Can Big Sam ignore the dangling carrot and honour retirement vow?

Words By Conor Kelly
May 26, 2017
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There’s a long established adage in professional wrestling of ‘never saying never’, one which is especially true of retirement. The hardest part of retiring for wrestlers tends to be honouring the decision. Countless veterans have called it a day, only to reverse that years, months or weeks later.

Hardcore legend Terry Funk initially wrapped up his career in 1983 at the age of 39. He subsequently reneged on his vow a few months later and proceeded to repeat the pattern over the course of the next three decades. Now 72, Funk claimed that he was finished for good when announcing his latest farewell late last year. Most greeted the news with a large dollop of salt.

Funk previously stated that he would never truly retire. Despite brutalising his body over a sustained period and suffering multiple ghastly injuries, Funk couldn’t drag himself away. Funk’s ilk are essentially replicated in Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar nominated film The Wrestler, in which Mickey Rourke’s character Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson fails to summon to strength to just say no.

Where Funk differs from Robinson is in monetary terms. Whereas Robinson earned precious little, Funk acquired a healthy sum of money from his career – more than enough to vacate the business comfortably. It wasn’t just that he was a glutton for punishment though, but largely that he had no concept of what to do with his life other than than take bumps and bruises in spandex.

In a way, football management shares one commonality with the squared circle: most who choose it as a profession struggle to move on when their peak days have sailed by and often aren’t sure how to occupy time outside of the dugout.

Recently, a few of English football’s venerable managers returned to the game in some capacity. Harry Redknapp took charge of Championship strugglers Birmingham City, his reasoning being mostly to escape sitting around his house doing precious little. Former England boss Roy Hodgson slotted into an advisory role with Melbourne City, while Neil Warnock – a man who in 2007 suggested that Sheffield United would be his last job in football – filled the vacancy at Cardiff City nine years later.

All of these men have comfortably earned enough money to live a life of tranquility on the golf course or curled up adjacent to a swimming pool. But something, deep down, lures them back. Whether it’s boredom, ego or a bit of both, invariably football men stay invested. Like the much parroted line uttered by Michael Corleone in the Godfather 3, “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

This week Sam Allardyce departed Crystal Palace, only two days removed from steering them to Premier League safety. The news came as a shock to supporters and owner Steve Parish, for whom discussions over next season were next on the agenda. But Allardyce seemed steadfast.

“In some ways this has been a very difficult decision to make, but in others it has been a simple one,” he said on Tuesday. “I want to be able to savour life while I’m still relatively young and when I’m still relatively healthy enough to do all the things I want to do, like travel and spend more time with my family and grandchildren without the huge pressure that comes with being a football manager. I have no ambitions to take another job.”

One must admire Allardyce’s honesty and his logic is sound. As he alluded to in his statement, Palace was an opportunity to finish on a high and somewhat undo the mortifying and abrupt end to his England tenure. While that may never be fully erased, Allardyce once again proved his aptitude as a firefighter
at Selhurst Park. The Eagles scored impressive victories against Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal and thrashed Hull City 4-0 to retain top flight status a fortnight ago.

In spite of those pleasurable moments, from afar Allardyce seemed muted and lacking his usual energy. There were fewer displays of hubris in his post-match press conferences and he was more subdued on the sideline. Perhaps it was a consequence of his lifetime dream ending in acrimony or just an indication of where his priorities now lie, but Allarcye’s fire and sparkle had extinguished.

We can only take the 62 year-old on his word and he gives the impression of someone happy with his lot. Fast forward six months though and it’s tempting to suggest that Allardyce might regain his thirst. When the first Premier League managerial casualty arises, most would assume he will top the list of that embattled club. Much like Redknapp or Warnock, the idea of occasional punditry work and family time might satisfy him for a period, but the craving for the cut and thrust of Premier League football could still appeal to his inbuilt competitiveness.

It would be foolish to rule out an Allardyce comeback tour, especially when history has illustrated how difficult it is to find a state of contentment and stay away when there’s still obvious demand for your return. A desperate owner will press the panic button and beckon Big Sam in the near to distant future, it’s inevitable. Will he have the constitution to reject their advances?

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