Big Sam Had to Go

Big Sam Had to Go

In a reign reminiscent in length to Steve Coppell for Manchester City, and marred with the lack of integrity usually associated with UEFA officials, Sam Allardyce has left his post as England manager. Already opinion is divided but taking a moment to reflect reveals why he had to go.

Big Sam has always been outspoken. It was his brash nature that led many (including this writer) to believe he would never be seen as hireable for the role of England manager. But a desperate FA went for a gamble when faced with a limited pool of options. That risk has backfired and Sam’s mouth is once again the big trouble behind the problem.

A man so worldly cannot cry naivety. Quite what motivated him to seek money on the side after landing his dream job is a question only he can answer or understand. To the rest of us, seeking £400,000 on top of a £3m-a-year salary looks like greed.

The crux of the issue goes beyond the immorality of financial gluttony. It’s about respect and representation. As England manager he is expected to be the face of English football. To denounce rules they have implemented, before suggesting it’s possible to circumvent them, is tantamount to treason.

Some will say he was caught in the moment, still on a natural high after being given a prize he never reasonably expected. But he’s not a 19-year-old lad on his first big night out.

He’s a 67-year-old professional that should have removed himself from the situation.

Why he was even there is a side issue in comparison to the way he allowed himself to become embroiled in this scandal. The Telegraph will be criticised for upsetting the national team so soon into Sam’s tenure but had the England manager acted properly, there’d have been no story to expose.

In an age where corruption and scandal after ubiquitous in football, the FA can’t be seen to stand by a manager that at best looks like an out of touch relic when it comes to social interaction, or worst, a man willing to talk inappropriately and highlight the flaws in the laws they set.

The FA aren’t making an example of Sam Allardyce by confirming mutual termination of his contract, he’s getting off lightly. Had he still been a club manager, organising a trip across the globe after suggesting third party ownership rules can be deceived, he’d be facing serious charges and in the dock.

Instead the punishment for a lack of judgement is one that will scar him forever. His integrity will be questioned, with most settling down to view Big Sam as a tainted character. But the worst loss he will feel is the “dream job” slipping through his fingers after one game because of one ill-advised meeting.

His saving grace will come because of the clarity he offered within the meeting, explaining he would have to ratify any deal with the FA. This shows he wasn’t trying to sneak a big-deal in under the radar. Also, much of what he said is more opinion than inflammatory. Many disagree with the stance taken against third-party ownership. His negative comments about Roy Hodgson and the mental block England players appear to suffer have been echoed around the country.

When the dust settles, many will feel sorry for a man that lost his dream because of a moment of arrogance caught on camera.

Brexit and the Premier League

Brexit and the Premier League

Britain has been gripped with post-EU Referendum fall-out. Markets have panicked, the pound has fallen, and the Prime Minister has resigned. All this seems secondary when you consider the real burning issue: How will Brexit affect the Premier League.

One certainty surrounding Brexit is everything is uncertain. There’s no clear front-runner for the Tory leadership, when the fragmented state of British politics is taken into account. While many mention Boris Johnson as a likely candidate, there are those that seem to think he has too many agents working against him. Theresa May is emerging as a front-runner and she was a member of the Remain campaign.

Depending on who takes the hot-seat will shape the nature of EU negotiations. A hard line Brexiter will be less likely to concede allowances, like continued freedom of movement for access to the common market (albeit with higher tariffs and penalties). But that option is still, at this moment in time, on the table. If that was to be the outcome, all the potential scenarios about to be mentioned, are null and void.

The alternative is a phased exit from the single market, in tandem with workers’ rights from EU countries. This is where the Premier League braces itself for a paradigm shift.

The most obvious change, and one that would be immediately recognisable, is how EU players would no longer be allowed to ply their trade in the Premier League without obtaining a work permit, like players, say, from South American countries currently apply for.

Players with a work permit are viewed as exceptional and are able to enhance the league based on their international experience. The better the ranking of the nation, the less games the player needs to have featured in for the national side. For example, countries ranked in the top ten, require the player to have featured in 30% of matches or more in the last two years. Moving in blocks of ten, the appearances required rise from 45% to 60% and finally 75% respectively.

If a player is refused, they can appeal. The Home Office then take into account the size of the transfer fee. An outstanding player may come from a country blessed with world class talent, so has rarely featured on the international stage, while still being of the highest calibre. This point is backed up with the size of his contract and the weekly wage.

Also, if the player has featured in many Champions League games, it sheds favourable light on his case.

However, the Premier League cannot gain special treatment compared to other industries, inevitably the number of European-based imports would decrease if EU players became no different from nationalities based outside of this continent. Maybe there’d be several years of easing in new rules but eventually the law would be the same across the board.

At this point the star foreign players would be more expensive to acquire. That strikes fear into club owners and fans will feel their team is being ripped off. But perhaps it will be better to avoid the current Average Player Tax the league endures, bringing in filler to gain access to the rare outstanding performer. Instead clubs will pay a premium for a premium player, minus the non-descript faces.

