Slovakia 0-1 England. Nothing convincing, nothing spectacular. But for Sam Allardyce, a victory in his first game as England manager – something he would have dreamed about for months. Aside from the last ten minutes, the game, and more specifically England’s performance, was relatively mundane. Genuine goalscoring opportunities were few and far between, dominant possession remained distanced from creativity, and even the defence, arguably the strongest aspect of the side, looked as though it had potential to crumble under pressure.
Déjà vu then, it would seem. Summed up perfectly by commentator Clive Tyldesley, England drawing 0-0 at half time with Slovakia, playing poorly and conceding the best chance of the game to our Eastern European opposition was all too familiar. Memories of a heart-rending Euro 2016 suddenly were brought back to life. However, as mentioned above, the dying moments of the game brought to life by a perpetual sense of desperation from England. Distribution of the ball quickly became purposeful, and chance creation thrived as a result. It was only a matter of time before somebody capitalised, and sure enough, upstepped Adam Lallana.
A couple of kindly deflections saw the ball land at his feet and he dispatched it into the back of the net, despite the best efforts of Matus Kozacik. It was virtually the last kick of the game – but it meant England had scored a goal against Slovakia this summer. Roy Hodgson couldn’t put that on his CV – so I guess that’s progress for you. A complete management and backroom re-shuffle has turned a 0-0 into a 0-1, that never would have been any different had extra time been 30 seconds shorter. It wasn’t too impressive.
England must improve, there’s no two ways about it. Our squad contains some huge household names: Rooney, Kane, Hart, Cahill and Sterling all very credible not on just English soil, but all over the world – and that’s just to name a few. Talent isn’t the problem, it’s the way those talents then play football is where the issue is founded. Such a potentially exciting side have played such mind-numbing football at points this summer. But is Big Sam the man to change that?
There is no doubt that much like the team he is in charge of, Allardyce needs time. Both are largely inexperienced at international level, but the likes of Alli, Shaw, Dier and the pubescent Marcus Rashford could be the key to success. Our emerging stars are some of the most exciting in years, and this generation cannot go to waste. So many England teams have promised so much (Euro 96, World Cup 2002 & 2006), but then failed to deliver silverware that would have intervened in our 50 years (and counting) of heartbreak.
You’d struggle to find a man that epitomises a ‘true Englishman’ more than Sam Allardyce – overweight, brash, formerly moustached, with a strong accent and every chance of finding them craving a midweek chippy. What he has therefore, is the national pride that Capello and Eriksson could never replicate and the charisma that Hodgson lacked in abundance. This man will sit in the dugout at Wembley, staring out onto the hallowed turf, secretly wondering just how much a pint is at the kiosks in the stands.
And that for me, ladies and gentlemen, is what it means to be England manager. The closer to Mike Bassett, the better.
By Dan Wiseman