Big Sam and the de­cline of the in­ter­na­tional game

World Soccer - - The World -

Eng­land have be­come ded­i­cated fol­low­ers of fash­ion in mod­ern foot­ball, so it was hardly sur­pris­ing that they opted for Sam Al­lardyce as their new man­ager.

He is known as “Big Sam” – but only in Eng­land. Else­where, he is rel­a­tively ob­scure.

Italy and Spain had al­ready made ex­actly the same move after Euro 2016, putting new men in charge of the na­tional side who are ap­pre­ci­ated at home but mostly un­known to a wider au­di­ence.

None have ma­jor rep­u­ta­tions. Italy’s choice, Gi­ampiero Ven­tura, is a veteran boss of 18 dif­fer­ent clubs, the last of which was Torino. Mean­while, the Span­ish went for Julen Lopetegui, who spent four years work­ing with ju­nior na­tional sides and then a dif­fi­cult 19 months at Porto with­out win­ning a tro­phy.

Hav­ing sacked Marc Wil­mots in the wake of a dis­ap­point­ing Euro tour­na­ment, Bel­gium are also look­ing for a new coach. And they are now ad­ver­tis­ing the post after be­ing re­jected by Louis Van Gaal – pow­er­ful ev­i­dence that club foot­ball is now ut­terly dom­i­nant, that the finest man­agers want to work in the Cham­pi­ons League and win do­mes­tic ti­tles.

In Italy, the ini­tial hope was to lure home Clau­dio Ranieri after his as­ton­ish­ing Premier League ti­tle suc­cess with Leicester City. Yet he felt his cur­rent job is more fun, more en­gag­ing and un­doubt­edly more lu­cra­tive. Would a proud and pa­tri­otic man like Ranieri have said no to the Az­zurri 30 years ago? It is most un­likely, but the ku­dos of in­ter­na­tional foot­ball has di­min­ished since its hey­day in the 1970s and 1980s.

When Al­lardyce ac­cepted the call from the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion he said it was the best job in English foot­ball – but that is only for a man­ager who has never been in­vited to take charge of a ma­jor club.

If the choice had been be­tween Eng­land and Manch­ester United, he would have gone to Old Traf­ford with­out hes­i­ta­tion, not least be­cause the salary would have been 300 per cent higher.

Man­agers and coaches also much pre­fer the day-to-day work­ing life at a club. On his ar­rival at Chelsea, after two years with the Ital­ian na­tional side, An­to­nio Conte com­mented that “I can breathe the grass again”. The frus­tra­tions of an in­ter­na­tional foot­ball man­ager are many. There is pre­cious lit­tle time with the play­ers, few matches, and the con­cen­tra­tion of work that you are truly judged is at a sum­mer tour­na­ment once every two years.

Al­lardyce, nat­u­rally for an ebul­lient man, came roar­ing into his new job full of en­ergy and op­ti­mism. It is an un­ex­pected op­por­tu­nity for him to prove his worth and give sub­stance to bold claims of the past that he would be an in­stant suc­cess if ever he had the chance to man­age Real Madrid or In­ter­nazionale.

It is a fas­ci­nat­ing ap­point­ment, and prob­a­bly a good one. Eng­land do not lack for tal­ent in the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of play­ers, but as the mon­u­men­tal col­lapse of nerve against Ice­land at Euro 2016 il­lus­trated, they lack the re­quired fi­bre and for­ti­tude.

Al­lardyce’s charisma and cer­tainty of pur­pose could be a per­fect fit, al­though the doubters will point to his lack of in­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence and ar­gue that his tac­tics at club level rarely climbed to heights of so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

His hunger for the job – he has taken a pay cut from Sun­der­land to work with Eng­land – is a wel­come con­trast to the mer­ce­nary regime of one of his pre­de­ces­sors, Fabio Capello. But will it be the same for Italy and Spain with their low-pro­file choices? Will hunger and pride trump a huge rep­u­ta­tion? We will see.

All three of th­ese ma­jor foot­balling na­tions can surely take heart from the ex­pe­ri­ence of Ger­many in the past decade with head coach Joachim Low.

He was far from a big name when he started, hav­ing worked at clubs in Turkey and Aus­tria be­fore be­com­ing such a tri­umphant suc­cess with Die Mannschaft.

Hunger...Sam Al­lardyce

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