Is England ready for Big Sam?
Sunderland converted rumour to fact on Wednesday by declaring that their manager Sam Allardyce is in talks with the Football Association regarding the England manager’s job.
This is the second time the FA has come calling for the 61-year-old, who had been in the running to take over from Sven-Goran Eriksson in 2006, losing out to Steve McClaren.
Ten years on and having saved Sunderland from relegation, he is odds-on favourite to finally land his dream job.
So is the man affectionately known as Big Sam the right person to take the national team forward?
We take a look at what England would look like under Allardyce.
“There will be discipline,” says Kevin Davies, who played under Allardyce at Bolton. “He will put the laws and rules down. At Bolton he had a bible which everyone had to read and sign up to.
“It was the rules and regulations. The way we trained and prepared for games was all in there. It was a 20-25 page document that everyone had to adhere to.”
And expect experience and steel – think Davies himself, Gary Speed, Fernando Hierro, Ivan Campo, Radhi Jaidi, Joey Barton, Michel Salgado and Sunderland destroyer Jan Kirchoff, all recruited by the Dudley-born manager.
So will that mean a reprieve for Gary Cahill, 30, one of the older members of a youthful Euro 2016 squad, or even a recall for John Terry, 35?
But don’t forget flair, from the man who brought over France World Cup winner Youri Djorkaeff, Nigeria playmaker Jay-Jay Okocha and Wahbi Khazri, as well as signing Mark Viduka at Newcastle and almost roping in Robert Lewandowski to Blackburn. If it wasn’t for that pesky volcanic ash cloud, Sam?
Because of his fondness for a ‘wildcard player’ might we see someone like wily Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere given a more prominent role?
And let’s not overlook Kevin Nolan – his reliable charge. Perhaps the ex-Bolton, Newcastle and West Ham midfielder might link up with his boss for a fourth time – maybe as a coach following the 34-year-old’s stint as Leyton Orient player-manager last season.
If you have a high workrate on the pitch, train hard to be in peak condition and enjoy set-piece drills then join the club. You would also have to embrace modern sports science methods.
At Bolton, Allardyce embraced Prozone – a sports analysis company in its infancy. He wanted to use the statistics provided to get the edge on his rivals.
In a Guardian piece in 2015, Allardyce is said to have had “exact positions for players to gain the best possible chance of scoring” – this would be of paramount importance on throw-ins, free-kicks and corners. Hence, the now-renowned Allardyce meticulous preparation on set-pieces.
That could also mean an end to Wayne Rooney as a deep-lying midfielder, Daniel Sturridge on the right wing and Harry Kane taking corners.
He is also keen that players take a holistic approach to preparation.
Former Bolton player Michael Bridges said: “Every week we would have yoga classes and it was the first time I had been given supplements to take with my food, which helped recovery and joint ache. We even had a psychologist who would sit down with us whenever we wanted to get advice or set ourselves targets.”
Former Trotters striker Davies told BBC World Service: “Motivation-wise, he is fantastic, the best I have ever worked with. He knows how to get the best out of a player. He has proven that with the players brought in, and has got careers going again. He’s just a good man-manager, he knows when to crack the whip and when to dangle the carrot.”
So Allardyce could be a lifeline for the damaged confidence of Raheem Sterling and reignite the form of Everton pair John Stones and Ross Barkley.
Who could come in from the cold?
West Ham striker Andy Carroll springs to mind for his physical presence in attack, while at Sunderland Jermain Defoe was one of his key players in the fight for survival.
Some 21% of the passes his Sunderland team played last season were long – compared to 8.7% at Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. So could Manchester United’s Michael Carrick return? Or would he find room for Newcastle midfielder Jonjo Shelvey?
He signed left-back Aaron Cresswell when he was at West Ham and has previously questioned why Hammers central midfielder Mark Noble, 29, had been excluded from the national team.
And with his love of veterans, could he tempt Major League Soccer duo Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard out of international retirement?
Davies said: “He likes to have a dressing room which has good morale and a good belief in themselves. Anybody that goes in there and unsettles that squad will be out the door.
“That’s what Sam does – he’s ruthless, he won’t stand for any nonsense, but he will create an environment where the players look forward to coming away. I think the atmosphere he will create will be similar to Wales or Iceland, that spirit, that togetherness along with the ability that we have lacked.”
An Allardyce starting XI?
England’s next fixture is their opening World Cup 2018 qualifier against Slovakia on Sunday, 4 September.
If Allardyce is in charge, who would be in his starting line-up?
My England qualifying XI
Who do you think should start in qualifying for the 2018 World Cup? Become England’s new manager and pick your XI – and then share it with your friends using our team selector.