Sam Allardyce’s appointment as England’s new manager on a two-year contract is set to be ratified on Thursday after the outgoing Sunderland manager convinced the Football Association of his ability to rediscover the national team’s “missing identity”.
A meeting of the FA’s National Board at Wembley will rubber-stamp the decision already made by the ruling body’s recruitment panel of Martin Glenn, Dan Ashworth and David Gill that was mandated to identify Roy Hodgson’s successor. That trio were particularly impressed by Allardyce’s innovative, pioneering use of psychology.
It leaves Sunderland seeking their seventh managerial appointment in five turbulent years, with the club aiming to accelerate already “advanced” talks with David Moyesabout the former Everton, Manchester United and Real Sociedad manager potentially succeeding the 61-year-old Allardyce. Should such negotiations founder, Burnley’s Sean Dyche also has his admirers in the Stadium of Light’s boardroom.
In what was almost certainly his final act as Sunderland manager, Allardyce took charge of the team for Wednesday night’s pre-season friendly at Hartlepool United amid suggestions that his coronation as Hodgson’s successor was a matter of hours away.
After stepping off the team bus wearing a smile almost as wide as the North Sea behind him, the soon-to-be-departed manager took his seat in the away dugout and fielded phone calls during the first half before taking his leave at half time with his side 3-0 up.
Sunderland released a statement after the match but denied any agreement had been reached. “Naturally we are aware of the intense media speculation this evening, however, at the present time Sam Allardyce remains Sunderland manager,” it read. “We share in the anger and frustration of our supporters and would like to assure them that we are working to conclude the matter in the best interests of Sunderland AFC.”
The FA – who did not want to pay over the odds for a high-profile foreign coach – are comfortably able to better Allardyce’s £2m-a-year club salary, so agreeing remuneration was never going to be a problem. Similarly, the fact he has only one year outstanding on his Sunderland contract dictates that compensation does not constitute a major hurdle either. Accordingly, the formalities are predicted to run smoothly and swiftly before his formal “unveiling”.
The former Bolton Wanderers, Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers and West Ham United manager – who saved Sunderland from relegation last season and was desperately disappointed to be beaten to the England job by Steve McClaren 10 years ago – saw off competition from a shortlist also featuring the USA coach, Jürgen Klinsmann, Hull City’s Steve Bruce and Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe.
By way of a major hint earlier on Wednesday, Glenn, the FA’s chief executive – revealed that he, Ashworth, the technical director, and Gill, the vice-chairman, had demanded that the new man make concerted, innovative and “unashamed” use of sports psychology to build mental resilience in the face of the “world’s most intensely passionate” press.
“The British press, like it or not, are probably the most intensely passionate about the game in the world and that has a spillover effect,” Glenn said. “The consequence of which is people probably play not to make a mistake as opposed to play to win. So the new manager’s got to be someone who can inspire people to get the best out of themselves, build resilience and unashamedly adopt the kind of psychological techniques that other sports and other football teams have done. To really to inspire people that when they put their England jersey on they play as well for England as they do for their club.”
Glenn said he, Ashworth and Gill had “consulted widely in the game and spoken to a handful of people”. Such feedback, frequently from former internationals, kept reiterating one message: the need for mental toughness under media scrutiny.
“Speaking to ex-players that have performed well for England it’s a pretty consistent theme, which is resilience under pressure,” said Glenn, whose insistence that media pressure is more intense than in South America or even other parts of Europe is, nonetheless, highly contentious.
“Why is that? We need to understand it better. It’s two things: it’s confidence in there being a match plan and it’s personal resilience, especially now at a time of massive social media.”
Glenn and company were also adamant the new manager must not be a “short-term mercenary” and will duly ask Allardyce to create a legacy as he is given a brief extending well beyond the senior side.
“We’re not after a short-term mercenary, someone just to do the job for a couple of years,” said the chief executive. “I want someone to come into the England role to really work with not just the senior team but to make sure all the great work with the under-16s, 17s, 18s – look at how well the under-19s are doing now – continues and to knit all that together.”