Before he reluctantly became a Red Adair figure firefighting his way clear of relegations with an over-sized cape, Sam Allardyce was a highly regarded coach, respected for his modernity and thinking beyond the orthodox. Granted the praise was always counterweighted by surprise at this quarried hulk of alpha-Brit being at the vanguard of the sports science revolution that was sweeping through football’s highest echelons in the early to mid-2000s, but it was there all the same: acclaim in the media and the admiration of his peers.
Back then ‘Big Sam’ was leading Bolton to previously unchartered heights in the Premier League with a team forged in British steel and set off beautifully by exquisite silks from around the world. Even here though – in his recruitment at a time when it had stopped becoming newsworthy when sides were entirely made up of overseas players – the plaudits were fulsome but tempered by surprise. For whatever reason some found it weird that a bloke with a bailiff’s face and Dudley twang had signed Jay-Jay Okocha and Djorkaeff and what’s more was encouraging them to express their adventure.
If the back-handed compliments explain Allardyce’s sizable chip on his shoulder – that most memorably revealed itself with his ‘If my name was Allardici’ line – then it doesn’t his startling arrogance. It took only a few hours of being England manager before he openly queried whether there would ever be a Wembley suite named after him. Then there was this famous beauty from 2010: “I’m not suited to Bolton or Blackburn. I would be more suited to Internazionale or Real Madrid. I would win the double or the league every time.”
The 62 year old with a penchant for pints of wine was a colossal man in frame and a colossal manager in his own mind. In reality he was probably neither a forward-thinking innovator nor a trenchant long-ball traditionalist in the English mould – he was simply a decent coach, able tactician, and talented motivator of players who wasn’t held back by his nationality but instead arguably got greater exposure and breaks for it. It even – briefly – made him an international manager.
Before he saw his reputation crumble to such a methodical and complete manner that it’s tempting to believe that sometime around 2013 he drove over a witch’s cat, David Moyes was also a highly regarded coach. Unlike Allardyce, the Scot was never unduly burdened by nationalistic stereotypes as football became enamoured by the idea that foreign was better, brighter, and more cultivated and this was largely due to the man he succeeded at Old Trafford. It’s hard to knock a guy over-achieving at Everton for being dour and Glaswegian old-school, when the greatest manager in modern times shares the same traits.
Even so, Moyes’ establishment of the Toffees as a top six club was perhaps never given the credit it deserved or certainly not if you imagine a Spanish or German coach taking a team featuring Alessandro Pistone and Lee Carsley to the Champions League. Maybe this was because Moyes failed to endear himself beyond Goodison Park (and even with Evertonians it was always largely respect over love). The likability factor shouldn’t be an issue with managers but unless you’re Mourinho or Ferguson-standard it is.
Last week both of these prominent figures in the British game resigned from their positions and barring a call for Big Sam next spring to pull off another great escape it’s unlikely either will ever manage in the top flight again. Which is a fascinating development as regards to the hoary old discussion on the dearth of home-grown managers – and it’s a development that throws up a great many questions.
Both were modern coaches, yet imbued with a working-class Britishness and all that alludes to and their departure from centre stage – to my mind at least – now leaves only two of that ilk: Tony Pulis and Sean Dyche. Arguments could also be made here for Mark Hughes and Craig Shakespeare but I would dispute this with points that would take half this piece to justify.
What is certain is the make-up of the British manager is changing – evolving you could say – and it’s there for all to see in the continental C.V. of Paul Clement and the fresh-faced nerdishness of Eddie Howe. What is certain is that this past week has seen a seismic shift in the eras of British football management.
So then there were two. How long before this ‘type’ of manager is erroneously remembered as dinosaurs? And will we ever see their like again?