Make the break with Rooney
Nor was he the worst performer during the debacle in France, but relying on him as either a playmaker of debatable merit or a striker of fading power will serve nobody well and the break needs to be a clean one. It is a decision best taken – and announced – by Rooney, who will not find it easy given the real and commendable pride he takes in representing England; if such a statement is not forthcoming before the World Cup qualifiers then Sam Allardyce will have to draw a line under things himself. There is the argument Rooney’s experience may prove useful – and a lack of obvious leaders to take the armband is certainly an issue – but allowing the current captain to drift slowly to the fringes would not be constructive.
Put an arm around Sterling
Criticism of Raheem Sterling got disturbingly out of hand after – and during – the exit from Euro 2016 and it would not take much more for lesser characters to turn their back on the national team. Sterling is not thought to be on the brink of that but his crisis of confidence, a very personal embodiment of England’s collective neurosis, is real and it would be unhelpful to alienate the player now. Pep Guardiola has already spoken positively of him and it should be pointed out that Sterling does not turn 22 until December. His 26 caps have brought a wealth of experience, positive and negative, and he must remain a valued member of the squad while the situation turns around. A practised man-manager such as Allardyce should know exactly which buttons to press to expedite the process.
Give Forster a chance in goal
There is nothing to say Joe Hart’s England career is over but he was among the senior players to err badly in France and now has genuine competition for his place. Fraser Forster was excellent during the second half of last season for Southampton, returning superbly from a long injury lay-off, and seems to be approaching the peak of his powers. Unless a friendly is organised there will be no chance to test him in goal before the first World Cup qualifier, in Slovakia, but the towering Forster has done enough to earn his chance and may have the added effect of steadying a defence whose jitters this summer were costly. He has been linked with a move to bigger clubs than Southampton but staying put on the south coast should not preclude him from establishing himself in goal with England.
Find the best team – and stick to it
Flexibility is certainly important at international level and, with scant time to prepare a team for matches, any side with a coherent plan B or C are at an advantage. But those should not come at the expense of a tried and trusted plan A, and if Allardyce wants proof he could do worse than look at Iceland, England’s most recent vanquishers, who selected the same team for five games running at Euro 2016. Familiarity and togetherness are both important during a tournament; there was a sense in general during Roy Hodgson’s reign that he had a tendency to overthink things, those six changes in the group stage against Slovakia being a case in point. Even if it means talented players have to wait their turn, there are clear benefits to picking your favoured team and system, and watching the two develop. In this regard at least, Allardyce would seem the ideal England coach.
Pop the bubble of aloofness around the camp
There are so many auxiliary figures around the England setup these days that you would be forgiven for thinking this was something other than a middling-to-decent football team. So it might not specifically be the manager’s issue that England give off a sense of permafrost on their travels, an impenetrability and lack of accessibility that significantly more successful nations do not feel the need to copy. But sometimes the front man can set a good example and if Allardyce, charming and down to earth at his best, can strike a chord with fans and media early on then perhaps it would encourage his colleagues to unshackle the players slightly and allow them to express personalities that, on and off the pitch, have been stifled to damaging effect. In general, England need to appear more self-deprecating and humble, and the manager can start by creating the right tone.
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