Trnava is a small city located in western Slovakia known for its scenic views and dubbed the ‘little Rome’ of its country. It’s also well renowned for its religious beliefs, playing host to numerous churches. It was perhaps fitting then, that another band of passionate, vibrant people with their own faith arrived there on Sunday – the English football fans.
There was a sense of reserved anticipation about this match, with Sam Allardyce acting as a Pope like figure to the onlooking spectators. The newly elected leader of their faith hoping to bring energy, fight and most importantly success back to a fallen giant of the game.
What followed over the course of the next two hours was hardly inspiring. A predictably dull team selection followed by a lethargic, underwhelming performance. A 95th-minute winner coupled with brilliant individual performances from John Stones and Adam Lallana saved the blushes of Big Sam on his debut and ensured he maintained a 9-manager long record of winning his first game in charge of the National team.
So just how big a job does Allardyce have on his hands? What should be deemed as success during his tenure? And was he the right man for the job in first place?
To answer chronologically, to change an entire International mentality built upon hope, expectation and excitement yet ultimately ending in underachievement and finger pointing is one hell of a task. But it is by no means impossible.
In my eyes, many of the failings can be put down to lack of organisation and not defining a clear style of play. In nearly every country, the nation’s culture and identity is reflected on the field. Take Brazil, a country full of vibrancy and flair, Rio carnivals, bright lights and lots of dazzle. That’s exactly what you get from their football team – skill, creativity and passion. Germany is a nation built on stability, efficiency and precision. All qualities evident in their football teams philosophy.
We seem to spend a lot of time in this country idealising others style of play and replicating it through our academies. Would it not make more sense to take true English qualities and values we’ve been raised on and install them into our nation’s side? Hard work, passion, determination and a sense of togetherness are all attributes we have in abundance. No one nation’s philosophy is correct and replicating others will not bring success. Let’s create our own.
Football tactics recycle themselves and as Leicester proved, a tried and trusted 4-4-2 is far from outdated. Why not play a system the players have been raised on and give them a sense of team, not individual responsibility?
The second point to address is the delusions of grandeur throughout English football fandom. Yes we created the sport and yes the Premier League is one of the best leagues in the world but that does not give us a divine right to be the best. In my eyes a barometer of success has to be built on progression. FIFA rankings aside, England are not one of the top 5 or maybe even top 10 sides in world football right now but we should certainly be beating teams of Iceland’s standard.
Doing the basics right and getting positive results in comparison to our current modest ability should be deemed as success right now. Qualifying top of our group for the 2018 World Cup then, based on a generous draw, a quarter-final appearance should be well-received.
Finally, love him or loathe him, Big Sam was part of a very small handful of English managers with a pedigree capable of taking the England job. The debate will rage on about foreign managers, however, it has brought no proven past success and those who have the calibre to buck that trend would not be interested in the job.
Was Allardyce right to allow the players who performed so woefully at Euro 2016 a chance to shed their demons last night? In my opinion no but I can see his thinking. Regardless, from this point on it is crucial that he sets an agenda. A system that the majority of his squad are comfortable with, a style of play that embodies our national identity and a policy of form over reputation when it comes to selecting personnel.
England is a great country with a rich heritage and a lot to be proud of. I hope Sam makes our football team part of that again.