London (AFP) – Sam Allardyce’s straight-talking style helped land him the England manager’s job, but just 67 days into the role it has left him in an almighty spot of bother.
Allardyce, known as “Big Sam”, was secretly filmed by The Daily Telegraph giving advice on how to circumnavigate transfer rules and mocking the speech impediment of predecessor Roy Hodgson.
The 61-year-old Allardyce is now the subject of a Football Association investigation, casting serious doubt over the future of a man who has always made a virtue of doing things his own way.
“This is Sam Allardyce, it’s not anybody else,” he told reporters in August. “I wouldn’t have got here by doing it any other way.”
Allardyce’s blunt manner has already created its fair share of newsprint in his fledgling England tenure.
He said he would consider a recall for former captain John Terry, who retired from international football after racism allegations in 2012, and raised eyebrows by talking up the prospects of foreign-born players.
His reign began with a last-gasp win away to Slovakia in 2018 World Cup qualifying, but Allardyce inadvertently stole the headlines by saying he could not tell captain Wayne Rooney where to play.
The Telegraph sting includes the allegation that Allardyce told undercover reporters it was possible to “get around” rules banning third-party ownership of players, saying some agents were “doing it all the time”.
He was previously accused of sharp practice in transfer dealings in a 2006 BBC Panorama documentary.
The programme alleged Allardyce and his son Craig had received illegal “bung” payments from agents for signing certain players.
Allardyce was not found guilty of wrongdoing, but a British government inquiry into corruption in English football voiced concerns over the “conflict of interest” between him and his son.
Allardyce, then manager of Bolton Wanderers, threatened legal action against the BBC but did not go through with his threat.
– Battle-hardened Bolton –
Should he succeed in holding onto the England job, it will be the latest in a long list of triumphs against adversity.
Allardyce has struggled with dyslexia for most of his life, was snubbed by the England schoolboys team as a teenager and endured coaching rejections from lowly Doncaster Rovers and York City.
The former defender was 36 and working behind the bar at two social clubs he owned when he was given the opportunity to become player-manager of Irish club Limerick in 1992.
He had no managerial experience, but a playing career spent at sides like Millwall, Huddersfield Town and the Tampa Bay Rowdies had steeled him for the rigours of football below elite level.
He quickly established the motivational skills that would serve him so well throughout his career and led Limerick to promotion in his only season with the club.
After taking his first English managerial job with Blackpool in 1994, he joined Notts County, where relegation and then promotion provided the springboard for a move to Bolton in 1999.
It was with Bolton that he made his name, turning an unglamourous club from England’s northwest into battle-hardened Premier League perennials.
Contrary to his image as an unreconstructed “old-school” manager, Allardyce’s success at Bolton was built on data analysis, scouting systems and medical support superior to many leading clubs.
He led Bolton to a sixth-place finish and European football, but it was not enough to secure him the England job in 2006, when he lost out to Steve McClaren.
At Newcastle United and West Ham United he struggled to win over fans who balked at his direct, muscular brand of football.
But at Blackburn Rovers and, most recently, Sunderland, his nous and team-building skills proved just the ticket.
Keeping Sunderland up at the expense of Newcastle last season finally paved the way for him to take up the England job, but his bullish nature may have already proved his undoing.
“This is the pinnacle of my career,” he said last month. “I don’t want to fail.”
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