It turns out there is always a new low.
When England went out of Euro 2016 in the summer, falling to Iceland in the round of 16, it was widely considered its most humiliating result in a tournament since the loss to the USA in the 1950 World Cup. In this year of chaos and gloom, that seemed bad enough. But now Sam Allardyce has been forced to resign as manager after just 67 days in charge, having been the subject of a newspaper sting. This may not be the lowest moment in England’s football history, but it is certainly the grubbiest.
The general consensus was that Allardyce was the natural–“outstanding” was the FA’s referred euphemism–choice to be England manager because he was the only choice. Now the desperate search begins for a replacement, with Sunday slated for the announcement of the squad to face Malta and Slovenia next month.
Former Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate, the national Under-21 coach, has agreed to take over for the four matches that remain this year. He had distanced himself from the job after Roy Hodgson’s resignation in the summer, and there seems little doubt that he has taken up the reins only with reluctance, a decent man doing the decent thing.
That Allardyce’s job was in the balance came when the first editions of the Daily Telegraph landed Monday night. It had set up a sting operation in which he told reporters posing as east Asian businessmen how to get around rules outlawing third-party ownership of players. Allardyce also discussed an offer that suggested paying him £400,000 to travel four times a year to Singapore and Hong Kong to speak to investors in a firm that wanted to buy the rights to footballers. His FA salary was worth £3 million a year plus bonuses.
It says much about Allardyce’s reputation that he was considered worthy of a sting. He has, in the past, been accused of impropriety concerning transfer dealings and coercing players to sign with certain favored agents, most notably by the BBC’s Panorama program. He has vehemently denied the claims and nothing has ever been proven, although his threats to sue the BBC never resulted in court action.
To an extent, Allardyce was unfortunate. All that has been revealed so far are extracts from a four-hour meeting in a restaurant. His criticism of Roy Hodgson, Gary Neville and England’s players in general were undiplomatic but hardly shocking. His willingness to discuss taking on a speaking and consultancy role for £400,000 was understandable–and he did insist he would have to run it by the FA. Even his discussion of ways of circumventing rules against third-party ownership, depending in the full context, seemed like explanation rather than encouragement. In what has been revealed so far, Allardyce was foolish rather than criminal.
But perhaps that doesn’t matter. The “England DNA” scheme launched by the FA late in 2014 to try to raise standards in English football is clear on the need for integrity: “We strive for the highest standards on and off the pitch. Nothing else is acceptable.” Allardyce’s actions clearly compromise that, and, if the England manager corrupts that message, even if it is through clumsiness or naivety rather than criminal intent, it’s hard to see how his position remains tenable.
Once the reports were published in the Telegraph, Allardyce admitted to friends that his position was in jeopardy. He traveled to London and met with chairman Greg Clarke and chief executive Martin Glenn Tuesday afternoon before the announcement at around 7 p.m. local time that he had left the job by “mutual consent.”
Spare a thought for poor Sunderland, which had seemed to be progressing under his leadership only to lose its manager less than a month before the start of the season. Even though David Moyes was appointed within four days the result was a string of panicky signings and major disruption. Sunderland has taken a single point from the first six league games of the season and lies bottom of the table. There are more casualties in this farce than merely England’s dignity. The way things are going, it may be that a vacancy swiftly opens up for Allardyce at the Stadium of Light but, given the club’s terse statement announcing his departure, the suspicion must be that those bridges will not easily be unburned.
Allardyce loses what he had described as his “dream job” and becomes the permanent England manager with the shortest reign: just one game, a tepid 1-0 win away to Slovakia. At 61, it’s hard to see how he can ever escape the taint of venality this leaves. But English football is hurt by this too, seeming increasingly a world in which the swirl of money has obscured any sense of probity or decency.