Remember this summer's musical chairs with the England coach in the post Sven era? Names like Guus Hiddink, Alan Curbishley, Martin O'Neill, Stuart Pearce, Luis Felipe Scolari, and Sam Allardyce were getting tossed around. The overwhelming favourite was Big Phil. Steve McLaren pipped them at the post after spending a few seasons as Middlesborough's manager and doing a decent job. However, his resume was still pretty thin compared to the other candidates. Well, it seems that the lack of coaching experience may be coming back to haunt him.
If Steve McLaren continues to sputter with the 3-5-2 formation with disastrous results as in the Croatia match, the musical chairs might begin again, but this time, I have no doubts that Sam Allardyce will be the hands down favourite. If the FA wants to go homegrown, then Allardyce should be given the job. His stewardship of Bolton has been nothing short of spectacular. He has raised a motley crew to another level, with a 37 year old Gary Speed having the best season of his career, a temperamental El Hadji Diouf scoring goals, and a dysfunctional Nicolas Anelka looking like he wants to play football. The rest of the team has Ivan Campo, Tal Ben Haim, Idan Tal, Nicky Hunt, Ricardo Gardner, Kevin Nolan and Andranik Teymourian, names that don't really roll of your tongue when football superstars come to mind. Let us put this in perspective- Bolton's total worth is 60 million pounds, an amount that Chelsea surpassed this season on acquiring John Obi Mikel, Andrei Shevchenko, Khalid Boulahrouz, Ashley Cole, and Salomon Kalou.
Allardyce has made a believer out of Anelka, which is in itself a miracle. And Anelka is Bolton's most expensive signing in club history. The pundits felt that Allardyce had gone a bit soft, signing on a project in Anelka, whose talent has never been in doubt, a professional journeyman following countless fallouts with coaches and team-mates, earning him the title of the Incredible Sulk. Yesterday, against Newcastle, Anelka showed the damage he could do. I remember Allardyce in an interview soon after the Anelka transfer, talking about how Anelka had matured from those days.
Allardyce has a reputation for knowing his players better than they know themselves, and a great aptitude for bringing out the best in some of the most temperamental players. In fact, he has made a career of it- Jay Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff, El Hadji Diouf, Ivan Campo, and now Nicolas Anelka. He is extremely adaptable- Bolton's back four have been doing a superb job, even with injuries to Quinton Fortune and Joey O'Brien. Allardyce has Nicky Hunt at right back with Ben Haim switching to left back, and the combination has been working. They have given Bolton 4 clean sheets in the 8 games played so far. The defence has only conceded 4 goals.
The rap against Allardyce is that he has little international coaching experience. However, given the fact that he has taken many international talents who would have short circuited elsewhere but under his tutelage have had flourishing careers, I really don't see this as a detriment. Allardyce can be abrasive just like Luis Felipe Scolari, and is immensely popular with the players as well as the crowd. He is the opposite of McLaren who comes of as colourless. One can imagine Allardyce harnessing the likes of Wayne Rooney and bringing a Michael Carrick out of his torpor. I don't think a Peter Crouch would find himself in an Allardyce team, whereas an Aaron Lennon might. When the bottomline is that you have to get your team to play well no matter what, a resume having international coaching experience appears to be an abstraction, and even overblown.