,

Fired Man Sam

Tony Considine discusses the England boss’s dismissal

The one question that has leapt to my mind over the last week is “How much money is enough?”.

The English game has long been characterised by greed, especially in the last 24 years since the FA backed the Premier League in it’s breakaway from the traditional Football League pyramid. And while stories of clandestine meetings involving managers in motorway service stations where brown envelopes changed hands were commonplace up to 20 or 30 years ago, this was in an era when salaries were a minuscule fraction of the vast amounts of money that those involved in the game are paid today and a blind eye was generally turned to incomes being supplemented in that manner.

So, what possessed a man being paid £3m a year on an initial two year contract (with a possible option of two more) plus bonuses, to risk everything for an admittedly easy extra £400k?  And what does it say about his judgement? 

Sam Allardyce has always been a manager cut from old school cloth. Having been a player in the 70’s and 80’s, he would have cut his teeth and learned the ins and outs of the game in that period where wages were measured in hundreds of pounds a week rather than hundreds of thousands and where, as a result, the backhander and bung culture was rife.  

Although he played a number of seasons in the top division, he was generally a journeyman throughout his career and has privately lamented that some of the decisions he made relating to his moves to different clubs during his career were made for financial rather than footballing reasons.  That clearly indicates that money has always been a significant motivating factor in his professional life.  

Following a season cutting his managerial teeth with Limerick in the League of Ireland in 1991/92, his first experience of management in England was on a caretaker basis at Preston in Division 2, coincidentally in the same year that the Premier League was founded and the big money started flowing in from Sky TV.  After a number of successful years in the lower leagues with Blackpool, Notts County and Bolton, he finally reached the promised land of the Premier League in 2001 when he led Bolton to promotion right when the pot of money sloshing around the top flight of English football was getting bigger and bigger.  

This new top flight was unrecognisable from the league he had been part of as a player and following the huge 1995 bung scandal that had cost Arsenal manager George Graham his job (where he was found to have received £425k from an agent representing 2 Norwegian players he signed), the behaviour of managers was expected to have changed as well.

Over the course of the next decade, Allardyce’s career as a top flight manager turned out to be significantly more sucessful than his career as a player had been.  After consolidating Bolton’s place in the league for the first couple of seasons, some astute signings saw them regularly compete in the top half of the table and even qualify for European competition on a number of occasions. Having just missed out on what he described as his dream job as England manager in 2006, subsequent spells in charge of Newcastle, Blackburn, West Ham and Sunderland ensured he was never out of work for long and with the increases in the money coming into the English game showing no signs of abating, it’s fair to assume that by the time he was once again linked with the England job this summer he was already a very wealthy man.

But he’d never been able to rid himself of the whiff of scandal that had attached itself to him during that period and which may have cost him his chance to manage England when he’d first looked for the job.

Undercover: Football’s Dirty Secrets was a Panorama investigation in 2006 during which allegations of improper behaviour were laid at the feet of a number of people involved in the game including then Portsmouth manager and first team coach, Harry Redknapp and Kevin Bond and Chelsea youth director, Frank Arnesen,  However, the most serious allegations related to Sam Allardyce and his son Craig who was working as a football agent at the time.  The programme showed two pieces of footage, filmed secretly, of two agents saying that they had paid sums connected to transfers to Allardyce via his son and alleged that three payments from other agents relating to specific transfers had been made to Craig Allardyce, including some when he had been contractually banned from doing any deals involving Bolton.

 As a result, Craig Allardyce quit the football agency business in summer 2006 and in interviews since admitted that his work in that field may have cost his father the chance of becoming England manager at that time.   Sam Allardyce himself denied any wrong doing, stating at the time that, “As a father it is painful to watch your son talk tall and exaggerate his influence for financial gain” and that he would be putting the matter in the hands of his lawyers who advised that he had a very strong case against the BBC. However, ten years later, no legal action in relation to the case has been filed and the allegations remain legally unchallenged.

Allardyce isn’t the first manager to have allegations of corruption laid at his feet and nor was he the first to remain in gainful employment following such allegations. Indeed, even those who had been found guilty by the FA of corruption, such as the aforementioned George Graham, had found it easy to get back into management after having served his year long ban.

For the majority of clubs, there has been an attitude of the ends justifying the means and clubs of the stature of Leeds United and Tottenham were both happy to employ someone who was a proven results getter such as Graham.  So, although he had left Bolton not long after failing in his first attempt to get the England job, there were no shortage of job offers over the next ten years,  And while he may not have won any major trophies, he had done enough at the clubs he had managed in that decade to come back into the frame when the England job once again came up for grabs following their abysmal exit from Euro 2016 at the hands of Iceland.

