For once in English football’s long and undignified history of ‘hitting rock bottom’ has come a scandal that I’ve actually welcomed. Proving that sometimes, two wrongs actually do make a right, Sam Allardyce has come to the rescue of all those who thought him woefully under-qualified and over-rated to lead the national team – by spectacularly talking himself out of the job after barely two months.
To his supporters, he was always the straight-talking, no-nonsense antidote to the seemingly more cultured, continental-leaning and ultimately fruitless philosophy favoured by the FA in recent years. ‘Big Sam’ will sort it out, they claimed, with all the sophistication of a 1970s tabloid headline.
But we soon found out that he wasn’t as straight-talking as he seemed. Aside from the whole argument about the potential for corruption, the flagrant disregard for his employers’ policies on third-party ownership and the fact he even felt the need to associate with anyone not core to his primary objective, it was the duplicity that really did for him. He was exposed as a charlatan who thought he was clever enough to say one thing publicly and quite another once the mood took him.
You might argue that his opinions on the re-building of Wembley, the conduct of Princes William and Harry and the effectiveness of his predecessors are all matters of opinion, to which he is fully entitled. You might believe there is an adequate separation of the employee and the private individual to justify this claim.
When faced with this question of personal freedom versus professional integrity, my instinct is that I would agree, with only one condition – would he have been happy to disclose any of those views in the job interview? If he had, knowing the risks to his ambition of doing so, then yes, the FA would have known what they were employing (at huge expense) and would have had no complaint. If not, then why not? Because it might not have gone down well, perhaps? So why should it be such a huge surprise that being caught in possession of a toxic opinion later on would lead to his removal? And this from a man who has spent ten years bleating about how he would never be allowed to get near his ‘dream job’.
Perhaps it’s not the most judicious thing to quote Greg Dyke (I’ve always held him in quite high regard but I often feel in the minority by doing so) but he’s the only person who I’ve yet heard echo my very first thoughts about this whole sorry affair: why indeed does someone on £3 million per year need to worry about compromising himself for £400,000 (roughly seven weeks’ wages)? And if he doesn’t understand that simple concern, what else is he failing to understand?
The England Manager’s job is supposed to be the pinnacle of the game and to me, the vast sums of money involved in this particular job in football are more justified than anywhere else in the game. People talk about it being a poisoned chalice but it’s only poisonous if you fail to meet to the standards of performance or conduct. Quite frankly, most England fans half-expect some shortfall in performance so even that is largely tolerated. How hard can it be, therefore, to just conduct yourself appropriately? Roy Hodgson was lots of things but even his fiercest critic (and there were a few) would struggle to add ‘impropriety’ to his charge sheet.
£3m a year is a lot of money, even in football, but it does buy the FA the right to remove all the unhelpful nuance and feeble excuses from situations like this and act decisively. Thankfully, they had the backbone to do so, knowing it would result in some wholly embarrassing headlines in the short term. Thankfully, the FA of today seem a world away from their dusty gentleman’s club of octogenarians and, with initiatives like ‘England DNA‘, give themselves a clear forward when situations like this occur.
Yes, it seems faintly soul-crushing to see everything being boiled down to “a process” but it’s the professional thing to do (and to be seen to do) and such exercises are invaluable in situations like this. Was Allardyce’s integrity of the highest standard? No. Well it says here that ‘nothing less is acceptable’. Sorry, Sam but that’s all there is to it. On your bike.
We could have also done without his mealy-mouthed “entrapment won” reaction, appearing to many to prove that this is a man with the hide of a particularly shameless rhino. Will he return to the game? If he has a shred of dignity, no or at least not in England. Sadly, it won’t be long before some club or other is desperate and shallow enough to welcome him as their new messiah. When that happens, if it happens to be your club, just remember this: