By Thomas Strong
Last Updated: 22nd June 2018
In an exclusive interview with William Hill, Sam Allardyce discusses England’s chances at the 2018 World Cup, Gareth Southgate, and the England job that could have been.
Sam Allardyce believes his England successor Gareth Southgate has been fearless and true to his convictions in making the big calls ahead of the Three Lions’ World Cup adventure in Russia.
“He’s been very impressive. I think his bravest decision is to go with a back three. I was surprised that he decided to change but he feels it suits the players better in this tournament and I hope that works for him. That’s where he will get a lot of criticism from the media: if that particular system doesn’t work and even if it’s down to the players not playing well it’s the system that will be blamed. For that the manager will carry the can.”
Speaking exclusively to William Hill the former England gaffer, who resigned his post in 2016 after one game in charge before going on to revive Crystal Palace and Everton, insists however that it’s not only courage that has brought our national side to this encouraging juncture. Fortune has also played a part.
“Apart from Oxlade-Chamberlain he has got the full squad that he wanted before he left and that hasn’t happened to a lot of England sides in the past where they’ve been missing key players in key positions and not been at full strength before they’ve even started the tournament. England this time around are at full strength from a selection point of view for Gareth when they start on the 18th against Tunisia.”
Ah, Tunisia. A straightforward win this Monday right? Or at least that’s the general consensus from those under the impression that our boys have been blessed with two routine opening games to help get their sights in. It’s a complacency that doesn’t sit well with Big Sam.
“Really we should be apprehensive to say how poor Tunisia or Panama might be particularly in Tunisia’s case as they have proven in their two warm-up games by drawing with Portugal and only losing in the 93rd minute to Spain. So it’s about England playing to their best and taking advantage of chances that they create from dominating the game.”
More times than not those chances will fall to Harry Kane, a striker who Allardyce clearly admires a great deal, but it is another Tottenham player who he hopes flies out to Russia as a Premier League ace and returns as a bona fide superstar.
“We all expect Harry Kane to score the goals but I personally hope its Dele Alli who really impresses. The combination of time played with Kane could be absolutely crucial to any England success. The way they link up at Tottenham: if they can do that with England there could be a considerable amount of goals that both players score.”
With a front two boasting 48 Premier League goals between them last season and a back-up forward who helped himself to 20, England are certainly not short of a goal-threat going into the tournament and a manager who, perhaps unfairly, has gained a reputation for favouring defensive solidity is excited at the prospect of the havoc they can wreck. Assuming, that is, they are mixed and matched at the right times.
“I think firepower is England’s strength. I don’t think anyone expects Jamie Vardy to start but he’s a key element and Gareth needs to decide when he’s going to change the side. I don’t think as England manager you can continue to play the same eleven for all three matches in the group stage because of the fatigue that some players might feel after a long, hard season.
What will be very productive for Gareth is if they do succeed in their first two games and those changes could be made against Belgium if he wants to. We want to be going into that Belgium game if we possibly can knowing that we’ve virtually qualified”.
This will no doubt be a strange summer for Allardyce after being deprived of his dream job back in September 2016 in contentious circumstances. Then he was immensely proud to be leading his country and taking on what many perceive to be an impossible job; now he watches on like the rest of us as a patriotic fan. Given what happened will the experience be tainted for him in any way?
“I won’t be compromised in terms of supporting England and Gareth but for me it is massively disappointing what happened. I felt it was unjust. It was massively difficult in the beginning but I’m a strong character and as time went on I managed to overcome that side of it and look forward to watching the England games. In the beginning though it was very, very difficult to sit there thinking: ‘that should be me’.
In my opinion I was harshly treated. As time goes by people move on and there are many supporters who saw, after the sensationalism, just how unjust it was”.
Despite it being two years since his solitary game in charge – a 1-0 win away to Slovakia – eight of his line-up that night are expected to feature heavily in the weeks to come. Which does beg the question: who missed out under Southgate who would have made the plane if Allardyce was still calling the shots?
“Adam Lallana would be the one I’d pick out but then I understand that unfortunately for him his lack of games this season may have been why he was omitted from the squad. Had he been fit all season he would have made a big contribution to Liverpool’s season and would be in that squad.”
Looking beyond our sceptred isle the bizarre situation with Spain that saw their manager Julen Lopetegui sacked just days before the World Cup naturally comes up in conversation and Allardyce offers a glowing endorsement of his replacement Fernando Hierro, who he coached at Bolton back in the day (“It was one of my greatest privileges as a manager to manage Fernando as a player”). Brazil meanwhile are given a good, healthy dose of Big Sam’s defensive pragmatism.
“Brazil can go all the way but only if they can defend better than they did in the last World Cup which I seem to remember was Brazil 1 Germany 7. So it doesn’t matter if they have those attacking four: if they defend like they did against Germany they’ll have no chance of winning”.
And with that Big Sam prepares to cheer on the boys – his boys – as they thrive or fail on the world’s biggest sporting stage but not before he ponders what might lie around the corner for one of the most respected and larger than life managers in the modern era.
“At the moment I don’t know what the future holds because the future is not in my hands. My future is determined by people who ring up and ask for my services. Football has been my life since I left school. I’ve been around for an awfully long time and particularly in the Premier League so that becomes a big part of you”.
Read our next interview with Sam Allardyce where he shares his thoughts on Harry Kane in this summers World Cup.