A world of spin, spivs, spoofers, sleaze and Big Sam
Allardyce paid price for his greed but he might be better off away from rotten world of English football
Published 01/10/2016 | 14:00
Earlier this week my phone rang. I was on the road to Wexford while Big Sam Allardyce was on the road to ruin. His dream job, the one he had craved from the moment he helped Limerick win the League of Ireland First Division in 1991-92, was about to be stripped away.
And was I surprised? I was somewhat taken aback by the recklessness of his judgement, to speak so openly and candidly about his employers with people he had just met.
Yet the person who had got in touch - a successful former Premier League manager - was anything but shocked.
"Have you ever met Sam?" I was asked. As it happens I had and found him to be a nice, friendly, helpful man, albeit one who would be direct in his opinion about any player you brought up in conversation.
"Opinionated? He thinks he knows f***ing everything about anything," the former manager said. "Politics, music, whatever subject you bring up. He is not the most popular person among other football people."
Certainly he isn't this week. If you were to analyse all the things he was caught saying by the undercover reporters, none of them, on an individual basis, were hanging offences. Yet they still lacked a touch a class.
On the issue of how much the FA spent to revamp Wembley, he may have been accurate in his assessment but it was still a very strong opinion to make about his employer, especially when you examine the history books and recall how the FA sacked Glenn Hoddle back in 1999 when he spoke loosely and crassly about disabled people.
But everything he touched on, from the 'naughtiness' of Prince Harry, to the way to circumvent the FA's rules, to the supposed mental weakness of the England players, reinforced my friend's belief about Big Sam being big on opinions.
So he deserved to go. Until Tuesday, I had never heard anyone in the game mimicking Roy Hodgson's speech impediment. I found his suggestion that Roy was unsuitable for making keynote speeches very strange.
In fact, nearly 20 years ago, I sat in a UEFA conference and listened to Roy deliver a detailed and fascinating talk about his ten principles of management, advice which still stands the test of time.
So given how loose he was with his thoughts in the company he was in, my sympathy for Allardyce is in fairly short supply.
Even if he had been talking to close friends, you would have expected him to have conducted a little self-editing, rather than to pontificate to strangers about his predecessor and his assistant, his employer and members of the British Royal Family.
So the FA were right to dismiss him, although Fintan Drury, my former agent, made a good point during the week when he expressed his amazement that the FA handed Sam the job in the first place, given how the Panorama exposé from 2006 hardly painted him in a saintly light.
Quite why the FA, who handed him a £3m annual contract, hadn't contractually insisted upon him staying away from certain types of commercial activity during his tenure is anyone's guess.
And quite why Allardyce considered it necessary to engage in these type of negotiations so early in his reign is a question he'll probably ask himself from now until the grave.
I don't understand why he did it. Other than because he was driven by greed to exploit his new status.
Then again, there is so much about English football's culture at the top end I don't get.
From all my dealings with clubs, owners, managers and officials over the years, I always had this impression that people working in English football were desperate to walk on the high moral ground but rarely practised what they preached.
I get drawn back to another former Premier League manager, whose career I have followed from afar, and who I at one stage had a fairly high opinion of.
What I didn't know then was that if a young player wanted to get a contract at his club then this dodgy manager insisted upon them using a certain agent - a big, selfish f**ker who was far too influential in the running of the club's affairs.
And it used to drive me mad. All these young players used to get battered by this system. The contracts and money they received as young professionals were below the odds.
But fear of losing their place on the ladder to possible stardom ensured that they obeyed the manager's demands.
And when I heard the story of how they were pressurised into using this agent, it made me think there must be a kickback for the manager in there somewhere. What was happening was not in the interest of either the club or the player.
Yet that just seems to be the way of the English football world, where there is this culture of overlooking things throughout the game, a culture of trying to spot an opportunity to exploit situations and make money.
It is such a murky world, and when good fellas entered agency work. . . guys like Graham Barrett, a former Irish international who I worked with, I genuinely feared for him. Thankfully the man he went to work for was Fintan, who is honourable and wouldn't ever get involved in any dodgy dealings, but still part of me worried about Graham swimming in this pool of sharks.
The role of an agent, it appears, forces you to exaggerate the ability of the player you hope to sign. That may mean lying to his parent or to the club you are trying to do a deal with and then your task is to squeeze as much money as possible out of that club for that player.
Once, in the aftermath of finishing up as national team manager, I was asked if I fancied going down this route in terms of a career.
"No f***ing way," was my reply. For me, the job entailed being a salesman of what could turn out to be shoddy goods. The player you think is good may turn out to be a dud.
I was lucky. I rarely had to deal with agents, with the exception of Fintan, who was my friend as well as my representative.
However, one guy who did get in touch with me, back in the early '90s, was a former Irish international who had worked for spells within the League of Ireland, and who I didn't have much time for.
I first came across him in the '70s, when he invited me up to do a pre-season with the club he was working with. I was 18, impressionable, eager to do well, training four times a week, studying at DIT, and being treated like a piece of s*** by this small, aggressive man.
There and then I made my mind up that if I ever got into management, he would be the person I would be most unlike. So I held a grudge against him in my head for years, and then, over 20 years later, when I was managing St Pat's, he re-appeared on the scene, enquiring about Maurice O'Driscoll, Mark Ennis, Curtis Fleming and Pat Fenlon - some of the young, talented players on our books at the time.
Telling me he was now working as an agent, he asked: 'How much do you want for Curtis? How much would you sell him for? What would you let the four of them go for?' I am acting for these clubs."
"Which ones?" I asked.
"It doesn't really matter, does it?" he said.
To me, it did, because there would be a big difference in the selling price if it was Bury, Blackburn or Barcelona.
"I just need a price," he said, before lowering his voice, he whispered, "and you will be looked after too."
And that was the world I simply didn't want to enter.
"He will be back to you," an intermediary told me the next day.
Yet he never did, clearly because he got a bad vibe off me, not realising perhaps that I had the hump with him going back to when I was a kid.
That was the world he operated in. A world of spivs, spoofers and spin. I was glad not be a part of it. Maybe Big Sam would be better off away from it.