When the Premier League was new, it managed to pull in star names. Back then they felt special as they were, to start with, one-offs. Since then it has been easier to lure the best in the world over en masse. In doing so, the league’s reputation has risen to such a degree that nothing will prevent players feeling its lure.

It isn’t about to turn into the Scottish Premier League from yesteryear, with a few massive names in a field of averageness. The money alone that the Premier League generates means it can endure any rule change to the eligibility of its workers.

The FA will see it as a blessing in disguise. The lazy scouting of top clubs, that see them take a risk on an average foreign player with an EU passport rather than look in the domestic lower leagues, will slowly draw to a halt. And current champions Leicester have demonstrated, there is talent to be found further down the leagues.

Any extra premium clubs pay for the stand-out performers will also be offset by an unexpected easing of financial burdens. Currently too many top teams are reluctant to use their youth academies. Part of this problem comes from the condition that too much choice is a bad thing. When pruned to a more manageable number, the human mind finds it easier to make correct choices.

The pruning that will take place in the academies will be the process of no longer filling them with youngsters from around the globe that either have EU citizenship or want to attain it. Instead, British players will fill the ranks. Those that are clearly the best won’t have to fight with high numbers of imports or pointless loan moves across the continent. They will be used or released.

Eventually the domestic youth talent will become good enough, and trusted, for the first team. This will save clubs millions each year on players that act as squad players.

The English national team will have greater choice of top flight players. The figure is currently less than 30% in Premier League first teams. This advantage means the FA won’t fight the Premier League’s case for special treatment.

Like much of the Brexit debate, there has been a lot of scaremongering.

Just like Britain won’t return to the dark ages following exit from the EU, the Premier League won’t lose its place as one of the top destinations in Europe for players to perform. The best in the world will still come here, and any increase in price needs to be placed into context.

The finances in the Premier League are currently grotesque, a recalibration and reconsideration of where every pound goes isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it’s long overdue. Instead of being flippant with cash, maybe owners will be mindful of bringing in only the best, remembering it’s the working man in the stands that make it possible.

The Premier League will still thrive after Brexit, don’t let big business and the establishment tell you otherwise.

The Magic of the Cup

The Magic of the Cup

In days gone by the FA Cup Final was the curtain closing showcase end to the English football season. As a boy I’d wait excited all day by the television. Watching the teams arrive at the stadium in their special FA Cup suits. Later doing their special pitch walk. All of them looking relaxed but bubbling with the sense of the big occasion just like the fans watching. Winning the FA Cup may not have given a team bragging rights about being the best in the land but the desire on that day matched the league campaign. If a team managed the league and cup double it was a mark of excellence.
 
Nowadays the cup clubs want in their double, sometimes before the domestic league itself, is the Champions League. The prestige of the world’s greatest and oldest domestic cup now sits above the League Cup as a consolation prize or a good addition to the Premier League/Champions League double. It doesn’t take priority. Which is a shame. It doesn’t even get to be the closing game of the season due to Wembley staging the Champions League final this year. Over the years its value had been left to erode to the point the cause take its slot as the season closer.
 
There is a paradox in this, and I love a paradox. The chase of the Champions League dream and most recent English success came by way of Chelsea. They failed to finish in the top four that year but were crowned Kings of Europe. Back in the old European Cup format at least when teams like Liverpool had their successes they deserved that mantle without question. And the FA Cup still had its importance. Clubs chase the Champions League dream when on paper it should be the one devalued. Unless they’re chasing the cash flow of competitions regardless of other factors. I’d love to see the FA Cup winners be awarded a spot in the Champions League in place of the fourth placed Premier League side. Of course UEFA will never allow that but it’s one way to make the Cup illustrious again.
 
Despite the current state of the Cup compared to its former glory days, come final day it is the biggest game on Earth for the two teams. This year we’ll see Manchester City face Wigan Athletic. Both sets of fans appreciating the trip to compete like it was ten Champions League finals rolled into one. It wasn’t so long ago Manchester City dreamed of the current success they’re currently experiencing and Wigan probably started this season with the aim to avoid relegation. Neither will have enjoyed the league this year so the Cup provides a welcome distraction.
 
It’s more than just a distraction, though, they’ll both desire a win immensely. For Manchester City a season without something in their trophy cabinet will be seen as a massive failure. Whereas Wigan may well be thinking this could be their only chance for a long time to take some silverware. Even the managers’ futures could hang on the result. City’s Mancini could be given more time, as he deserves, should he take the FA Cup back to Manchester like he did a few years ago. Wigan’s Martinez on the other hand could be lured away if he wins a trophy with a small club.
 
The ramifications of success and defeat won’t be felt on the day. For that special time at Wembley the fans and players alike can be lured into the spell of the FA Cup and will willingly partake in the belief it’s the only game that’s mattered all season. If there’s any doubt whether or not this cup is craved look at the faces of the winners after the final whistle. The magic of the cup will be etched on every one of them.