James Lawton: Allardyce's indignation highlights an ugly hypocrisy at heart of the beautiful game

The myth of Mourinho the magician conjured from rich resources
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The Independent Online

Wait a minute, you thought, this can't be true but of course it was, because it was Premiership football and it was big Sam Allardyce, bold as brass and the champion of so many of those who believe that when Sven Goran Eriksson goes the next England coach must be a straight-shooting, no-nonsense Englishman. Someone like big, "tell-it-as-it-is" Sam.

Tell-it-as-it-is? No, that's not quite right. Sam doesn't tell it how it is. He tells it how it suits him. This scarcely makes him unique in the top flight of football, but he is supposed to be different. It is one reason why he commands more column inches than some men who won cupboards full of silverware.

Once again he was quoted all over the place yesterday in the wake of his Bolton side's 5-1 hammering at Stamford Bridge. Had Bolton hung on to their one goal lead, and several wing formations of pigs flown above the King's Road, we would no doubt have heard the old refrain that if his surname was Allardicci rather than Allardyce he would probably be installed at Tottenham or even Chelsea.

As it was, Allardyce was described as "furious" that Michael Essien dived to the ground, suggesting he had seriously injured himself, while carving into a Bolton player. "He was very, very clever," said the Bolton manager, "by going down as if he was injured himself. He knew it was a bad tackle. We all knew apart from the referee, unfortunately. He booked him and he knows he should have red-carded him."

Standard Premiership self-serving advocacy, you might say, but then throw your mind back to last season and a scene that still makes the stomach churn.

Bolton's El Hadji Diouf dived outrageously for a penalty, converted it and was cheered rapturously by the Reebok Stadium. How statesmanlike was Big Sam's reaction? Did he shake his head that the name of his own proud club been sucked into the epidemic of cheating? No, quite the opposite. He shook hands with the culprit and then, when chided later, declared that he would start chastising his players for cheating only when other Premiership managers reacted critically to similar incidents involving their own players.

So what do we have to draw from these two affairs? It is that as far one of England's most high-profile managers is concerned cheating is only wrong when it happens to you. As this reality sinks in, another image surely flashes in front of our eyes. It is of Wayne Rooney irritably pushing away an opponent last season, and then seeing him fall to the ground as if he had been hit by a large boulder. The victim on that occasion was the same one who took the big hit from Essien - Bolton defender Tal Ben Haim.

If Sam Allardyce performs any service in all of this it is to highlight the vicious circle of cheating in the Premiership. It is no longer a despicable aspect of the game, it is something at the heart of it. If a big man of great success, a phenomenal guardian of Bolton's unlikely status in the top half of the Premiership, cannot draw the line, who can? When Bob Paisley, who would go on to win three European Cups as manager of Liverpool, was the Anfield trainer, "Mr Elastoplast," he said that cheating would be the death of the game. He warned the Liverpool players, tough characters like Ron Yeats and Tommy Smith and Ian St John, that they would only feign injury once. After that they would have to drag themselves off the field before he would run on with his "magic sponge". It was perhaps not too surprising a stance from a man who had once driven a tank into liberated Rome.

Imagine the impact of such a statement today; consider its potentially cleansing effect. Then we could consider the moral force Allardyce's protests over Essien would have carried had he earlier said that the penalty Diouf swindled out of a referee last season was not a triumph but an insult to his club's traditions and, in particular, the titular head of the Wanderers, Nat Lofthouse.

Lofthouse was the Lion of Vienna. He was a forward of ferocious commitment who no doubt still grapples with the concept of diving, still wonders what it does to the soul of a footballer and those around him. Such a value system is old hat, now, but this is nothing to celebrate. It does say, after all, that football is in need of a new head - one to think its way through every situation with more than an instant, shrill blast of self-interest.

What Big Sam, who not so long ago argued that such fine, and principled, footballers as Eddie Gray and Trevor Brooking were not qualified to take charge of professionals because they hadn't passed coaching certificates, doesn't seem to understand is that each new piece of trickery on the field, each fresh episode of blatant fakery, damages not just the victim team but everybody in the game. Bob Paisley showed how an English club could master Europe with the depth and the wit of its football.

More important still, he swore that it could also be done with decency. What would we give for him now?

Jose Mourinho scarcely needs any professional validation from this quarter, or any other. His stupendous body of work over recent years and his salary cheque reminder from Roman Abramovich that he has indeed won himself the most desirable place in the football world, probably do the job well enough.

However, the latest paeans over his conjuring of three separate tactical formations in the 5-1 defeat of Bolton, do seem a shade excessive - as do that number of visits to the blackboard.

When a game is unfolding the most important thing is not how you lined up. Of infinitely more importance is how you pass the ball, how you run for each other and how professionally you approach such vital matters as set-pieces. Unless football has changed quite fundamentally, which it plainly hasn't, the disposition of your forces is a matter that the great coaches and managers generally have pretty much sorted out by Friday afternoon.

Mourinho, let's be realistic about this, has not invented the football wheel. From an optimum situation, the biggest budget, the deepest squad, highly motivated players, absolute control of playing affairs, he has intelligently capitalised on his work as the most successful coach in European football over recent years. It also helped on Saturday that the defeated team had a central defender, Radhi Jaidi, whose bizarre idea of countering Chelsea was to dash out of his line with his right hand held high, a version of the offside trap which cost at least two goals and reminded one old pro of one great misadventure of the past.

It came when a manager who rarely indulged in light conversation with his players was impressed by the defensive instincts of a new signing. He promptly put him in charge of the offside trap. Unfortunately, the new man stuttered.

Send the FA for Psycho therapy

Grooming an England manager, preferably one reared in these islands, is still high on the agenda of the Football Association, we are told. Better to save on that, you have to believe, and pay regular visits to the City of Manchester Stadium.

There, Stuart Pearce is showing how self-grooming is the trick. A magnificent pro who felt the impact of Brian Clough's leadership, a fine, obdurate full-back for England, "Psycho's" arrival as a Premiership manager was greeted with some scepticism. His contortions on the touchline, some said airily, would provide no more than brief comic relief. Well, the spell he has cast is enduring a little longer than that. Pearce is producing intense and coherent football. City, a Doomsday club after the demise of high-spending Kevin Keegan, are in fourth place and on course for Europe. How has Pearce done it? With honesty and force and a passion they do not teach at coaching school.

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