A few years ago, in the lead up to one of my friend’s birthdays, there sat an unwrapped present. It was a medium sized, square gift, festooned with bright coloured paper. After weeks and perhaps months of subtle hints, pointing his significant other in the direction of the Xbox One, he felt positive that he knew what mystery was hidden. The face he pulled when he told me that what was unveiled was not a new state-of-the-art-games-console, but a bath caddy (a device used to aid a frequent bather in keeping their appliances safe complete with a groove to hold your wine glass) was a look of confused, disappointment not seen for quite some time. Until, that is, the announcement of Sam Allardyce as the new England National Team manager.
There has been, in the last two decades or so, the almost perpetual need to analyse the state of football in this country, to ape what has been successful in the last international tournament. This summer has proven no different. The physical, well-drilled, defensively astute Portuguese outfit have been pointed to as a potential model to follow, and it seems that Sam Allardyce has been hired with this in the forefront of people’s minds. As odd as it seems it genuinely feels like “Big Sam” has been hired solely for the reason that, were he in charge of the side, England would not have conceded such a cheap goal from that now infamous Iceland throw-in.
It is clear that the FA have no clear plan, no overriding itinerary for success, they are merely acting in the same reactionary manner that they always have. Dan Ashworth, the man tasked with restructuring the English National Team and the implementer of the infamous “England DNA” said from the outset that his aim was to see a side that won playing an attractive, possession-centric, exuberant style.
What part of that screams Sam Allardyce? A man synonymous with direct football, in hitting the frontman as quickly as humanly possible. A man whose last vestige of genuine artistry came in the guise of the Nigerian Okocha, over a decade ago at Bolton. A man who was more or less forced from Upton Park with torches and pitchforks, so poor was his brand of football. That is the man to reinvigorate a nation that is rapidly becoming disillusioned with its national game? I will admit his hatred of obfuscation is a breath of fresh air but is that really enough?
In my opinion a more inspired choice was needed, and by that I do not mean Steve Bruce. What was needed was a man to come in and show England what their identity should be. Someone to finally halt this tawdry obsession with mocking whatever side is currently fashionable. Someone like ex-Chile gaffer Marcelo Bielsa. Bielsa, perhaps the only man who wears spectacles to be known as “El Loco”, is a genius, a football visionary who has infected the consciousness of every top level coach working today. His work in charge of Chile offers the best example in explaining what I am talking about. Chile, as a footballing nation, were nomadic in the extreme, switching their style from Brazilian to Argentinean and back again with the frequency and repetition of a ping-pong ball mid-rally. They even modelled themselves on Colombia at one stage.
Then came Marcelo Bielsa and the nation really haven’t looked back since. He analysed the strengths of the nation and tallied them against the weaknesses, entered the information into that weird brain of his and produced the style we see in a more refined form today; the high-pressing, high-intensity, all action style that has proved so bountiful. It is inconceivable to think that Chile’s back to back victories at the most recent Copa America’s, under current Sevilla boss Jorge Sampaoli, could have been achieved without Bielsa to draw-up the blueprint. Chile is now a footballing nation that walks with a well-earned swagger, finally free from the seemingly unbreakable inferiority complex that festered unabated for so long. Currently sitting fifth in the FIFA rankings above the like of Brazil, Spain, Italy and Wales, and unlucky not to be higher, Bielsa’s legacy is assured.
That, in my opinion, is why the FA should have hired Marcelo Bielsa. He may not be the man to guide England to their first international title for over fifty years but he certainly could put the structure in place to allow the man following to have all the best advantages. The very worst he could have done is give the nation an identity that has been so sorely lacking, but instead of tearing up the perceived rule book the FA have merely dusted off the cover, shrugged and, as always, turned to page one. What can we expect from “Big Sam”? Sadly more of the same and that is not a thought to be savoured.