When Sam Allardyce was named manager of the England national football team in July, his appointment was made with little sense of hope or joy.
Increasingly, the world’s top coaches are best known for their sense of continental urbanity. Sharp suits, sharp words and sharp new ideas. Exemplified by the grace of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola, this is the golden age of managerial intellectualism.
Allardyce was the rebuttal to that trend – an old-school, horse-faced screamer who seemed to be slowly unscrewing his body from his suit as every match went on.
This was a desperate measure. It got far more desperate on Monday, when Allardyce was relieved of his duties after just one game in charge following a newspaper sting.
The circumstances of Allardyce’s firing (or, in modern sporting parlance, “mutually agreed” parting) are farcical and far-reaching.
The 61-year-old was caught, bagged and delivered to the professional gallows by the Telegraph newspaper. Its investigative journalists posed as representatives of an Asian business consortium interested in third-party player ownership. That is the process of buying financial interests in players, then profiting from a cut of transfer fees when those players are sold on to large clubs.
The practice has been likened to slavery and is banned worldwide by FIFA, but Allardyce was lured with the promise of a $700,000 annual consulting fee. For that, he’d fly to Hong Kong, shake a few hands and advise on how to get around the rules.
Since anyone with an ounce of sense can figure out how this scam works, one might reasonably presume that Allardyce would also be used to finesse introductions to young talent, crooked player agents and willing managerial conspirators.
Many others have been caught in similar stings. It’s a thriving sub-genre of European sports journalism, usually involving phony Middle Eastern sheiks and $5,000-a-night hotel suites.
But this is something else entirely. It isn’t some second-division schmuck or gormless team owner getting too big for his britches. This is the manager of England admitting the system is rotten and then putting his hand out for a cut.
Two things need to separated here – English football and the England football team.
The national team is in a state of constant tumult and embarrassment. Allardyce was hired following another humiliation at Euro 2016. He got the job in large part because a) no one worth having wanted it and b) though a consistent failure at the top level, he could at the least be counted on not to ruin things with ambition.
In essence, Allardyce was inserted to kill whatever hope remained in the tiny, cracked hearts of English football fans.
This was the end of rescues. Instead, the team would be put into an induced coma for a few years in the hopes that the usual psychological scarring would not ruin a young generation of hopefuls. They could gradually be brought back to life at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, long after Allardyce had been shipped off.
It wouldn’t have worked, but it wasn’t any worse an idea than any other they’ve had since the 1970s.
But while the England football team flounders, football in England thrives.
The Premiership is widely thought of as the world’s best league – the most competitive, the most profitable, the most welcoming to foreign influences.
A large part of that mythos is its impenetrability to the general scabbiness that infects the game elsewhere. Every once in a while, a player might be caught in some shenanigans – usually involving sex workers, drugs or drunken brawls.
The worst behaviour had bled off in recent years, however. The tabloid beer grew smaller and smaller. Recently, English midfielder Jack Wilshere has been close to hounded out of the game because he was photographed smoking. Twice!
Refereeing scandals? Ask Germany. Match-fixing? That’d be an Italian proposition. Tax scams? Spain.
Football in England had its issues, but was viewed as intrinsically pure. That reputation allowed the Premiership to separate itself from the competition. There are bigger teams in the world, but no league comes close. The Premiership is now an unassailable juggernaut.
Just how unassailable we will soon find out.
The Telegraph is promising a series of exposes on corruption in the English game. It’s hard to say how deep it will run. In the promo tease, it doesn’t sound like much – an $8,000 bribe; managers “failing to report” players betting on games; accusations of transfer fixing by agents (not exactly a rock-solid source).
In years past, lacking boldface player names and taken in isolation, few would care.
But Allardyce’s fall changes that calculation. If the English Football Association’s frontman is on the take, anybody could be. Maybe everybody. The public is suddenly primed for affront.
Stories that would have passed in and out of the news orbit in a matter of hours will now circle the Premiership for days.
It’s also notable that this media hit was carried out by an upmarket broadsheet as opposed to the usual tabloid assassins.
With blood now in the water, the Sun, Mirror, Daily Mail et al. will be scrambling for a taste. This is the environment in which stories that were put on the back burner for lack of sufficient evidence a year ago are suddenly floated to see if they gain traction.
We are entering an ugly period for everyone in England but the England football team. It has years before its next humiliation in a major tournament. By the time that happens, it will still have the excuse of Allardyce’s great betrayal to fall back on. What boom times for Wayne Rooney and friends!
By some magic, Allardyce will also become a victim in this. He’s too English not to. He’s already made a good living from mediocrity and a yard of bluster.
Allardyce himself is living proof that that is a more marketable commodity in English football than quality or genuine aspiration.Report Typo/Error
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