So within a day of an unnamed Sunderland AFC source assuring The Northern Echo and presumably others that Sam Allardyce’s abrupt departure from the Austrian trainingcamp had nothing to do with the England job, he pops up at the Cheshire home of David Gill, FA vice-chairman and one of the three wise men deciding who should follow Roy Hodgson.
Also present, along with what the Daily Mail calls Sam’s “£1,000 Louis Vuitton man-bag” containing his presentation, were the other two members of the selection panel. In other words, it was a job interview
We shall leave to one side what that tells us about the probity of one or more unnamed Sunderland source.
If Sam departs, I shall bear him no ill will. I would not even blame Ellis Short or Martin Bain, whether or not it is true as reported that the manager has been deeply frustrated and angered by the club’s approach – by implication niggardly – to the necessity to strengthen the squad and, at last, avoid a relegation-haunted season. He did publicly state that his patience was wearing “very thin” without actually pointing a finger.
The simple fact is that Sam has long coveted the England job and would find it almost impossible to resist even if he had been given an open cheque to recruit for SAFC without the need to consult Short or Bain.
He did the job he was appointed for last season. He seemed better equipped than any of his recent predecessors to turn that dramatic success, which they had also achieved, into lasting benefit for the club.
But if Sam truly believes there is jo more important role in football than to manage England, and that it is something he desperately wants a crack at, we have to take it on the chin and pray Short and Bain have something special up their sleeves when it comes to replacing him.
As for Allardyce, the realistic approach is to be prepared for the worst. Sir Alex Ferguson is among the authoritative football voices to support Allardyce for the England job. He must be considered a serious contender.
But his loss would be a severe blow. Not everyone was wholly convinced when he replaced Dick Advocaat last October, but the steady progress he made, especially with under-performing players such as Patrick van Aanholt and Yedlin, was extraordinary. Here at last seemed to be a manager with the resolve and methodology to rid the club of the season-after-season ritual of threatened
Whether Sam is right to long for this particular job is another matter.
Compare and contrast: with as wretched a record in the Premier League of the past few years as any club that didn’t also go down, Sunderland nevertheless have magnificent, loyal support.
Our average home gate of 43,000 last season was the sixth highest in the land, comfortably ahead of Chelsea, Everton and Spurs.
Their stadiums admittedly have smaller capacities but just think what our gates would be like if we had the relative or absolute success of any of them.
If Sam based his decision on the quality of support, surely there could be only one winner.
Consider his view on Sunderland fans, expressed just a few days ago …
— Sam Allardyce (@OfficialBigSam) July 8, 2016
And then there’s England.
Let’s not fall into the trap of dismissing them all as a bunch of bigoted, hard-of-thinking thugs just because so many of them behave as such, especially when travelling abroad. But a sizeable minority fit the description like a glove and seem rather proud of the fact.
England, oddly enough, were not mentioned when the French authorities dished out awards to the best fans attending Euro 2016. The Irish, including the Northern Irish, were honoured, however, with most of France probably relieved by then to have seen the back of our lot.
Remember that German police chief at the 1988 equivalent of the competition: “The English came in their thousands, got drunk and fought. The Irish came in their thousands, got drunk and sang.”
If Sam wants the job, of course, it is despite the relative qualities of support, not because of them. Most of us hope he will be ruled out, by the panel or by himself. Most of us equally fear the writing is on the wall.
“We’re doomed,” said Joan Dawson, a lifelong supporter, at Facebook. She was referring to our chances of keeping Sam, not the longer-term prognosis for the club.
“Of course he’s going to want to take the job (if offered) but he’s giving up the chance to re-build a historic but floundering club, and be in it for the long-term. All for the opportunity to train a team for a couple of years, fail badly in an international competition and then retire disillusioned. My take on it anyway.
Don’t do it. Sam – please stay! Is there a campaign to keep him?”
In the same Facebook thread, and in comments to my ESPN FC piece, the rather tired view was expressed that plenty of England fans would also like Sam too stay with us.
My response (merging one from each forum): “Then let’s leave him where he is. Sunderland will prosper as he’s the best manager we’ve had since early Peter Reid, and gets players performing much more attractively than we – at any rate – have seen in a long time. We keep him, Sunderland prosper and England look elsewhere. Everyone’s happy.”