On Sunday Sam Allardyce walked out as England’s manager for his first game in charge against Slovakia — a team they previously faced at Euro 2016 — in the first England World Cup Qualifier.
The Three Lions were embarrassed during that championship. Their manager at the time, Roy Hodgson, resigned and Allardyce was appointed to restore English pride.
Sunday’s showing produced a win, but how did the team play? In a few words, it wasn’t pretty.
So how can England fix what was broken?
1. Don’t play it again Sam
Big Sam started the game with a style of football more reminiscent of Hodgson and previous continental regimes like Fabio Capello — slow, possession-based and methodical.
Where was the passion, directness, and physicality that would bring pride and English identity back to the national game? Why the mimicry of former regimes?
The only possible reasoning is that Big Sam wants to shed his long-ball, overly physical brand.
Mr. Allardyce, as an Englishman please don’t bother. As a nation of football fans, we already know England can’t play continental football. We need your direct physicality. Thanks.
2. Start the ethos of earning the shirt
England cannot continue the same cycle of handing out shirts to players who the media think are good. It’s not working.
Whatever happened to the idea of earning the England shirt via domestic performance? It seems managers are influenced in the selection process by something that fans have a hard time understanding.
The best example of this is that Harry Kane is playing, despite having done very little for Tottenham so far this season and nothing for England during the Euros. Yes, he’s a talented forward, but while a striker is cold it makes very little sense to play them.
It’s not just Kane, either.
Every player who performed poorly at the Euros should be forced to prove their form at domestic level before getting to wear the England shirt again. Make every player work for it, or the illusion of Big Sam changing things will quickly fade.
3. What the Rooney is going on
How and why Wayne Rooney continues to start for club and country is baffling. Is it because he has a celebrity status above other English players making him influential over referees?
The only time he seems to communicate with any passion or vigor is when verbally disputing decisions made by the referee. If Premier League rules were being followed, they would have seen him sent off immediately against Slovakia.
Does England really possess such little character that it makes Rooney essential?
At the end of the game, Rooney had spent more time playing as the deepest midfielder, having very little impact on the game creatively and only started to do anything remotely in the attacking third after Martin Skrtel was sent off for Slovakia.
Can we really put Rooney in his current form in the same bracket as the commanding John Terry or influential Steven Gerrard? England needs to find a new captain immediately. They need to be influential to their peers, not just the referee.
4. These players cannot perform in a tournament
In what looks like a means to prove his ability, the current selection of players was poorly thought out by the manager.
This was meant as a new start. Hodgson’s era is over, yet it felt like nothing was different in this performance from both a tactics and personnel basis. All that’s been proven is that England needs a radical change. But we knew that already!
Even if this band of usual suspects came out and performed in a manner unrecognizable from the Euros, what would it mean? England qualified for the Euros with a 10-of-10 winning record using these players and a similar tactic.
Big Sam needed to showcase a new chapter in English football, bringing in new faces and ideas. Otherwise he runs the risk of losing an already uncertain fanbase and giving the bloodthirsty English media reason to pounce.
5. Expanding the talent pool
There is a huge amount of English football played outside the top five Premier League teams. Yet very few players outside that realm are ever picked by the national manager. Sometimes it looks as though there is a clause that the biggest names have to play.
It would be easy to understand why the same players played if there was a complete lack of English talent available, but that’s not true.
There are English players who have started the season fantastically for their clubs but are completely overlooked. The best example of this is Curtis Davies for Hull, who looked sensational against Manchester United.
Meanwhile Chris Smalling warmed the England bench having not played a game this season. It’s madness.
Just look at Scotland, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Wales. It becomes clear you don’t need to pick from the best teams in a league to be competitive or invigorate a nation’s interest.
6. Sterling a valuable commodity
There were a couple of decent performances against Slovakia.
Adam Lallana, Kyle Walker, and Dele Alli showed up well, but nobody shined like Raheem Sterling.
It wasn’t the perfect performance but in a lethargic seventy minutes, Sterling was the only player who could make any space. The fact he came off when England started attacking was a major disappointment.
What was even more interesting was how the English fans actually supported him compared to the usual booing and general vitriolic spew churned up at the player. That was probably a testament to Sterling’s great start under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. He’s starting to look like a game changer.
There is no doubt Big Sam should build the attack around Sterling, dropping any and all to accommodate this pacey, skillful wide man.
7. Second half bombardiers
It took a Slovakian sending off for England to start playing direct football. This doesn’t mean they played it long, but they stopped going sideward and looked for space between the Slovakian midfield and defense. Where was this in the first 70 minutes?
There is no doubt that most teams play defensively against England, sitting back with the plan to counter attack. This isn’t the reason England look labored, though. It’s their possession football which results in zero attempts on target. Without space, they pass sideward and this is where the new managers famed directness would have come to fruition.
Perhaps it was the pressure of a ticking clock, the fear of what the media would say about them or a momentary surge of pride, but in those last twenty minutes England at least tried.
The statues which were unable to find space earlier became mobile purely because the ball was transitioning between phases of play quicker.
England should become bombardiers, focused on their attacking directness and forgetting possession. Modern football is evolving anyway. Direct play with pace is proving effective at both domestic and at international level.
8. Cannot rely on last ditch luck
There is no doubt that if Skrtel wasn’t sent off England would have continued to struggle. Slovakia slowed trying to cover more space and England took advantage. But can they rely on this occurring every game?
England struggles to score. This is a fact. It was the same during the Euros with England only scoring 4 goals total, including 1 penalty and 1 free kick.
The question has to be asked, where is it going wrong in the attacking third?
Are these famed players too well known by the opposition? Are they too tired for national duty or are they simply unable to deliver at an international level?
These are questions that need to be solved by the manager, as goals win games.
England played poorly for 70 minutes, and their inability to perform was highlighted with Rooney arguing over a disallowed goal scored by the haphazard Theo Walcott.
In what was an ugly, desperate scene the England captain looked almost embarrassed as he argued to change the mind of the referee.
This scene of desperation will be forgotten thanks to Adam Lallana’s 95th-minute goal, that was only possible because of the injury time gave probably because of Rooney’s arguing.
For his all his faults against Slovakia, it’s nice to have a manager who wants the job not for monetary reasons but because he’s a proud Englishman.
When appointed, there was a hope Sam would bring some fight to England. But this first performance felt too much like business as usual, rather than a revolution, evolution or even just a changing of the guard.
There is no doubt that Big Sam needs time to stamp his ethos on the players, but it’s essential he does. Otherwise it doesn’t matter his position at the end of the World Cup qualifiers — England will fail and he will be blamed for the player’s ineptitude, just like Hodgson was.