Crooks’ Soccer Journal: Former player gives insight on England boss Allardyce

Sam Allardyce

by GLENN CROOKS

The U.S. Men’s National Team has a pair of World Cup Qualifiers coming up that will decide their destiny and placement in the Hexagonal – where Mexico may loom in a November 11 clash.

While the CONCACAF region is well into qualification for Russia 2018, Europe’s preliminary competition begins this weekend. England will get their initial chance to compete under their new head coach, Sam Allardyce, with a road match in Slovakia.

At least one of his former players thinks the England Football Association should have selected Allardyce years ago.

“Sam was interviewed 10 years ago,” remarked James Quinn, a 6-2 striker who played for Allardyce at Blackpool in the the mid-90’s. “He was not fashionable enough for the FA. They’ve always brought in coaches with high profiles who are going to run along side what the suits say.

“Steve McLaren was a ‘yes’ man. Sam’s not like that. He’s not going to take the advice or instructions from a faceless committee.”

Quinn has been a first-team coach at Tranmere, the third most recognized squad in Merseyside county after Liverpool and Everton. He has since accepted the position of Technical Director for the Princeton Soccer Association in New Jersey.

“Terry Venables was not a typical FA man,” remarked Quinn, who has previously spent time in New Jersey as the head coach of the PDL’s Central Jersey Spartans. “He learned his trade coming up from the smaller clubs. When he was manager, that’s the last time the team was somewhat successful.”

England went unbeaten in the ’96 EURO’s under Venables, ousted by Germany in the semi-finals on penalties.

“I didn’t expect Sam to get the job this time, either,” said Quinn, with 36 goals in 151 career appearances for Blackpool. “Maybe he’s come down a little bit to their (FA) thinking and they came up to his. If Sam goes in there and does what he believes, he will make a shambles of the EPPP.”

The Elite Player Performance Platform is a youth development program started by the FA in 2011.

“Nothing has changed, nothing has improved,” claims Quinn. “Smaller clubs have been forced to close their academies due to the transfer structure. And then you compare to other teams in the British Isles that have improved and punched above their weight.”

Wales, for instance, topped Group B at this summer’s EURO’s ahead of England and then advanced past Belgium in the quarterfinals (3-1) before losing to eventual champions, Portugal in the semifinals (2-0). Wales (11th) are rated above England (13th) in the FIFA World Rankings.

As for Allardyce, he has managed to sustain a long-term career in England’s top division while developing a reputation of elevating less talented teams to unexpected results. He successfully led Sunderland to relegation safety last season with a triumph over Everton which simultaneously demoted one of his former clubs, Newcastle United.

“Every team he’s taken over, he’s gotten the best out of them,” said Quinn, who met Allardyce when he was 20 years old. “He had a lasting impression on me.”

As a center back, Allardyce lacked finesse and was more noted for his fearless tackles and challenges in the air.

“He would train with us sometimes,” Quinn said. “I would stay as far away from him as possible.”

Observing Allardyce on the touchlines and listening to him bellow in his interviews, one could conclude that he is a simple, blue collar chap that only knows direct football.

“He’s from a place called Dudley, just outside of Birmingham,” said Quinn. “Lots of terrible accents.”

“It’s unfair to say that he doesn’t play good football,” continued Quinn. “What is good football, I haven’t seen a rule book that says what’s right and what’s wrong. He used to say, it’s harder to play the 50-yard ball than to give one 10 yards.”

Regardless, Quinn is assured that Allardyce has been a forerunner in his craft.

“When Sam was at Blackpool, we switched to a 4-3-3 – it’s one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen a manger do, everyone played 4-4-2.” said Quinn. “I remember, it was a Thursday and he stood us around and explained it to us – he set it up into a shape and came to me and explained the different runs I could make. We played Swansea at home and beat them 2-0.”

Allardyce also innovated the priority placed on recovery and nutrition.

“Straight after the game, instead of going to the bar, we’d go to a separate room to each chicken, fish and brown rice,” said Quinn. “Now, that is common for teams – back then, he was the only one insisting on it and the older players didn’t like it. Slowly he had to faze out the older pros.”

The veterans were not only used to a brew-laced post-game rather than grilled vegetables and protein drinks, they expected a good supply of alcohol for the the six hour rides on the coach returning from road matches.

“Sam took that away, there was no drinking on the way home,” said Quinn. “That was unheard of – anything he told me to do, I would have done it. The older boys couldn’t deal with that.”

During the early stages of his coaching career, Allardyce visited the States and spent time with the sports scientists and athletic trainers of American football teams. He would trace their schedules up to five weeks at a time. He learned how to periodize the players in a manner that limited injuries and had his athletes peaking at the proper intervals.

“We were doing periodization at Tranmere 22 years after Sam was doing it at Blackpool,” remarked Quinn. “He introduced heart rate monitors and fitness coaches in 1994. He would bring us in on Sunday for recovery. No one had ever heard of that. A lot of coaches, if you lost on Saturday, they would bring you in Sunday and run you into the ground. Of course we know now that’s the most dangerous and unprofessional thing you can do for your players.”

And now Allardyce has a job he has coveted since the early moments of being a manager. After myriad disappointments on the international stage, the FA is now putting their belief into a figure that they ignored in previous cycles.

“He’s still the same, he doesn’t care what people think – he has the skin of a Rhino,” said Quinn. “He’s not fashionable. They don’t like the way he talks. He’s arrogant in a good way, not FA English arrogance. He’s intelligent, he does his research but he’ll have to win the World Cup for those people to accept him.”

MORE FROM THE JOURNAL

  1. At halftime of a recent New York City FC broadcast on WFAN, I asked esteemed British journalist, Henry Winter, if he thought England could flourish under Allardyce. “You could have Patrick Vieira, Bruce Arena, Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola all on staff and you would still struggle,” said the journo, who has followed the English squad for 30 years. “Until the players toughen up mentally, England won’t win anything. It’s a psychological flaw, not necessarily tactical.”
  2. Chelsea FC has loaned Clifton, NJ native Matt Miazga to Eredivisie club, Vitesse. That brings the total to 38 Chelsea players on loan according to yesterday’s Daily Mail. Some will be sold off while history has proven that it is unlikely that any of them will play regularly for the big club. Nemanja Matic was bought and then loaned to Vitesse in 2009 and ultimately became a regular for The Blues in 2014. John Terry is the last home grown player developed by Chelsea making 23 starts in the 2001/2002 season. And now Miazga, the 21-year-old defender and former New York Red Bulls product may have seen his chance to ever feature with Chelsea evaporate into the Dutch air.