Gareth Southgate was hurled into the role of interim England manager on Tuesday night as the country’s qualification campaign for the 2018 World Cup was thrown into chaos by the dismissal of Sam Allardyce after just 67 days.
Southgate, who declared only 23 days ago that managing England “wasn’t something I think I’ve got the experience for,” will be in charge for the imminent qualifiers against Malta and Slovenia, as well as the Scotland qualifier and friendly against Spain in mid-November. That gives the Football Association until the home tie against Slovenia on March 26 to find 61-year-old Allardyce’s successor.
Allardyce – whose departure makes him England’s shortest-serving manager - left the position by mutual consent after being secretly filmed by Daily Telegraph journalists discussing how to ‘get around’ the organisation’s rules prohibiting the third-party ownership of players. The FA hierarchy were furious at the damage caused to the organisation’s reputation. Allardyce’s attempts to defend himself – declaring in an emergency Wembley meeting on Tuesday morning that he had not engaged in corrupt conduct and would apologise for mocking his predecessor Roy Hodgson – were not enough to satisfy an organisation which wants to project a modern, transparent image.
A statement by the governing body read: “This is not a decision that was taken lightly but the FA’s priority is to protect the wider interests of the game and maintain the highest standards of conduct in football. The manager of the England men’s senior team is a position which must demonstrate strong leadership and show respect for the integrity of the game at all times.”
The FA had earmarked Southgate as a possible interim manager this summer after England’s catastrophic early departure from Euro 2016. But he surprised the governing body by immediately discounting himself.
He reflected earlier this month: “I'm pretty clear on what I'm comfortable with but also I know to take that role wasn't something I think I’ve got the experience for. I think it's one of the ultimate jobs and you want every skill set possible when you go into it. Sam obviously has years and years of experience.”
But the FA have nowhere else to turn as they return to what had been a tortuous selection process with very few viable candidates, once Arsene Wenger had made it clear early in the search for Hodgson’s replacement that he wasn’t interested. USA head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and Steve Bruce, now out of work, were both approached last time.
Though Allardyce will have some supporters who feel he has strictly speaking done no wrong, many will applaud the FA for taking firm and rapid action after details came to light of two meetings between Allardyce, his representatives Mark Curtis and Scott McGarvey and undercover journalists purporting to be from a Far East company seeking involvement in football transfers.
There was widespread repugnance at the idea of the manager who was earning £3m a year plus bonuses touting himself for a further £400,000 role. But his comments also effectively torched his relationship with many of the key individuals he must work with as England manager. He criticised FA president the Duke of Cambridge, before ridiculing Prince Harry, his predecessor Roy Hodgson and Hodgson’s former England assistant Gary Neville. He also boasted that clubs could not prevent him calling up their players.
With Sunderland struggling at the foot of the Premier League table, with one point from six games under David Moyes, there will be suitors who do not consider Allardyce unemployable. But he is thought to have found the rigours of the Premier League tiring before taking his “dream job” with England, and may now feel that it is the end for him. Alternatively, he has always expressed an interest in working on the continent.
Allardyce said in a statement on Tuesday night: “It was a great honour for me to be appointed back in July and I am deeply disappointed at this outcome. Although it was made clear during the recorded conversations that any proposed arrangements would need the FA’s full approval, I recognise I made some comments which have caused embarrassment.”
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