Saturday 18 November 2017

Wenger the white knight to rescue England's reputation from black hole of Big Sam's reign

Arsenal manager's spotless record makes him ideal successor in absence of native options

‘Sam Allardyce, the manager who railed so often against the lack of opportunities for home-grown coaches in the top flight, has set the English cause back years in a mere 67 days’. Photo: Dave Howarth/PA Wire
‘Sam Allardyce, the manager who railed so often against the lack of opportunities for home-grown coaches in the top flight, has set the English cause back years in a mere 67 days’. Photo: Dave Howarth/PA Wire

Paul Wilson

What a thoroughly depressing week for English football. By the end of it there was almost a feeling of relief at The Daily Telegraph's investigation turning up a few more names, because it allayed the suspicion that the object of the whole exercise from the start had simply been to bring down the England manager.

While that false impression prevailed there had been a certain amount of sympathy for Sam Allardyce, on the grounds that entrapment should be used only as a last resort to bring criminality to light, and it is a bit harsh to lose your job for being gobby in private when that is what you are famous for in public.

Unfortunately, if Glenn Hoddle will allow the allusion to a previous England embarrassment, Allardyce definitely did say "them things", and that left the Football Association with a problem.

Never mind that no rules were broken, no crime committed, and leave aside the fact Allardyce said he would seek to gain his employer's permission for the proposed venture in south-east Asia. The minute he began to describe cutting a deal with the agent for a slice of the fee, and making a massive amount of money for just a couple of hours' work, Allardyce was already sounding like a former England manager.

The FA could not have ignored that, or let their man off with a slap on the wrist. The new administration had no choice but to rise to its first serious challenge with decisive action; to do anything else would have been to set a new low in spinelessness.

Allardyce's naked greed must have been hard enough to stomach for an organisation that has just been through a round of redundancies and is still managing to pay him £3m a year, but attempting to further line his pockets through a series of lucrative speaking engagements was hardly the nub of the issue.

The England manager is the FA's most visible employee, the figurehead for those in charge of the governance of the game. Quite clearly, the FA does not pay him such an enviable salary to go around subverting its own rules on third-party ownership and offering advice on dubious get-rich-quick schemes, whether or not he thought he was in a private conversation.

Allardyce had to go. By all accounts he fully realised the extent of his folly, and Alan Shearer is quite right - English football is again a laughing stock around the world. While many may have imagined it almost impossible to hit a new nadir so soon after being ejected from the European Championship by Iceland, it seems English football can always find a way.

So, what to do next. The calls for chief executive Martin Glenn and technical director Dan Ashworth to resign because they appointed Allardyce and should have known what would happen are surely too shrill. With hindsight it is possible to view the manager as an accident waiting to happen ever since the Panorama investigation of 2006 left unanswered questions, though it could just as easily have been assumed that Allardyce in his dream job would take extra care not to step out of line.

All he had to do was get his feet under the table, for goodness sake, to stick around for long enough for people to get to know him and possibly revise some preconceptions. It still beggars belief that Allardyce blew himself up before he had even had the chance to supervise a game at Wembley.

For all his faults, and his residual unpopularity with West Ham supporters, no one was expecting that, least of all those who lobbied for his appointment on the basis England should be managed by an Englishman. Once that principle was accepted Allardyce was either the leading candidate from a very small field, or the best of the bad choices the FA could make, depending on your point of view.

For better or worse, however, he was representative of English football. If the best England could do in terms of home-grown options was a mere handful at mostly struggling Premier League clubs, Allardyce was the manager England deserved. The really troubling conclusion after the events of the past few days is that he possibly still is.

There will a diminished appetite for an English manager now a less than universally popular choice has proved to be a dud, and not just because Steve Bruce is out of work, Alan Pardew remains wedded to Crystal Palace, and Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche both appear too young and inexperienced.

Gareth Southgate did not seem to have much enthusiasm for the job when the opportunity arose to replace Roy Hodgson, and though a convenient stopgap, a manager lacking belief in himself is unlikely to inspire it in others.

The conversation has moved back to Arsene Wenger, and while it could be said that it always does when an England vacancy arises, the old adage about the FA habit of appointing polar opposites of the previous manager appears to be resurfacing.

After Hoddle's calamitous remarks about the disabled, the antidote was a squeaky-clean Kevin Keegan. When Keegan fell short on tactics, the FA went abroad for a perceived strategist in Sven-Goran Eriksson, and so on. Steve McClaren broke the chain, in more ways than one, though it is important to remember the FA's first choice would have been Luiz Felipe Scolari, because he appeared to be a tournament specialist - whereas Eriksson kept getting stuck at the quarter-final stage. Ah, those were the days for England.

Wenger would be an excellent choice, even if it would be a pity to go back to a foreign appointment so soon after re-establishing the principle of England being run by the English. This is not a raid on the Ukip manifesto; there is an argument any footballing nation big enough to win a World Cup should at least try to stand on its own two feet in international competition.

If England happen to be garbage at tournaments then so be it. Looking beyond the borders for assistance feels like cheating, especially when the Premier League is prospering largely on the success of talents imported from abroad.

Wenger is one of those, of course, and while he has acquired an immense knowledge of the English game during his 20 years at Arsenal, that is not the only reason his name is being put forward so eagerly at the moment. His real asset is probity.

Appoint Wenger as the England manager and there will be no scandals, no dodgy dealing or money grabbing, just a depth of football knowledge and an ability to work quietly and diligently away from the spotlight.

The football may improve too - heaven knows it could hardly get worse - but essentially Wenger is seen as a safe pair of hands, a manager with a good track record and few faults or foibles.

Regardless of whether Wenger has any interest in the job, this shift in priorities can be seen as Allardyce's legacy. The manager who railed so often against the lack of opportunities for home-grown coaches in the top flight, the bloke fond of joking he would get better offers if he changed his name to Allardici, has set the English cause back years in a mere 67 days. Well done, Sam. Not just foolish, but selfish with it.


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