In 2016, the FA decided that Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce was the man to lead England’s revolution. It had been a dismal spell for the Three Lions and they’d suffered since Sven, first going through the pain of Steve McClaren, who caused them to miss their first major tournament since 1994.
Then there was Fabio Capello, the disciplinarian whose strict rules strangled the last remaining members of the Golden Generation in South Africa. But Big Sam’s predecessor was Roy Hodgson, a man whose period in charge ended with that dismal defeat to Iceland in 2016.
With English football at its lowest ebb, the FA turned to Big Sam. On this day in 2016 he led England to a 1-0 win over Slovakia. But the dream would be short-lived as Allardyce would soon be stung by the Daily Telegraph, who secretly filmed him offering advice on how to get past FA rules regarding transfers. He was subsequently sacked after just 67 days, and replaced by Gareth Southgate - who has led the Three Lions superbly through their most successful period in recent times. We’ve never had it so good, but what if Allardyce had never left? We’ve rewritten history to take a look at what could have been for the Three Lions.
World Cup 2018
England win their qualification group with relative ease under Allardyce, and there’s a genuine belief that things might be different under his no-nonsense tenure. Unlike Southgate, he put his full belief in Wayne Rooney, who forms a positive partnership with Jamie Vardy. With those two firing, Harry Kane barely gets a look in and Rooney extends his record as England’s all-time top goalscorer.
The team for Russia is packed full of experience as Gary Cahill partners Harry Maguire at centre-back. Joe Hart remains England’s number one as Allardyce doesn’t trust Jordan Pickford and believes his arms are too short. Meanwhile, Jordan Henderson and James Milner are still integral to the midfield but there is drama ahead of the first game, as Big Sam sends Jesse Lingard home after the midfielder calls him ‘bro’ in a team meeting.
Despite the chaos ahead of the first game, Allardyce is calm as he steers England to a 1-1 draw with Tunisia. That’s followed by a comfortable 2-0 win over Panama thanks to a Rooney brace and despite a defeat to Belgium that sees the gaffer laugh repeatedly at Marouane Fellaini’s hair, the Three Lions qualify in second place.
They face Colombia in the last sixteen, and one of the dirtiest games in World Cup history breaks out. Rooney repeats his feat from 2006 and is sent off for stamping on Juan Cuadrado, while Ashley Young goes head-to-head with Yerry Mina as both launch headbutts at each other. England lose the game 1-0 and crash out of the World Cup and at full-time Allardyce and Jose Pekerman repeat the infamous Froch/Groves handshake - with Big Sam almost pulling the frail boss to the floor. The England manager refuses to apologise and instead praises the fight his team showed in difficult circumstances.
After the fallout from 2018 has quieted, Allardyce vows to bring football home at Euro 2020. ‘Sack me if we don’t win Euro 2020’ he claims on the eve of the tournament, reminiscent of Sir Alf Ramsey in 1966. England’s qualification process saw Rooney finally hang up his boots and Kane thrust into the limelight, while Chris Smalling’s renaissance in Rome has made him a key man for his country. Allaryce is now relying on a front two of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Kane, while Jordan Henderson is handed the captain’s armband and Hart remains between the sticks, with Allardyce claiming he is still the best goalkeeper in the country.
In the opening game against Croatia, he drops a howler as England can only draw with Croatia, but Allardyce keeps faith with him and it pays off throughout the tournament. Ahead of the second match against Scotland, Allardyce turns up to a press conference wearing a kilt, and after a 1-0 win, quotes Braveheart to the bemusement of the Wembley crowd.
England make it to the knockout stages and face Germany in the last 16, which inspires Churchillian-esque speeches from Allardyce. Some think his combo of a bowler hat and pipe on the touchline takes things too far, but it works, as the Three Lions record a famous 1-0 win.
They get all the way to the final when up against Italy, Allardychi unleashes his master plan. His team refuses to leave their own half at any point in open play, then launches a tirade of set pieces upon the unsuspecting Italians. One of them eventually pays off, as Smalling rises highest at the back post to head home the winner. England are European champions, and Allardyce launches on a sprint down the touchline that is reminiscent of Steve Evans.
He nearly loses his trousers, then loses his mind in the celebrations. With his tie around his head like a drunk uncle at a wedding, he lifts the European Championship trophy aloft at Wembley. The country has a week-long party, and Allardyce is pictured topless on the open top bus, drinking a pint of wine in front of the nation. He refuses a knighthood, claims he doesn’t believe in that nonsense, and then jets off on holiday to Marbella.
The plan is for Allardyce to lead the European champions to Qatar, but two months after the win, he still hasn’t been seen. He’s not relieved of his duties until he does an exclusive interview with the Sun that is simply titled “Big Sam’s new life in Bali” and he never manages England again.
The greatest manager we never had.
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