At the start of his autobiography, Sam Allardyce tells a touching story about a dragonfly.
We’re on Spain’s Costa Blanca where he has a holiday home. “The sun burns down on the dusty yellow landscape towards the coast,” he writes. It’s a blissful scene and as Allardyce sits by the pool and gazes up at the hills of Moraira which have an “eternal fascination” for him, the idyll is disturbed by a buzzing sound.
At first he regards the dragonfly as a pest, but then he comes to look forward to its visits, every day usually about ten o’clock, and even christens it Hector.
Big Sam, the author of the book Big Sam, was almost certainly back at Big Sam’s Villa last night after he announced he was “off abroad to chill out and reflect” – but not, alas, to be happily reunited with Hector. Allardyce wrote these words when he was between jobs, post-West Ham United, and wondering if he’d ever get a chance at the Big One – and yet dragonflies only live for about six months. Still, that’s three times as long as the most recent England manager lasted.
Big Sam got the Big One and made an utter and complete balls-up of it. What does Sir Alex Ferguson think now, having it seems played a part in getting Allardyce the post he craved and writing in the foreword to the book: “For me, there is no way he can leave this great game as it needs his characters”? What do all his lobbyists think now, having talked up his credentials for so long and written so many articles in support of the appointment? Presumably when Allardyce spoke in the driveway of his Bolton home shortly before heading to his Spanish hideaway of “apologising to all concerned” he was including them.
You can imagine Sam sitting by his pool, can’t you? A funny mix of not appearing especially comfortable yet as if he’s perched on a throne. He looked like this in the dugout of his only international in charge, a 1-0 win in Slovakia. He hoped to look like this in the posh seats of Premier League grounds for a whole lot longer than 67 days, while checking on his charges. And he definitely looked like that in the photographs from the newspaper sting, wine glass in hand, negotiating a £400,000 fee to represent an overseas firm hoping to profit from football transfers.
For some time, the world has looked at English football as a league drowning in money and it has seen greed. Now it sees the man who was supposed to be different being just as rapacious as everyone else.
Big Sam was meant to save English football from itself. After the team had exited the last World Cup before the anti-malaria tablets had run their course, after being dumped out of the summer’s Euros by a country with a population of just 325,000, Allardyce we were told would make England competitive, restore pride, stop all the sneering and scoffing. All of this would come relatively easy to him – winning a tournament might remain tricky – because he was a solid, dependable, underrated manager and this was his dream job.
An Englishman in charge of England, salt-of-the-earth Sam, a modest grunter in his playing days and so surely appreciative of this fabulous opportunity, the man to construct a proper team and squash displays of ego – what could possibly go wrong?
Well, his own ego was the problem here. His own hubris, and avarice, led him to that London hotel and, before he’d even taken charge of his first England training session, the offer of £400,000 to become a “keynote speaker” at Far East gatherings of businessmen keen to break transfer rules and become third-party owners of players was too tempting to resist.
You get the feeling that Allardyce was quite tickled by the use of the word “keynote”. It possibly made him feel that at last he was moving into the exclusive strata of top football men and that he was entitled to exploit this. He points out during the fateful meeting that Sir Alex gets “four hundred, five hundred grand a pop” for speaking engagements, adding comically that Robbie Williams was paid “£1.6 million for a wedding. Just singing”.
It might have been his dream job but he wasn’t doing it for nothing – the annual salary was £3 million. It might have been his dream job but now he can only fantasise about the upcoming World Cup qualifier against, as he put it, “Slovenia or something” when he might have unleashed the talents of, as he called the Manchester United starlet, “Marcus Rushford”.
For his sake, you’ve got to hope that the hills above the villa have just got even more fascinating, and that a perky dragonfly might happen by.