Sam Allardyce’s England: No grandstanding, no posturing but a hint of mischief

England manager Sam Allardyce after the press conference

The fanfare was conspicuous only by its absence.

There was no grandstanding, no hubristic posturing, no overblown roars about football coming home. With the shambolic defeat to Iceland still alive in the memory, how could there be?

Almost a month since England illuminated Euro 2016 with the spectacle of Harry Kane botching free-kicks, Joe Hart’s confusion and Wayne Rooney’s doomed Wazziesta midfield stylings, it did not come as a surprise that the unveiling of Sam Allardyce as Roy Hodgson’s replacement was a muted affair. And it was hardly an occasion to inspire patriotic fervour and giddy optimism about the future of the national game.

A cold dose of reality is what England require at their lowest ebb, though. Losing to Iceland was a failure that rocked English football to its core. Delusions of grandeur have never looked more ridiculous. Allardyce is the man teams call for in desperate times and England could hardly regard themselves as too good for him in light of their dismal flop in France, where they displayed all the composure of a cat in a bath.

Expectations have rarely been this low, with accusations from unhappy supporters about a lack of passion and desire in the squad underlining the increasing lack of connection between the players and the public. No wonder Martin Glenn, the Football Association’s chief executive, was frowning so much to Allardyce’s right.

However while misgivings over Allardyce’s appointment cannot be dismissed out of hand, at least there was a sense of a manager with a plan as he outlined his vision. Admittedly he also had his initials stitched into the cuffs of his shirt, but it is all part of the Allardycian charm.

A big job calls for a big man, which is why the FA may also have considered the merits of the 6ft 11in tennis player Ivo Karlovic, and Big Sam was only too willing to tell us why he fits the bill. He has waited a long time for this moment, suffering the indignity of missing out to Steve McClaren 10 years ago, and he was already looking comfortable in his surroundings as he joked about nicking his office from Dan Ashworth, the FA’s technical director, before roaring with laughter.

That brash personality might be a turn-off for some but it has helped Allardyce extract the best from his players at club level. He cited his man-management skills as a major asset and dismissed suggestions that he would not be able to handle the egos in the England squad, pointing out that he had managed talents such as Nicolas Anelka, Fernando Hierro, Youri Djorkaeff, Jay Jay Okocha, Michael Owen and Gary Speed.

Allardyce rejected the idea that England have hit rock bottom and expressed his annoyance at being pigeonholed as a firefighter when it was put to him that the appointment of a manager who has never won a major trophy or managed in the Champions League might be considered a hindrance.

“I consider myself much more than that personally,” he said, exhibiting those astonishing levels of self-confidence. “As an English manager, I never really got the chance to go to the top of the Premier League.”

Supporters of Newcastle United and West Ham will probably react to that statement by bellowing their dissatisfaction with Allardyce’s approach, a debate that is sure to bubble to the surface at the first sign of England betraying their storied tradition of producing the kind of swashbuckling, romantic, carefree football that leaves you beaming from ear to ear as you skip merrily away from Wembley after a 10-0 crushing of Spain.

Although he stressed that he wants his players to be adaptable and flexible, Allardyce was not afraid to say that he is a pragmatic manager who will choose a system based on the opposition and place a focus on results. Those remarks might chafe with Ashworth’s vision of an aesthetically pleasing England team capable of keeping the ball for long spells in tournament matches.

It could be an uneasy alliance, yet another marriage of convenience for Allardyce, though he reacted to concerted inquiries over his perceived stylistic shortcomings by pointing out that he saved Sunderland from relegation last season by playing Jermain Defoe on his own up front.

The effect was slightly ruined by Allardyce getting Defoe’s height wrong – 5ft 7in, Sam, not 5ft 10in – but it was evidence of that famously thick skin. “Bring it on, eh lads?” Allardyce said, his tone a mixture of mischief and defiance. That combative streak could be the perfect tonic for a fragile England.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Jacob Steinberg, for The Guardian on Monday 25th July 2016 17.35 Europe/London

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