However, given the desire of the English FA for their managers to be whiter than white in light of previous managerial scandals and the ongoing corruption scandals at UEFA and FIFA level, there were still some eyebrows raised when Allardyce was finally given the role in July of this year.  But, considering that this was the one job he had described as his “dream job” throughout his career, surely he could have been expected to keep his nose clean?

The reason generally given as to why the England job pays so well is that the amount being earned should be enough for the manager to solely concentrate on the job in hand rather than hoping to pick up any other earners for outside work.  And Big Sam was certainly making the right noises when his appointment was confirmed stating “I am extremely honoured to be appointed England manager, especially as it is no secret that this is the role I have always wanted. For me, it is absolutely the best job in English football, I will do everything I can do to help England do well and give our nation the success our fans deserve”.  He started to deliver that success on the pitch with an admittedly patchy 1-0 win away to Slovakia in his first game and all seemed well with 2 games coming up next week.

What wasn’t known was that, before he had even picked his squad for his first game, his agent had already set up a meeting with two “businessmen” to discuss a keynote speaking deal at four conferences in the Far East at £100k a pop.  Those businessmen, who were in fact undercover reporters, were purporting to represent a firm that was was trying to gain a slice of the huge sums of money moving around in English football.

Third party ownership of players refers to a situation where, rather than the club owning the full rights to a player, a third party company (normally run by an agent) holds onto a percentage of the players rights and is entitled to that percentage of any transfer fee if the player is subsequently sold to another club. Ironically, it was at a club that Allardyce would later manage, West Ham, that the issue of third party ownership of players first arose in English football.

In August 2006, much to everyone’s surprise, West Ham had confirmed the purchase of two of the rising stars of South American football, Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano. Over the course of that season, during which they were embroiled in a relegation battle, it came to light that both players’ economic rights were owned by a number of companies run by their agent, Kia Joorabchian.

While such deals were commonplace in South America and the practice was not yet banned in England, it was deemed to be unfair and West Ham were subsequently fined a record £5.5m due to the irregularities discovered in the players contracts.  However, many would argue that this was a small price to pay given that Tevez’s goals were the main reason that West Ham stayed up as Sheffield United were relegated.

Indeed, it was a Tevez goal on the final day of the season that gave them a 1-0 victory over Manchester United which meant they finished 3 points ahead of the Sheffield club.  Given that one season in the Permier League at that time was worth a minimum of £60m, you can see why that £5.5m fine and the undisclosed amount that a case brought by Sheffield United was settled for seemed like a good deal for West Ham.

As a result of this, third party ownership was banned in England in 2008 and FIFA finally followed suit with a worldwide ban in 2015. But that hasn’t stopped any number of unscrupulous people trying to get their slice of the pie by bending the rules and it was his admission on tape that there are ways and means around the ban (that his employers have in place) that probably sealed Allardyce’s downfall.

Looking at the various videos, you could argue that had it just been any of the individual issues raised, he may have survived in his role. After all, while criticising the previous management team and mocking his predecessor, Roy Hodgson’s speech impediment seems boorish and arrogant, there’s nothing illegal about it. And while it’s embarrassing to be caught on camera in England calling a member of the Royal family a “naughty boy” and giving out about another one not doing enough in his ambassadorial role with the FA, again he could have apologised and it would have been forgotten about fairly quickly.

Even his criticism of the player’s psychology during major tournaments could have been talked around.  But although he at least had the cop on to admonish his agent when under the counter payments to managers was raised, the cumulative effect of all the above, along with his admission that there are ways around his employer’s rules on third party ownership while meeting people he’d never met before brought his judgement into such question that his departure was inevitable.

Only he can answer why he thought that risking his dream job for the sake of a quick buck was worth doing. He’s not an unintelligent man and, despite what I’ve always considered an unfair reputation as a long ball manager, was an early embracer of sports science and analysis in his management. Player’s who have worked under him at both youth and senior level have spoken glowingly about the influence he had on then.

That said, some have also spoken about pressure being applied to them to sign with agents preferred by him.  He’s since come out and said he was doing a favour for a friend and that entrapment has won this time out but there’s no doubt to me that the greed prevalant in the game today was the main motivation here. In fact, even his agent had advised against going to the second meeting with the undercover journalists after becoming suspicious but Big Sam obviously knew better and attended regardless.

The excuse that he came from an era where the backhander culture was rampant doesn’t hold water these days either given the huge salary that he was on. Unfortunately, the “Greed is Good” ethos is now so ingrained in the game that it’s impossible to see where it ends.  And it was that greed which ultimately made a relatively clever manager behave in such a stupid manner. With more and more money flowing in, each scandal that breaks just seems to move the game further and further away from it’s traditional support base.

Tony Considine