Allardyce Lost: how the England coach’s sacking exposed a governance conundrum

Sam Allardyce's removal as England soccer head coach, after a Daily Telegraph corruption sting, revealed a fault line in the Football Association's responsibilities.

Allardyce Lost: how the England coach’s sacking exposed a governance conundrum

Sam Allardyce was appointed as the manager of the England national soccer team after the 89th edition of SportsPro magazine went to press, and he had left the role well before we sent the 90th to the printers.

This particular factoid may have passed the man known as ‘Big Sam’ by, but nevertheless serves to highlight quite how impressive an achievement it was for him to perform such an act of self-sabotage so quickly; to land his “dream job” and almost immediately set about turning it into a nightmare. It is particularly tragic that this was a rare occasion that saw a British soccer manager describe his new position as “the role I have always wanted” and genuinely mean it.

On the currently available evidence, Allardyce’s crimes amount to little more than gross stupidity. The Daily Telegraph sting which cost the now former England manager his job caught him arranging large payments for a small amount of work, offering advice on how to circumvent Football Association (FA) rules on transfers, and bad-mouthing his predecessor as England manager. In terms of quantifiable wrongdoing, Allardyce can be accused of lacking integrity, of lacking professionalism, and of lacking an appropriately calibrated brain-to-mouth filter system.

It might be argued that in most lines of work – but particularly one as high-profile and well-remunerated as the England manager’s job – these failings alone would justify at least a stringent performance review. Nevertheless, Allardyce’s plight has attracted sympathy from across the world of soccer, not only from the usual suspects in the English game’s Old Boys’ Club – the assorted ex-pros and senior Fleet Street figures who dominate the mainstream discourse around soccer in the country, who have launched defences of Allardyce as a ‘proper football man’ – but from fans as well, many of whom have doubted the ability of the FA to cast judgement on a man’s integrity at a time when it has become difficult to believe that anyone involved in the structure of soccer governance can do so without falling foul of rank hypocrisy.

A separate body charged with the operational management of the England team may have been able to stand by its man, at least for long enough to confirm in which direction the wind was blowing.

And therein is encapsulated the difficulty of the FA’s position. Its dual role as both the administrator of the national soccer team and as the governing body of the game in England left it with little room to manoeuvre once the evidence against Allardyce had been made public, and particularly once the Telegraph promised further stories regarding other managers. A separate body charged with the operational management of the England team may have been able to stand by its man, at least for long enough to confirm in which direction the wind was blowing.

But an FA expected to sit as judge, jury and executioner on others could not feasibly do so when it – and, more pertinently, the public and the media – was in full knowledge of the compromised position of its own most visible employee. The sting may have amounted to little more than entrapment, and the traps into which Allardyce so clumsily fell may have been minor. But this was far more to do with what it said about the FA than what it said about Allardyce – of whom it is telling that the general reaction was surprise over how quickly it took for him to fall, not surprise that he fell.

The case has also set into sharp relief once more the antagonism between the British press and soccer’s top brass, with the Daily Telegraph’s campaign seeming to some little more than a specifically targeted campaign to oust the newly installed England manager, giving one in the eye not only to Allardyce himself but to the FA suits misguided enough to employ him. Other managers were embroiled in the scandal but this has appeared incidental, particularly when one of those named, Queens Park Rangers’ Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, turned out to have done little more than agree to speak at a conference in exchange for a sum of money, something entirely within the bounds of his contract with his club. The triviality of many of the subsequent accusations has only heightened the sense that this was done as a show of strength, a demonstration of force from an old media desperate to prove its continued relevance.

Though it is at times almost impossible to believe, last year’s arrests at Zurich’s Baur au Lac hotel and the subsequent downfall of both Fifa president Sepp Blatter and Uefa president Michel Platini, among others, have at least begun to usher in a new age of governance within soccer. The old problems will not simply be swept away but they have at least been dragged to the surface, and governing bodies, with a vigilant media waiting to pounce on any infringement, can no longer afford to take the blind-eye approach of the past.

Former FA chairman Greg Dyke hit upon this in his assessment, in the aftermath of the Allardyce debacle, that the England manager must be ‘whiter than white’. Any inch given at this stage will be seen as a slippery slope to a further yard – and after that, the miles and miles that had been taken by what we hope is now a lost generation of soccer administrator.

This article is an updated version of Adam Nelson's Notes and Observations column in Issue 90 of SportsPro.