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Sam Allardyce was foolish but he shouldn’t have been sacked

The England mess leaves more questions than answers

Sam Allardyce was foolish but he shouldn’t have been sacked
28 September 2016

Right, let's start with the obvious.

He was greedy, naive and undoubtedly stupid.

But, in the cold light of day of a man losing his dream job after just 67 days, can we conclusively say that Sam Allardyce deserved to be sacked for what he said during a Daily Telegraph 'sting' operation? I'm not convinced that we can.

As the FA chairman Greg Clarke stated yesterday, "With things like this you have to take a deep breath and have all the facts and hear everything from everyone. Then you can make a judgement about what to do and that's what we will do. Natural justice requires us to get the bottom of these issues before we make any decision."

Can it really be said that this has been the case after Allardyce was unceremoniously given the boot within 48 hours of the story breaking?

Firstly, what did Allardyce really do that was worthy of being sacked? Loose talk about Gary Neville and Roy Hodgson, while potentially hurtful to those characters, was no more cutting than anyone has said in the aftermath of England's disastrous Euro 2016 campaign.

Likewise, criticism of the FA's Wembley project was, frankly, justified and while anyone's employers would take a dim view if you criticised them, this was not done in public.

Even his comments and 'advice' on circumnavigating the rules on the third party ownership of players was merely stating a fact: that the rules could be got round. He was not telling them to do it, he was not doing it himself - he was merely pointing out that it was possible.

He also repeatedly said that bungs and payments to secure business were not acceptable, telling them in no uncertain terms, "I haven’t heard that. I haven’t heard that, you stupid man. What are you talking about? You idiot. You can have that conversation when I’m not here... You can’t do it now. You can’t do it now. Don’t ever go there.” 

Arguably, the most galling aspect of the conversation was the fact that Allardyce was even considering doing extra work outside of what should have been his sole focus: managing England - and receiving a basic £3m a year for the privilege. Yet he repeatedly said he would have to run any job past his employers - presumably, had they said no, he would not have taken anything further. But when the likes of Roy Hodgson appeared as pundits in TV studios, or did after-dinner speaking while employed by England, did anyone criticise them? One presumes that they were not doing that work for free.

This morning, Allardyce spoke to the media outside his Bolton home, and indicated that he had only attended the meeting as a favour for his agent Scott McGarvey, who he believed could potentially have had a £260,000 a year job with the 'company' they were meeting with.

He told them, "On reflection it was a silly thing to do. I was trying to help someone out I knew for 30 years and unfortunately it was an error in judgement on my behalf. Entrapment has won on this occasion."

Entrapment is an appropriate word: none of the 'evidence' would count in a court of law. And there was no due process within the FA - a suspension, an investigation, a hearing and the like - Allardyce was simply moved on as quickly as possible.

Of course, there is clearly a desire - and a need - for the FA to be whiter-than-white - and to be seen to be whiter-than-white - but can this really be entirely Allardyce's fault?

Clearly a culture already existed where it was not unusual for England manager's to enjoy extra-curricular work. Perhaps Allardyce was simply trying to do a favour for a friend and had no intention of going through with anything. Although perhaps there are more Telegraph revelations to come and we don't yet know the full story.

But questions remain. Why do we expect the England manager to be a paragon of virtue? To not even make one mistake before being fired? Do other countries hold themselves to these incredibly high standards? Argentina had Diego Maradona as their national coach after all, something that would be simply impossible for the FA to countenance. This is sport: the winners are very rarely the nice guys. Do we want trophies, or do we want national ambassadors? If it's the latter, then just appoint David Attenborough and let's be done with it.

The obsession with their man being whiter-than-white led us to appoint Roy Hodgson, and miss out, over the years, on the likes of Brian Clough, the retaining of the successful Terry Venables and even Harry Redknapp when he was ideally poised to at least have a go at rousing the national team from their cycle of failure.

Former FA chairman Greg Dyke summed up their outlook when he commented on the Allardyce situation by saying, “We didn’t have that sort of problem with Roy Hodgson. I think he was whiter than white and straight as a die.”

And why is our national media obsessed with bringing down England managers, players and the like as often as possible? Allardyce may well have embarrassed himself later down the line, but without this 'sting' operation, then obviously nothing would have been said, and no controversy generated.

The FA's decision to remove Allardyce is understandable. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it's fair, or right. Or that more questions don't need answering before we move on from the mess that we currently find ourselves in.