There will be no need for a public outcry should Sam Allardyce, as is widely anticipated, return to management with Crystal Palace before the year is out. The same year when his long-held ambition of becoming England manager was realised and then curtailed a mere 67 days later, the shortest reign of any permanent Football Association appointment, after being in charge for a single game. Allardyce is simply too capable an operator to stay out on the sidelines for long.
That was what earned him a crack at the England job in the first place and though he behaved foolishly, to use the FA chairman Greg Clarke’s phrase, the cost was entirely to himself. Even as he agreed with his employer that his position with England had been fatally compromised and accepted the need for a mutual parting, Allardyce was being hotly tipped to be back in work in no time with the next club that found its Premier League status in peril. He always is. That is what he does, and if Crystal Palace had not been in touch this time it could easily have been Swansea or even Sunderland.
The great irony of Allardyce’s career is that much of it has been successfully spent firefighting at struggling clubs and when he finally achieved the opportunity to work with top players with England – he also famously fancied he could do a decent job with Real Madrid – he managed to talk his way out of it simply by being himself.
There are still those who believe Allardyce was harshly treated by the Daily Telegraph’s sting. He did not recommend breaking any rules, could not and would not offer advice on how to get round third-party ownership and kept insisting he would need to run the proposal for keynote speaking that was being suggested past his employer, the FA. But it was not a good position for an England manager to be caught in so early in his tenure, actively seeking more money after signing an England contract worth £3m a year, making fun of his predecessor’s speech difficulty and explaining to undercover reporters precisely how to go about making a vast amount of money for just a few hours’ work.
Taken in isolation none of it demanded the manager had to be sacked, but it was an embarrassment and Allardyce appeared to agree with Clarke that he had stepped out of line. His punishment, apart from losing his dream job, will be to be remembered forever as an arrogant braggart who could not keep his greed and self-regard under control. Perhaps unsurprisingly, if he was really drinking a pint of wine.
The contents of the large glass on the table in front of Allardyce have never been properly verified, but the image of Big Sam talking himself into trouble while necking a pint of Pinot Grigio or something is simply too good not to be true.
For better or worse, that is the picture of Allardyce that will now follow him around, though Palace need not be unduly concerned. The manager they want is the one who hauled Sunderland out of trouble against the odds last season, the one who took West Ham from the Championship to comfortable mid-table in the Premier League, handing them over in good repair despite constant complaints from supporters about the quality of the football.
Along with unresolved allegations about his relationship and financial dealings with certain agents, playing unattractive football with a heavy reliance on long-balls and set pieces has been another theme that has dogged his career.
There is some truth in it – his Bolton side were often physical and intimidatory – though he did attempt to sweeten the pill for supporters by bringing in players of the calibre of Jay Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff and Nicolas Anelka. It did not completely work, but after falling as low as League One Bolton supporters would happily welcome a return to those days.
Allardyce’s reputation as an unsophisticated long-ball merchant probably cost him his chance at Newcastle, whose owner had hired him precisely because he wanted an end to short-termism under constantly changing managers and admired the long-term plan he had put into effect at Bolton. Unfortunately, the club changed hands shortly after Allardyce’s arrival and as early results were unimpressive the new owner took the opportunity to ditch a manager who had never proved popular with fans and make their own appointment. Kevin Keegan then lasted less than a year, quickly followed by Joe Kinnear and Alan Shearer. Two relegations later, the same owners who enjoyed a degree of success under Alan Pardew have now turned to Rafa Benítez to implement a long-term strategy.
Allardyce again fell foul of a new owner at Blackburn, rescuing the club after Paul Ince’s flirtation with relegation in 2008 but failing to negotiate his own survival once the Venky family took over. West Ham was the first venture in the capital for a manager generally assumed to be a northerner, even though he hails from the West Midlands. Supporters might quibble, but he did a good enough job at Upton Park. He achieved promotion at the first attempt, and kept the side in the top fight until the completion of his contract.
For a while at Sunderland last season it appeared he might have bitten off more than he could chew and the dreaded word relegation might appear on his top-flight CV for the first time, but he turned the situation round. Crystal Palace will be wanting more of the same and in a way they are in a better position than Sunderland. At least they can be fairly certain that if Allardyce proves to be their saviour they are not going to lose him to England at the start of the following season.