At the time of writing this article, we are expecting my friend Sam Allardyce to be appointed as the England Manager; its about time in my opinion because he has those ‘old school’ British qualities that his recent predecessors have been lacking.
Sam is a very intelligent but tough man who expects his players to train very hard, he is extremely good at analysing the opposition and his teams abilities, and he is a father figure who can be very supportive as well as critical. Anyone who has followed his career will know that he is ‘Mr fix it’, the man you call to save your club from relegation or to get it promoted to the division above, both of which involve great analysis and huge levels of motivation.
Just watching him help Sunderland avoid relegation last season, we saw how he used his players to the best of their abilities, he knew Jermain Defoe was a great striker and that his work rate and love of football could be put to great use, and his faith in a great (but old) striker proved to be well founded. When your team know they are risking demotion and with it the potential of losing their jobs, you need to encourage, support and physiologically manage them for the best results.
Sam’s philosophy is about winning. Sometimes the football may not be pretty which upsets the fans, but in the national leagues around the world, winning means points and points mean a stronger position in the league table. As an Englishman I have almost become accepting that my national team will perform OK until the final stages of a big competition and then things will fall apart, but I am confident that Sam can fix this issue and make me and the nation proud of our football team.
The first test for Sam will be the World Cup qualifier on September 4th against Slovakia and my guess is that he will see this as a ‘must win’ game which means the squad will be a mix of experience and perhaps a couple of new faces. His back four will be selected for their strength and physicality and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see one or two defenders in the squad that didn’t make it to the Euro’s. The squad that went to the Euro’s was packed with talent from the EPL and some top Championship clubs, but this quality and ‘fame’ didn’t ignite a fire as we saw, so don’t be surprised to see some names on the team sheet that are unfamiliar to you.
Sam is a fighter and likes fighters; he isn’t the smartest looking or most stylish man you will ever meet and this maybe why he has never coached on of the worlds top clubs. Do we care if he wins matches? The simple answer is no we don’t, we want our team to perform on the pitch and make us proud to be English, its exactly the same for the Chinese or German teams. ‘Can Sam transition from the EPL to coaching the national team’ will be the question we will be asking, and on September 4th we will find out.
It is also interesting to look at the foreign coaches who have come to China; some can transition from Europe or South America, and get a culturally diverse squad to play as a team, and others just don’t know how. Perhaps just like Sam, some of these coaches can individually man manage their squad, communicating and motivating in the correct cultural manner for every player. Maybe the least successful ones just try to apply the same rules and same approach to every man in the team, and this just doesn’t work. What is clear is that any coach needs to understand the strengths and weaknesses of every player they have and must be able to communicate with each one well, irrespective of language difficulties.
This challenge is often compounded by the high expectations of the club owners who want instant success, and will not allow a new coach enough time to bond with his players and learn the peculiarities of Chinese football. Bringing a famous coach (or player) to China isn’t a guarantee of success if you don’t understand the game and are not willing to take the time to learn it and find the right coach for your club.
So back to Sam; in my view what the country needs now is someone who gets the job done, is determined and focused, has little concern for what others say about him because he knows what must be done. Good luck Sam, your country needs you.