Someone give Big Sam a big hug
Recently, pictures emerged of Sam Allardyce, erstwhile England manager, watching the Three Lions’ so far enthralling World Cup progress from the confines of a boozer in England. Not in the Motherland. Crucially.
Now, I’m no Allardyce advocate, far from it, and I absolutely think that Gareth Southgate is a much better fit for this England outfit. But, looking at those pictures of Big Sam’s eyes glued to the screen, I couldn’t help wonder what might be going on behind them.
I’m sure that the ex-Everton boss is right behind the national team lads, like the rest of us. You could forgive some bitterness towards the international set up on his part though.
One thing I’m certain Allardyce must have been thinking when watching his old assistant, Southgate, prowling the touchline is ‘that should be me’. Whilst I’m equally sure that Allardyce would have cut less of a dash in that waistcoat, in a way Big Sam would be right in thinking that. By that I mean that the scandal that resulted in the FA prematurely terminating Allardyce’s contract, and national boss status, was a storm I suspect could have been weathered if the powers that be in English football were truly wedded to Allardyce’s England vision.
Even at the time, Big Sam’s appointment felt like it was necessitated by a dearth of viable alternatives, rather than as a result of anyone really buying into the big man’s masterplan. I feel the FA would have done more to protect Allardyce had the latter been the case.
None of that will be of any comfort to Allardyce now though.
Imagine, if you can, an 8-year-old Sam Allardyce. Imagine his hopes and dreams. You can be certain that being involved in the England national team set up was chief amongst them.
That's what football is all about, big dreams. And the World Cup is the biggest stage for big dreams to play themselves out in reality upon. The idea of someone coming so close to that moment in their life, and then having the rug pulled from under them, makes me feel a bit sad (even if I do think it was for the good of the team in the long run).
This isn’t quite the same as something like Radamel Falcao’s injury ruling him out of Brazil 2014 either. For one thing, Falcao got his World Cup run out this year. There can be no resurrection of Big Sam’s England World Cup dream. And another thing is that no pictures subsequently emerged in 2014 of Falcao watching on from a distant pub*.
*I realise Allardyce was at the pub as part of an official event, but you can’t argue there isn’t somewhere else, and in a very different role, he’d rather have been.
Of course, Allardyce could get another national team job, almost certainly of lesser prestige, and might manage to lead them to Qatar 2022. It wouldn’t be the same for him though, it never could be.
Are England better off with Southgate over him? I think almost certainly.
Yet I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Big Sam. Of course, the game of football is as much about disappointment as it is joy - in order for anyone to win, someone else has to lose. But at least in losing you usually get to actually play the game. You get to make your stand. Hearts will be broken and dreams will be crushed, but you’ll have had your chance to change the course of things. You might have failed, lost the game, but that’s the way it goes and everyone knows the deal when they cross the white line.
Even 8-year-old Allardyce would have understood that.
Allardyce lost before he got to play. Yes, ultimately that’s his fault and a consequence of his actions. Though, as I’ve said above, I’m not convinced it had to be that way (I’m sure he’d agree with me).
That’s not how anyone should fail in football. That’s not what the game is all about. A kid’s football dreams shouldn’t come to that end. And that’s why I feel sorry for Sam Allardyce.
But he was still in the pub. Still supporting. And for that, if for nothing else in recent years, I have to give Big Sam credit.
Someone, please, get that man a pint of wine.