him oddly before returning to whatever they were doing before.

 

I watched the goal, and I was glad; but I, like the rest of the bar, couldn’t find it in me to celebrate England scraping past a Slovakia team who had played with ten men for a large part of the match, especially after the summer we’ve had.

Perhaps this particular London pub was filled with a cosmopolitan crowd who cared little for England, or perhaps national sentiment in a capital seemingly at odds with much of the country is at a post-Brexit low. Yet somehow, I doubt it

After a decade of being told the world was ours for nothing, I just don’t think we much care anymore.

I watched my country at the European Championships this summer past with a mixture of apathy and apprehension. I expected little of us against Iceland and I was still disappointed. Days later, I departed for Mallorca and thought nothing of it.

As I sat in Palma watching France dismantle the same Icelanders who had so troubled England, I gave just a wry smile. Even five years ago, after seeing England exit a major tournament I would barely have been able to get on with my life happily.

Like much of the country, it seems, I’ve seen little to bring me back into the fold. The only person particularly minded to gee up the rest of the country in the wake of the ‘success’ in Trnava was FA chairman Greg Clarke – a man literally paid to do so.

Once upon a time, the newspaper headlines would have been a mixture of triumphalism and sabre rattling. No longer.

I’m happy for Sam Allardyce, I really am. Having watched Fabio Capello stand before the cameras with his smile betraying his inner turmoil at where it had all gone wrong that he had slipped so low, having watched Roy Hodgson looking constantly confused as if he’d walked into the wrong interview and been handed the job anyway, it’s heartening to see how much this means to Big Sam.

This is the pinnacle of his career, and he’s proud to have come so far.

Yet Capello’s debut victory against Switzerland and even Hodgson’s performance against Norway both filled me with more belief than did the result against Slovakia, and for all that it seems unfair to write a man off after just one match there was little in Trnava to suggest that Sam Allardyce’s reign will be anything other than the car crash it was always likely to be.

That England are turning to a man whose career highlight is being sacked by Newcastle is telling of how far the country has fallen.

The FA, it seems, would rather be seen to follow conventional wisdom and fail than to try and reshape the future. In this sense Allardyce, who kept on Wayne Rooney as England captain for his first squad and who started a grossly out of form Harry Kane, seems perfect.

Watching Marcus Rashford score a hat-trick on his debut for the England under 21 side, even Gary Lineker – hardly a career rabble rouser – was minded to question if we would ever see something different, something brave, from Allardyce.

 

Sam Allardyce is undoubtedly the best English manager in the game; that Gareth Southgate was even linked with the job shows the real dearth of English candidates.

Yet whilst Big Sam’s ‘Best of British’ approach – as the ex-manager of clubs like Bolton, West Ham and Preston this is a man who leads sides of brawn that practically scream bangers and mash – might feel reassuring to a British public increasingly drawn to pulling up the drawbridge in times of worry, it is the exact thing that cost England last summer.

Much has been made of Harry Kane’s exhaustion, Raheem Sterling’s lack of form and Joe Hart’s outright mistakes. None of these aided England in their campaign.

Yet as a strategy, the problem was not that the England players were too focused on their clubs.

Nor was it that they were too uncaring as Joey Barton says, playing to the gallery by slamming his fellow professionals. Fire and brimstone will only take you so far; just ask a talented Turkish squad who even the indomitable Fatih Terim could not inspire.

Whilst it might make us feel better to know that Sam Allardyce is putting the fear of God into these apparently narcissistic professionals, it helps England none at all.

Fundamentally, England were too monolateral and lacking in innovation in France, trying the exact same strategy every time of playing predictable passes and simply trying to lump it to a striker to finish.

Smaller teams found it easy to simply shut England out, to stick men behind the ball and to know that England lacked the talent to pass their way through them. Besides the vilified Sterling, England did not have a player on the pitch capable or willing to run the ball from one zone to another to create space – and so England suffocated in the claustrophobic traps easily laid by their opponents.

Harry Kane, it seems, might be a wonderful finisher, but without modern players like Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela to dribble and open up space he is of little use at all.

This, if there is a cultural problem, is it. We are too English, too traditional in our myths and wed to our outdated methods.

Modern football is not about simply motivating players until they perform; it is about tactics and strategy, culture and technique, becoming more European and cultured by training our players in the most modern and innovative techniques to stay ahead of the competition.

If this European Championship showed anything, it is that the age of grand old coaches – the Hodgsons, the del Bosques, the Terims – is over.

 

Sam Allardyce is not a departure from that mould. Much has been made of the way in which German football at the beginning of the millenium overhauled root and branch its outdated system to create the structures that paved the way for a World Cup winning side in 2014.

The jury is very much out on whether an analogous change is possible in English football.

Yet even if it is not, English football must make an active change for the better, not commit to trying and failing in the same way.

Sam Allardyce will not win a trophy, nor will he especially bring English football along. He will merely make us feel good about ourselves until we inevitably crash out in 2018 or 2020 and begin the whole cycle again.

It’s time to break that cycle. The only coach linked with the job capable of leading a true project and revamping England was Jurgen Klinsmann – yet, clearly, a German was too much of a departure for a decrepit FA wedded to jingoism.

So instead of trying to be more worldly we try to be less.

So go ahead – if that’s your thing, you can watch England. But I’m going back to my pint.

Author Details

Thomas Wyer
Thomas Wyer

Student and football fan. Aspiring Guillem Balague but have more in common with Chris Kamara. Managing to support both Ipswich and Galatasaray which, like being indifferent to marmite, makes me a bit of an oddity.

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