Behold, a glorious new dawn. Where there was discord, let him bring a solid back four. Where there were errors, let him bring well-drilled set pieces. Where there is doubt, let him bring on a big lad to hold the ball up. The Sam Allardyce era has begun. And England has big expectations.
The English Football Association have spent nearly two decades working under the same ideology as a timorous fresher, looking around the room at how everyone is behaving and nervously trying to fit in. They’ve looked to the French, to the Spanish and to the Germans, but nothing has worked. England remain relentlessly, tirelessly, almost heroically mediocre. Into this breach steps Allardyce. Maybe not the hero England needs, but certainly the hero they deserve.
It seems, to this observer at least, that it was simply time for England to play to their strengths for once. Ask yourself, in which fields do they excel. A profound sense of pride in simple values like effort, passion and running around a lot? Yes, that’s the stuff.
Allardyce is all of this and more. It’s become something of a cliché to patiently explain that he’s not simply a gruff-voiced, artless long ball merchant, but on the eve of the new era, the point must be hammered home.
You do not survive for two decades (on-and-off) in the Premier League by simply shouting at people and smashing the ball into the stratosphere. It can’t be done. Look how quickly new formations and tactics are analysed and countered. Remember when Brendan Rodgers put his struggling Liverpool side into a back three and went on a streak of victories? Remember how suddenly it ended? Remember how well Roberto Martinez performed at Everton initially? You have to be pragmatic in the Premier League, you have to be versatile, you have to be able to look at a game and say: “What do I have to do to give myself the best chance of winning?” Or, as has often been the case for survivors like Allardyce, the best chance of not losing.
The English are tired of losing because no one seems to want to fight for it. Tired of losing because no one seems to be properly prepared. Tired of losing because players who earn salaries that could fund space programmes suddenly lose the ability to trap a football or pass it accurately more than five yards. If the English are not going to win, at least give them glorious failure.
Allardyce, whatever else you can say about him, will not send out a team that is unprepared or unwilling to fight. No one loves winning more than he does. No one will search longer or harder for the tiny little increments that might come together to make the difference on the day. Whenever there is a change to the rules, Allardyce is out on the training field trying to capitalise on uncertainty. In 2005, when the offside law was clarified, who was one of the first to take advantage? Yep, Allardyce.
There are, of course, those who have been disappointed by his appointment. Those who believe not only that this is not the path that leads to salvation, but that even if it was, it is not the one to take. That football must be beautiful, progressive and decent.
But look at the European Championships. The teams that over-performed — the likes of quarterfinalists Iceland and semifinalists Wales — were the teams that kept a solid rearguard, stayed compact, hit on the break and prospered from set pieces. Allardyce has been doing that for years. Ask anyone in Portugal if they’re bothered their side didn’t win a group game, very nearly went out to Hungary in the group stage and were really quite unimpressive throughout the tournament. Quite rightly, they will laugh in your face. So would Allardyce.
He’s wanted this job for years. He sees this as the culmination of his career. He will leave nothing to chance in his quest for improvement. He has the skin of a bull and he won’t care what you think about him. But he will want to prove you wrong. He will want to sit in a news conference in Moscow two years from now, tears of laughter rolling down his face, hands like shovels slapping on the table and a World Cup trophy by his side. That’s what drives him.
Will he live that dream? Probably not. This is England, after all. But he’ll try. He’ll move heaven and earth to try. And right now, after the summer they’ve had, that’s good enough for the English.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.