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Big Sam Blew It

Breaking down Sam Allardyce’s short-lived stint as England manager

Getty Images
Getty Images

After 67 days and just one match in charge, Sam Allardyce was sacked Tuesday as England manager.

Er, I mean, after 67 days and just one match in charge, Sam Allardyce and the English Football Association have mutually agreed to part ways.

That was fast. Why?

As part of a 10-month sting operation into bribery and corruption in British football by The Telegraph, Allardyce was secretly filmed drinking what looked like a pint (of wine, or vodka, or maybe embalming fluid, though probably just water), billowing about the ease with which you could circumvent the FA’s stuffy ban on third-party ownership of players (which FIFA has previously likened to slavery). He didn’t realize he was talking to journalists posing as Far East businessmen. According to The Telegraph, Allardyce used his position as England manager to negotiate a £400,000 deal and also agreed to travel to Hong Kong and Singapore as an ambassador at his new (fake) business partners’ behest.

Some ethical questions about using subterfuge in the name of journalism popped up, of course. So did some trite ones about getting all in Allardyce’s shit over “victimless” off-the-pitch crimes. But the paper had a pretty good reason for digging in: Allardyce has been accused of this sort of thing before. Also, if the face of your footballing association was spouting off about how to exploit the loopholes in its rules, wouldn’t you want to know?

Wait, back up. What’s “third-party ownership”?

The Guardian has a pretty good video explainer: Basically, it’s when the buying and selling clubs in a transfer split up a player’s economic rights with an investment fund so they can all turn a nice profit once the player is eventually sold to an even bigger club. In those simple terms it sounds mostly harmless, but rigging the wheel of commerce usually does.

Actually, this scene in The Big Short not only illustrates what subprime mortgages would eventually do to the housing market and the American economy, but also how Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano ended up playing for West Ham.

With so many hands in so many pockets, it eventually becomes difficult to tell whether the player is playing for the club that employs him or the investment fund that “owns” him. The whole thing becomes a hopeless, duplicitous mess. Which is probably why the English FA banned the practice in 2008, and why it was a very not-good thing that Big Sam was caught on tape droning on about it.

Who is this “Big Sam” guy, anyway?

Oh, right. So, “Big Sam” is Sam Allardyce’s nickname. He’s called that in part because he is physically large — he stands 6-foot-3 and weighs, well, a lot — but also due to his (warning: painful cliché coming) large, cartoonish personality. Think J. Jonah Jameson pacing the technical area loudly chewing Winterfresh, raving about defensive shape and long-ball tactics, lamenting the wussification of the modern game.

Throughout a 20-plus-year coaching career, Big Sam has helmed nine different clubs, starting with a player-managerial position at Irish side Limerick in 1991 and ending at Sunderland last season. Over the years, Allardyce has proven himself to be bluntly effective. He can squeeze the best out of a bad situation and get the most out of limited players. Though his teams won’t get any points for style — hell they’ve been booed off after wins — they do get points. And seeing as managing the England team is a duct-tape–Velcro-elbow-grease job that largely consists of managing decline and/or staring despair in the face and not blinking, Allardyce was sort of perfect.

Uh-huh. So … why are you doing an explainer on this, again?

[Grabs hold of your shoulders and shakes you violently] BECAUSE YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND HOW INSANE THIS IS.

Sam Allardyce has been “in the running” for the England job for over a decade, it seems. Each of the five times an England manager has gotten the boot since 2006, Allardyce’s name has been on the short list as a replacement. He’s also been stomping around in desperate need of validation as a Smart, Good Football Manager for the fucking longest, which he couldn’t get at — well, I wouldn’t call Bolton, Newcastle, or Sunderland small clubs, but you get my point.

I mean, look at the combination of this 2010 headline and lead photo. Just look at it.

So, given that he’s pined after the job for so long, Allardyce being sacked 67 days after finally getting a seat at the Big Kids’ table is like … well:

Imagine whining to your dad about wanting a car from the onset of puberty until you graduate high school, and then he buys you, like, a restored ’73 Chevelle — which you promptly strip for parts and try to sell on eBay. Imagine Jimbo Fisher getting the LSU job, then setting up an undocumented “Two Girls Packing, Two Guys Moving” side hustle with the Golden Girls and his offensive line, right after his first win. Imagine becoming the editor-in-chief of GQ, and immediately after your first slate of Monday morning meetings, you start slinging three-piece suits on the cheap out of the back of the Condé Nast building. Imagine if, at the end of Legally Blonde, Elle won that big case — scoring one for third-wave feminism — and then got back together with trifling-ass Warner.

On top of being embarrassing and disappointing, Allardyce’s axing is also profoundly sad. Mostly because he really, really, really seemed to like being the manager of England.

And now he’s been sacked after two-ish months and a 1–0 win in a World Cup qualifier against Slovakia. Grand opening, grand closing. At least he gets to go out with a 100 percent record.