Retrograde FA Have Made A Huge Mistake

England, obstinately, have gone ahead and appointed Sam Allardyce today. Though, one newish instalment the FA can at least expect is a state-of-the-art PowerPoint facility. Still counts as progression, don’t it?

The year was 2006, and English FA were waddling around (in a dignified manner, of course) assessing with great prudence the worthy successor to the befuddled Sven Goran Eriksson. Big Sam Allardyce was beckoned, and he went in armed with his PowerPoint presentation.

“I wanted to do a real knock-your-socks-off interview for the FA, so I put together a PowerPoint which looked at every single detail,” Allardyce wrote in his autobiography.  “But then Brian Barwick, the chief executive, told me there were no PowerPoint facilities at the interview venue, so I had to print off hard copies for the panel. So much for being progressive”, bemoans Big Sam, whose style of football would not be out of place in Medieval, axe-wielding England.

A decade down the line, with neither parties none the wiser, Big Sam had made that trip down South to the FA headquarters yet again, with a ringing recommendation from a fossil to replace another – it’s all jolly good and in line with the age-old script.

Misgovernment is a thoroughly methodical process and something the British have perfected over 500 years of practice in bureaucracy – it permeates through the length and the breadth of the administrative system, and the FA is no exception. Why else have Roy Hodgson as the manager of your national team, if not to uphold those values tempered with right-wing favouritism, retrograde and xenophobia?

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Roy Hodgson is not precisely a ‘bad’ manager, but is one who is not with the times. He’s an anachronism that lowers expectations in the era of cut-throat competition. Most of his successes have come with teams where the benchmark was the basement dog-fight for survival: Switzerland, Fulham and West Bromwich Albion. While other engagements have been in the form of nondescript classics of Neuchâtel Xamax, Orebro, Halmstads, Oddevold, Malmo and other great hipster hits. In Sam Allardyce, only seven years younger to Roy Hodgson, England may have found an uncannily similar substitute to uphold the tradition.

Big Sam’s route-one tactical lineage stretches back to the statistical approach pioneered by Charles Reep more than half a century ago. His spell as a nondescript centre-half with Tampa Bay Rowdies in 1983 exposed him to the eclectic American commitment to sports science, and its incorporation is perhaps the only aspect of his management that one can consider not past the expiry-date.

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To further extrapolate Sam’s obstinate pursuits of perfection of a premise that has since been debunked, it is necessary to understand the thought-process of a trigger-happy RAF Wing Commander, who is also, incidentally, Charles Reep. The analogies can be endless.

Reep, then Swindon manager of the nineteen-fifties, grew restless with what he saw as drawling, stuttering attacking play from his side, would document analysis from 2,200 games, up until the mid-1990s. His findings – which, if local dailies were to be believed, saw him sometimes scribble all that information on rolls of wallpaper and toilet rolls – came to the conclusion (a wrong one) that moves consisting of three or fewer passes lay the foundation of a more goal-eliciting sequence than elaborate build-up plays.

 

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Reep summarised in simple terms, that more often the ball is heaved up to the most advanced players, highest up the pitch, more is the susceptibility of the opponent to buckle under-pressure. The trebuchet-like tactics is credited with the propagation and perpetuation of the English hoof-ball game. Sam, taking a leaf from the Gospel of Reep, names his backroom, ‘The War Room’.

It all started with Bolton in 1999, where Sam scaled the heights which weren’t seen till the lofty successes of big and burly, Nat Lofthouse. With leading luminaries such as Kevin Davies, Ivan Campo, Kevin Nolan, Ricardo Gardner, Tal Ben Haim, Abdoulaye Faye and Gretar Steinsson, their blitzkreig-ing ball-play couldn’t be appropriated, or be coped with by the bigger clubs.

One of Sam’s redeeming qualities, as touched upon earlier, saw him be on of the very first managers in the Premier League to incorporate the budding football data-analytics service, Prozone; but like a man set in his ways, much like Reep, the data was misinterpreted to validate his vices.

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He developed a modus operandi around what he codenamed “the fantastic four”. Data analytics were the masts his misplaced principles sailed on: Bolton, on the basis of Sam’s methods had to stop the rival team from scoring in at least 16 of their 38 league games to avoid relegation; if Bolton lodged on the scoresheet first, Sam’s team had a 70% chance of winning the match; set-pieces made up of almost 33% of all goals scored; in-swinging crosses bore more forays inwards than out-swingers; and grafters, Bolton had an 80% chance of avoiding defeat if they outran their opposition at speeds above 5.5m per second. All this would serve Bolton in their fight for top-flight Premier League survival but only to a point, until it all went belly up.

Caught on tape and shamed in the cult BBC documentary, Football’s Dirty Secrets, there was discord behind the scenes as well with Sam being a repeat offender, taking side-payments on transfer dealings, signing preferred players, through preferred agents. Since Bolton, his stints at Newcastle, Blackburn, and most recently West Ham had left supporters wincing, and the shelf-life of tactics and consequently his longevity progressively stunted.

As I write this, the obligatory post-mortem of England’s the European Championships twenty-sixteen campaign is already over with. Losing 2-1 to Iceland will forever be deemed as their most despicable national embarrassment (or so one can hope).

To put this result into context: the Falklands War of the eighties, was the last time something as embarrassing happened to England. Located in the South Atlantic, Argentina had long claimed the English-owned Falklands as part of its territory. England, a nation clearly not used to irregularities, witnessed, on 2nd of April, 1982, Argentine forces landing in the Falklands, capturing the UK-garrisoned islands in a matter of just two days. The revolution was televised.

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But, you know, England’s a bit of an anachronism, innit? Stuck in the past? From defiantly brandishing the St. George’s cross on their flag, a crest from the time of the mass genocides from the crusades. Side-stepping reparations for slavery and colonisation for years, for a country that historically preaches political-correctness. The original hotbed for the Protestant movement, and yet to this day finding pride in belting out God Save the Queen as their national anthem for some misplaced sense of loyalty, relevance and reverence of the Golden days for widespread war and internal turmoil. It’s little surprise that in the midst of this confusion of identity of living in past and reconciliation of the global realities of the present, majority have been inclined to vote out of the European Union. What chance does something as trivial as a national football team have?

England, obstinately, have gone ahead and appointed Sam Allardyce today. Though, one newish instalment the FA can at least expect is a state-of-the-art PowerPoint facility. Still counts as progression, don’t it?

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Srijandeep Das

Srijandeep (Enganche), is Football Paradise's number 8. The all-action, box-to-box midfielder of football writers. He's a Sports essayist, Music journalist, Electronic producer, Digital artist, Stand-up comedian, Subkultur sensei. He's also (justifiably) full of himself.