The whole thing is a mess, but did this really merit ditching Sam Allardyce?
The cartoonist Mike Stokoe neatly sums up the madness of the England job with a wonderful little sketch that hangs from one of the walls of the National Football Museum in Manchester. The cartoon shows an interview for the job and the applicant sitting nervously in front of three Football Association blazers. “And if you lose one game on the trot you’re sacked.”
Sam Allardyce has certainly excelled himself being the man who managed it after one match, one victory and the grand total of 67 days in office.
Everything had been going so well after that win in Slovakia. England’s next opponents are Malta a week on Saturday and three days later, to quote the man himself, there is a trip to “Slovenia or something”. Gareth Southgate will be in charge while the man who has overseen the shortest and most ignominious reign of any England manager will presumably have to find another home for his lucky coin. The bottom of a river, perhaps.
He is a clot, that’s for sure. If you have followed Allardyce’s career, the infamous Panorama documentary and the chequered past of his agent, Mark Curtis, it is not any surprise the man the FA appointed in July was ripe for a newspaper sting. It is unusual, perhaps, that it is the Daily Telegraph having a go at playing the Fake Sheikh and there are parts of its coverage that, to be blunt, are questionable, to say the least.
Yet there is no doubt about it: Allardyce has caused his employer an extreme form of embarrassment. He had his chance, he blew it and one of the most arrogant men in the business will have a long time to mull over what he should have done differently.
Whether that means he deserved to lose his job is another matter entirely and, even as a non-Allardyce fan, having questioned his relationship with Curtis more than once, it is still not entirely straightforward understanding what the FA has seen in those secretly taped recordings to warrant the guillotine.
Presumably, the relevant people have decided it is untenable for an organisation that stands in judgment on others to employ someone who just informed two undercover reporters, posing as representatives from a football agency based in south-east Asia, that it is “not a problem” to get round the rules of third-party ownership, despite the practice being banned in 2008.
Yet that quote is referring to the fact that when Allardyce was managing West Ham they signed Enner Valencia despite him being precisely in that position. The ownership agreement ended when the transfer went through and West Ham signed him “whole”. Something similar happened with Manchester United and Marcus Rojo. It is not a problem, as Allardyce says, getting round it.
He should not expect a great deal of sympathy but in the grand scheme of managerial scandals it is certainly a few notches down from the passage in Joey Barton’s newly released autobiography about the “creative accounting” of one manager (though not one, he says, he ever played under) whose “speciality was making late substitutions on the understanding his assistant would later collect a percentage of the player’s match fee”.
That manager, according to Barton, was infamous for giving homegrown players their debuts, sometimes just for a few minutes, so the academy director would collect a bonus, to be split again. The manager would re-sign players he had worked with at other clubs and take a cut from them, too – paid monthly, and invariably in cash.
Compare that with Allardyce’s response when asked about paying people to secure business. “Oh, oh, you’re not – do not,” he says. “I haven’t heard that. I haven’t heard that, you stupid man. What are you talking about? You idiot. You can have that conversation when I’m not here.”
Allardyce is so aghast by the suggestion he leans back and drapes a napkin over his face. Later he gives the man who brought it up, his long-term friend and football agent Scott McGarvey, another going-over.
“You slipped up tonight. You can’t go there any more. You can’t pay a player, you can’t pay a manager, you can’t pay a CEO. It used to happen 20 odd years ago, 30 years ago. You can’t do it now. You can’t do it now. Don’t ever go there.” None of which really falls in line with the caricature of the man who regards rules as optional.
If this sounds like a defence of Allardyce it is merely to give that part of the story some extra prominence given the Telegraph buried the quotes somewhere near the bottom of the 2,000-word article that has brought him down. There is no Friends-of-Sam public-relations operation swinging into gear, not here anyway. This isn’t the first time he has been a buffoon, far too full of his own self-importance and nothing like as streetwise or intelligent as he likes to believe.
Allardyce is, conversely, a more sophisticated manager than many people want to recognise. Unfortunately, he also comes across in the clandestine recordings as a 24/7 braggart operating on a mix of avarice and out-of-control ego. He often does, truth be told.
He was given the job almost by default – the best bad idea the FA could come up with – and it is no surprise whatsoever he has landed himself in trouble, only that it has happened so quickly. Maybe, when the dust settles, the three FA executives who appointed him – Martin Glenn, Dan Ashworth and the vastly overrated David Gill – can explain what they did by way of due diligence. Glenn did, in fairness, warn us he was “not a football expert”. His first appointment as the chief executive has been a PR disaster.
As for Allardyce, he probably understands now what Sven-Goran Eriksson meant after the Swede taught himself about the role by reading The Second Most Important Job in the Country, Niall Edworthy’s account of the various England managers and how they survived the pressures. “They were more or less killed, all of them,” Eriksson said. “Why should I be different?”
At the same time, Allardyce is probably entitled to a few grievances of his own. He has been accused of a potential conflict of interests by affiliating himself with a company whose clients could purportedly be England players when, in reality, it is a much more mundane truth. He made it absolutely clear that before he committed to anything he would have to run everything by the FA.
What, you might wonder, was the greedy old fool, already on a £3m a year contract, doing hawking himself around a couple of weeks after getting the England job? But that is the nature of the business, whether you like it or not. Managers exploit their position for speaking engagements, public appearances and other commercial activities, and Allardyce is not the only one who would be tempted by £400,000 (eventually bumped up to £600,000) for four “meet-and-greets and nothing else” in Singapore and Hong Kong.
“England manager for sale” was the headline that jumped off Tuesday’s newsstands. Allardyce, the opening sentence informed us, had been using his position to negotiate the deal. Well, of course he was.
The rest of it is the kind of standard pub talk most football people would come out with on a night out. Lots of people have questioned whether Gary Neville, Roy Hodgson’s assistant, was “the wrong influence” during Euro 2016. Even more have expressed wonder about the vast riches spent on rebuilding Wembley.
Allardyce’s relationship with Hodgson is bound to suffer given what he said about his predecessor being, in short, the kind of public speaker who sends his audience to sleep. The two were never close anyway and, yes, it is awkward in the extreme to hear Allardyce mimic “Woy” when the FA once locked horns with The Sun, calling it “unacceptable” for doing the same.
Equally, this is a manager talking in what he thinks is an off-the-record environment, possibly half-cut, with an undercover journalist chucking in a question he knows may elicit an unguarded answer. “Where did Roy go wrong then, as a manager?” and hey presto. It is the kind of journalism the Telegraph would once have considered beneath it and, even with a man’s P45 on the way, it is difficult to find the killer line, no matter how many times you read it.
The weirdest part – not that it particularly matters now – is that Allardyce did not appear to know Marcus Rashford’s name, referring to him as “Rushford” before someone in his party corrected him. No one can be sure, however, how much booze had been demolished and it is faintly ludicrous to suggest his relationship with the players may have suffered because he was on tape saying they had a “psychological barrier” and could not cope with the pressures of an international tournament.
Allardyce has said exactly the same in his interviews – more in the way of fact, rather than criticism – and the players will, for the most part, admit it anyway. Many of them were unenthused about Allardyce getting the job in the first place but, two months in, the last thing they would have wanted is the disruption of another managerial change.
And Southgate? He turned down the caretaker role after Euro 2016 because, in part, he knew the players wanted someone with a higher standing. The whole thing is a mess and, at the heart of it, the damage to Allardyce’s professional reputation is irretrievable.