Sam Allardyce And The Uneasy Predicament Facing English Managers

It was with great interest I read a piece over on Football365 about Sam Allardyce this week. Entitled ‘The Astonishing Arrogance Of Sam Allardyce’ the article ridicules the Blackburn Rovers manager for expressing the resentment he clearly still harbours at not being offered the England job after the departures of both Sven Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren.

However, while Football365 gladly stick the knife into Allardyce, I actually think the man has a very fair point to make. When compared with coaches native to their countries in other European lands, English managers are being starved of their opportunities at the top level. I will explain how. First, a look at what Allardyce had to say:

“Maybe my external look isn’t to everybody’s liking and one or two people seem to dislike Sam Allardyce for whatever reason. But as a person, in terms of knowing what he is doing, where to go and how to get there, and helping players do the same, I have the credentials.”

“Perhaps the people on the board are influenced by outside factors too much, because of the pressure they are under from the media. Maybe that affects them somewhat when they should be making cold, clinical decisions on who is the best. It was a great run for me right up to a big disappointment at the end.”

“I never got a mention when Steve went, they just went straight for another foreigner. It seems foreign coaches are still all the craze (sic) for the top jobs and that is a great shame.”

Football365 look upon Allardyce’s reasoning as bitter, arrogant and misguided, describing him as ‘simply deluded.’ They argue that though he did a decent job at Bolton, he eventually won nothing, while comparing him unfavourably to Luiz Felipe Scolari, Fabio Capello and Steve McClaren. F365′s conclusion then is that Allardyce has no right to publicly air such grievances, particularly while in charge of a relegation-threatened Blackburn Rovers.

Now of course F365 are entitled to their own opinion, and to a certain extent I empathise with their sentiments. With both his choice of words and tone, Mr. Allardyce makes it quite easy for the casual reader to tally the contempt for foreign managers, the high sense of self-worth and his ‘the world is against me’ victim mentality and come to a negative conclusion. Whether he intended to or it was just his own deep personal disappointment talking, it is understandable if his words come across to some as petty or smug.

But underneath all the rancour lies the semblance of an important point, and one that cannot be ignored. For ultimately, as Sam Allardyce rightly suggests, when it comes to the top jobs in England, it is English managers who are regularly left out in the cold.

Lets take a look at some facts, as Rafa Benitez might say. As I have alluded to in previous articles, only three English coaches have ever managed a team in the Champions League (can you name them?). Since the turn of the century, Sir Alex Ferguson aside, not a single British manager has coached one of the so-called big four. And only two Englishmen, Harry Redknapp and Steve McClaren, have won major domestic trophies in the last decade.

Now that last point may be used by some as evidence as to why English managers are overlooked in the first place. Actually though, if you look at it logically, it is in fact more indicative of the lack of opportunities being presented to managers at the top level than of anything else. Managers at smaller clubs with fewer resources can only go so far.

Compare all this with prominent European coaches scattered in top jobs across the continent. Exhibit A - Rafa Benitez. Now manager of Liverpool, Benitez was appointed at Anfield back in 2004, beating Englishman Alan Curbishley to the job. How did the Spaniard make it to Anfield? By twice winning the league with Valencia, as well as the UEFA Cup. No doubt, this makes for an impressive CV.

But look deeper. How did he make it to Valencia? Benitez’s career highlights before that were two promotions, with Extremadura and Tenerife. He won the Valencia job directly after leading Tenerife into Spain’s Primera Liga. Tenerife are a small, provincial club with limited resources, who over-achieved one season and won promotion. Sound familiar? You could be talking about Bolton Wanderers or Blackburn, Hull City even. And yet for one good season at Tenerife, Benitez was entrusted with the responsibility of leading Valencia, one of Spain’s most prestigious clubs.

Another example, Exhibit B – Marcello Lippi. The World Cup winning Italian coach masterminded prolonged success at Juventus, where he won, amongst other things, five league titles and the Champions League. But Lippi’s breakthrough at the ‘Old Lady’ came courtesy of his adventures at Napoli. There he took an average, underachieving side overwhelmed by the weight of past glories, and in one season led them to a UEFA Cup finish. That was all it took to alert the mighty Juve.

For further examples what about Pep Guardiola, Roberto Donadoni and the subject of Allardyce’s own personal remonstrations, Fabio Capello? Of the three, only Donadoni had any relevant league coaching experience at all before being fast-tracked into their respective nation’s finest positions. Guardiola landed the Barcelona job almost through name alone, and some promise shown in charge of Barca ‘B’. Capello’s first coaching role was at AC Milan. And Donadoni went from little Livorno to coaching the all-conquering Azzurri, World Cup holders.

In England meanwhile Allardyce, for all his diligent travails at Bolton where he, like Benitez, won promotion and, like Lippi, guided them to Europe, could only advance his career as high as Newcastle – the football equivalent of a soap opera. There he barely even got a chance. Simultaneously, England’s most distinguished posts are deemed beyond the nation’s best performing managers, and instead dished out to the likes of Avram Grant and Scolari.

With all this in mind it is not hard to understand Allardyce’s frustrations. He is right to feel aggrieved. It is far easier for native managers in other countries to land presti
gious domestic posts than it is in England. Juande Ramos’ introduction at Real Madrid provides another curt reminder.

Why is this? Is it, dare say, a fascination with foreign coaches, the enduring appeal of the exotic? That seems unlikely given England’s largely insular nature. Is the notion that foreign managers are simply better than their English counterparts too far ingrained into UK culture? Or are we experiencing a generational dearth of sufficiently talented English coaches?

Looking at the predicament in the near future, it seems unlikely to alter. If Benitez was to leave Liverpool can anyone see the job being entrusted to an Englishman? Will British passport-bearing applicants for the vacant Chelsea post be simply ruled out? It looks so. Allardyce may have aired his grievances in an unflattering, disagreeable way, but that does not mean his point should be ignored.

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