Pep Guardiola had only been in England a week, and already he spoke to a deep truth in English football:
Against Sunderland, against the Big Sam, I will play my first Premier League game. I will have to adapt.
The Big Sam.
Already, Guardiola realised that Sam Allardyce is less a football manager than he is a kind of footballing quintessence; less a man than an ancient idea of Englishness and English football made flesh.
What is Big about Sam is what he represents: an entirely coherent and fulsome image of what English football was before its national team started losing in major tournaments and its league became a televised drama of international human resources.
For Allardyce is a throw-back to the incorrigible, high-pressing and high-intensity days of English football's exceptionalism, which viewed football as that other great figure of Englishness George Orwell, as war minus the shooting.
Allardyce today left Sunderland's pre-season training camp to fly home for talks with the F.A. about potentially succeeding Roy Hodgson, and he is the right men for the job.
English football is currently suffering from an identity crisis, as football's great survivor Roy Hodgson used the national team as an entirely ductile object to be shaped to allow him keep his job: he selected Steven Gerrard in midfield and Raheem Sterling ahead of him in the 2014 World Cup as the media told him to.
History repeated itself two years later at Euro 2016, with Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford brought - yet unused - under media pressure to do so, as Wayne Rooney was picked in midfield for not other reason as it being the most efficient way of keeping everyone happy. The idea of Hodgson being wedded to two-banks-of-four for eternity proved to be false: he was wedded to any system which could keep the press pack from his door.
The idea of Hodgson being wedded to two-banks-of-four for eternity proved to be false: he was wedded to any system which could keep the press pack from his door.
Were Allardyce to take charge, however, media pressure to select Marcus Rashford would merely stiffen Big Sam's resolve and consolidate Andy Carroll's place in the team. For too long England have believed themselves to be inferior to the opposition, with every major tournament defeat bringing with it calls for a root-and-branch review and a mimicking of the opposition's system.
While English football fretted over its position in world football, it rejected the kind of wild, irrational, high-intensity football that it was so good at it in the first half of the twentieth-century. Jurgen Klopp was among many overseas managers to pick it up and use it as a foundation for success.
Hodgson's dithering and attempt to please everyone he crosses is a fine distillation of the anxiety that has plagued English football for decades. The strident and straight-talking Allardyce, by contrast, has no such existential angst or anxiety. He knows exactly who he was, is and ever shall be. Consider this description of himself in opposition to Rafa Benitez in his magnificent autobiography:
The strident and straight-talking Allardyce, by contrast, has no such existential angst or anxiety. He knows exactly who he was, is and ever shall be. Consider this description of himself in opposition to Rafa Benitez in his magnificent autobiography:
He didn’t like me and he thought he was superior.
Here was a trendy foreign manager with all his smart ideas getting beat by some oik from the Midlands.
Glorious. Allardyce is oddly reminiscent of Orwell in this season's criticism of Louis Van Gaal. Orwell writes in Politics and the English Language of his inherent suspicion of the influx of foreign words of multiple syllables into the English language, which obscures the real meaning of sentences.
He encourages readers to "never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent".
Compare this with Allardyce on Van Gaal:
WHEN Manchester United scored a last-minute equaliser at Upton Park last season, they got away with it and everyone knew it. I said that when people claim I’m a long-ball man, they should remember what Van Gaal had done to us.
"Their equaliser came from a long punt up the middle” I said and I obviously got under Louis’ skin because a few days later he want off on a right rant, handing reporters a four-page dossier to refute my claims.
He said: “When a colleague of mine is saying this kind of thing, then you have to see the data and put it in the right context.
“I have made an interpretation of the data from this game and then I have to say it’s not a good interpretation from Big Sam.
“I am sorry, but we are playing possession play and after 70 minutes we did not succeed, in spite of many chances in the second-half, then I changed my playing style.
“Then with the quality of Fellaini we played more forward balls and we scored from that, so I think it was a very good decision of the manager.” In other words, he started hitting long balls to force the equaliser.
Allardyce missed out on the English job a decade ago, overlooked in favour of Steve McClaren. On that occasion, he complained that he and the F.A. were declined the Powerpoint pitch Allardyce had prepared as the Association did not have a projector. Allardyce grumbled "so much fo the progressive F.A.".
Were he to be appointed this time around, the F.A. would prove them progressive in the sense that they are going back to the future.