‘Got a feeling Big Sam gets the top job and we get our game back.’
Should Sam Allardyce be named as England manager – and it looks ever more likely – then he should print out that tweet from Richard Keys as a reminder of why he was appointed. It’s all there – the nickname, the Brexit-esque language, the concept that a vote for Big Sam is a vote for old-fashioned Englishness. As long as he remains the cartoonish version of Big Sam and talks in soundbites, tactics in percentages and laughs in all the right places then he could thrive, or at least be given the time and patience to under-achieve in relative peace.
There will be talk of PowerPoints and ProZone from those who seek to justify his appointment, painting him as the hairy face of sports science, but Allardyce’s ascension should require no justification – a vote for Allardyce will be a vote for passion, organisation and unashamed Englishness. And that is absolutely fine. As soon as you decide that you want an Englishman to manage the English team, then he is the obvious – nay, only – choice. Eddie Howe would be foolish to take a potentially career-ending job, while the FA themselves would be very foolish indeed to fall for Steve Bruce, a manager who trails in the considerable shadow of Allardyce.
As Brexit means Brexit, so Big Sam should mean Big Sam. If he is finally offered a seat at the top table, he needs to come dressed as himself. Or, better still, the caricature of himself that leads people like Keys to think that we are moving away from the cerebral and back to what England does best. The message to the fans, players and media should be exactly that: We will make England feared again. If that means long diagonal balls, centre-halves clearing the ball rather than playing from the back, a really bloody big man up front, Mark Noble sweating blood in the middle, then let’s embrace the essential Big Samness of it all. England does not need Sam Allardici; it apparently wants Big Sam.
There is undoubtedly a danger that Allardyce will be your granddad putting on a ‘posh’ voice when you take him to a restaurant, when really we want them both to ask for extra bread to dip in their gravy while muttering loudly and industrially about the price of what is essentially a pie.
Only four managers have taken charge of more Premier League games than Allardyce and he has not reached that rare 400-match mark because he has won as much silverware as Sir Alex Ferguson or left a legacy like Arsene Wenger, but because – like Harry Redknapp and David Moyes – he is largely seen as a very safe pair of hands. He is the firefighter, the survivor, the organiser, the pragmatist. Sunderland did not parachute him in to replace Dick Advocaat because he is an innovator or a philosopher; they brought him in to tighten an awful defence and stay in the Premier League.
What we fear is that Allardyce looks at the considerable list of English talent at his disposal, rubs his hands with glee and thinks ‘right, now I get to manage the way I have always wanted to manage’. This is a man who believes he would coach Real Madrid or Inter Milan to a whole raft of titles. This is a man who believes he would have been handed the managerial reins of a top-four club if he were Italian. Hopefully that man also realises that his greatest strength is the simplicity of his message. Can he get them organised at the back? Can he make them better from set-pieces in both boxes? Can he deliver quick, efficient service to the strikers? Can he stop Harry Kane taking corners?
The minute he stops trying to answer those questions and starts talking about DNA, vertical football or quoting from The Art of War then we have lost the whole point of appointing Allardyce. If you call 999 for a firefighter, the last thing you want is a man turning up with a £1,000 Louis Vuitton manbag.