Bolton heyday shows that England candidate Sam Allardyce is more than just a firefighter

 
Trevor Steven
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Newcastle United v Bolton Wanderers
Allardyce guided Bolton into the Uefa Cup during his spell in charge (Source: Getty)

You don’t need to cast your mind back far if you want evidence of the importance a strong team identity: it was the foundation of a Portugal side that won Euro 2016 even though they were without Cristiano Ronaldo for most of Sunday’s final against France.

Portugal weren’t the only team to benefit from a robust structure at that tournament. Iceland and Wales also exceeded expectations, while England’s lack of that fundamental ingredient led to them suffering an embarrassing elimination.

England have to get back to prioritising team shape for the greater good. As the Football Association ponders a replacement for Roy Hodgson, that can only help the prospects of Sam Allardyce and, while he wouldn’t be my first choice, the idea does intrigue me.

Read more: This alternative format for the Euros could revive the goal-starved tournament

Who would he pick? Would he go for a radical change in formation, perhaps adopting the 3-5-2 Chris Coleman employed to get the best out of Wales? England need strong selection and a clear picture of how they want to play, and that is Allardyce’s calling card.

You have to take your hat off to him for steering several clubs away from relegation, most recently at Sunderland last season. That firefighting role has largely seen him adopt a certain style that comes with being at the bottom and trying to get the best out of moderate players.

But maybe he has been unfairly pigeonholed. I like to think back to his days at Bolton, which were far more impressive. With a far better quality of player – the likes of Jay Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff and Nicolas Anelka – he led Bolton into the Uefa Cup.

From there he joined Newcastle, a spell that lasted just half a season and punctured his popularity. It hadn’t gone too well for him at St James’ Park but not too many managers have prospered there, so perhaps that shouldn’t be a huge black mark.

One thing in Big Sam’s favour is that he definitely wants the job. He’s not someone who might take it or leave it; it’s been on his radar for some time – he was interviewed by the FA in 2006 – and his appetite for taking charge of England gives him a kind of credibility.

Allardyce is also mentally strong enough for the role. He is not afraid of handling big personalities, as he showed by signing El-Hadji Diouf for Bolton and again later when managing Blackburn.

On the downside, he has no experience of international football, where there is greater emphasis on players being able to read the game. That is where England fall short; they don’t have enough players with the intelligence to match their technique.

I still think that Glenn Hoddle would be the best man for the England job at this time. He knows international football, has stayed involved in the game despite being out management, is a great observer and hasn’t forgotten what he knows.

Big Sam would be my second choice. Some of the alternatives mentioned – Eddie Howe, Jurgen Klinsmann – don’t merit serious consideration, and Allardyce in charge is intriguing. I’m warming to it.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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