Sunday 18 March 2018

Sam Allardyce is turning to some unlikely sources to bring 'a bit of fun' to England camp

New boss refusing to look back to Euros debacle

Mark Ogden

As Sam Allardyce's England players checked into the Hilton Hotel at the National Football Centre yesterday, they were greeted by artwork proclaiming, 'The Journey Begins Here'.

For some, it perhaps feels like a never-ending cycle of failure and disappointment, whenever they report for national duty.

Just imagine the awkward conversations when team-mates meet for the first time since losing to Iceland in Nice?

Wherever the journey is heading, looking back to France and the night Roy Hodgson's players froze is not part of the road-map laid out by Allardyce.

The 61-year-old will demand commitment, pride, industry and unity from his players, just as each of his predecessors have done, but he also wants England to become enjoyable again.

"A bit of fun," said Allardyce, when asked what he anticipated from his first squad get-together. "Christ, I haven't come here to be miserable!

"I just wanted to brighten this place up a little bit, make it more for the England squad."

Former England captain Steven Gerrard once described life on international duty as like living in a 'five-star prison' due to the rigidity imposed by previous managers, but Allardyce is cut from a different cloth.

During his time at Bolton, Allardyce arranged a team-building trip to the Lake District which involved motorised toilet racing between his players, so he is not afraid to lighten the mood when required and, with England, a touch of levity is long overdue.

There are even plans for comedians Paddy McGuinness and Bradley Walsh to host quiz nights with the squad in the evenings.

"We've walked around saying, 'What can we do to make more of an impact on the players?'," explained Allardyce.

"So it's branding around the place, about the journey we are on until 2018 to remind them why we are here."

Allardyce's belief that the psychological aspect of football is now as important as the physical side is the reason for his focus on the off-field issues which have for so long been cited as factors that have made England a miserable experience for so many players.

The former Sunderland manager is also considering using different coaches at each get-together, to subject the players to fresh ideas and methods whenever they report to St George's Park.

Takahiro Yamamoto, Arsenal Japanese sports therapist, has already been added to a backroom staff alongside Sammy Lee, Craig Shakespeare and goalkeeping coach Martyn Margetson.

But ultimately, it is results on the pitch that will define Allardyce's reign, rather than changes off it.

"I find the job inspiring," he said. "I find the fact that I could be sat in Russia trying to win the World Cup for the first time since 1966 such a great challenge for me.

"This is the final challenge of a long career and the challenge is a big one. I'm very proud to be the man that the FA have chosen to lead the England side forward.

"And that's me, to lead them, to manage them. You can talk about coaching as well, and tactics, but I want to lead the team on and off the field.

"I feel the off-the-field team has a massive responsibility."

Winning over the players is Allardyce's first challenge, but while he insists he will be a players' manager, there will be no special treatment when it comes to dropping or selecting players, with none of those omitted from this squad receiving an explanatory call before the squad announcement.

"You do think about how much time do you spend on the phone? Will he answer the phone, should I leave a message, should I WhatsApp them? If I miss one, I spoke to one and the not the other?

"But I say to everybody publicly that those who are disappointed to be left out, the door will always be open and we will always be watching."

Slovakia is the priority, however, and England have fresh memories of their opponents in Trnava, having played out a goalless draw in St Etienne in June, but Allardyce insists he has no intention of revisiting the past.

"The experience of the Euros, if touched on at all, would be very brief," he said. "We can't change the past but we can learn from it and move on.

"Really, for me, the job is to start where they started qualifying for the Euros. . . breezing through the qualifiers - let's do that again first and see where we get in Russia 2018. Let's get there first.

"France has been well documented. We failed in the most important game." (© Independent News Service)

Independent News Service

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport