As the United States continues its search for a permanent replacement for recently resigned men’s soccer national team coach Bruce Arena, a dark horse candidate has thrown his hat into the ring: former England manager Sam Allardyce.
Allardyce, a longtime veteran of the Premier League, has been a lifer as a manager in England, having coached somewhere in England for the past 26 years. He was suggested as a possibility to replace Arena as an outside-the-box candidate, and comments from his camp today suggest that the interest from his side is very real.
Allardyce, who turns 63 on Oct. 19, is available right now and would be able to take charge of the United States in the friendly in Portugal if the U.S. Soccer Federation wanted him to. He could also wait to take charge after the World Cup if the USSF wants to wait.
Here are five things you need to know about Allardyce.
1. He’s Managed Six Premier League Clubs
Over the past decade in England, it’s almost become a standard operating procedure in England for a struggling Premier League side to call Allardyce to get them out of a jam. Since guiding Bolton Wanderers into the Premier League, Allardyce has managed Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers, West Ham United, Sunderland and Crystal Palace. In each situation, he managed to keep his team in the Premier League through the season. At his last two stops, Sunderland and Crystal Palace, he took over a situation that appeared hopeless and kept his side in the Premier League, mainly through his preparation.
Only once has Allardyce managed a club outside of the Premier League since first guiding Bolton into England’s top league in 2001. That came in 2011, when he agreed to take over West Ham United, which had just completed a last-place season in the Premier League that earned it relegation to the Championship. Under Allardyce, the Hammers immediately bounced right back to the top flight, where they have remained ever since.
In the United States, he sees a similar situation following the side’s failure to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986. According to ESPN, he views this opportunity as a chance to establish a long-term strategy for the U.S., a chance he would not have had with Scotland, whom he recently rejected.
2. He’s a Student of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Across the pond, American football is often shunned or at best tolerated by the British, especially among those in the soccer (football) community. Allardyce, however, quickly learned to embrace the American game because he saw what it could do for his soccer career.
During a summer spell when Allardyce played for the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the old North American Soccer League, the Rowdies shared their facilities with the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which gave Allardyce the unique opportunity to study the Bucs and learn from their successes. According to his autobiography, Big Sam, the Americans might have been well behind the British in terms of soccer ability, but their committment to diets and training was second to none.
“They were light years ahead of us,” Allardyce recalled. “That summer on the other side of the Atlantic was one of the most important moves of my life.”
When he made the move back to England, Allardyce took what he had learned from the Bucs and put it into practice. His career lasted another nine years as a player, the last two of which were spent as player-manager of first Limerick and then Preston North End. He used the same knowledge to craft his managerial style over his quarter-century running English soccer squads, so he would be well-versed in that aspect of preparation should he come to the U.S.
3. He’s a Fan of Life in the United States
Allardyce might have spent the majority of his professional career in England, including the entirety of his career as a manager, but that doesn’t mean he’s completely wedded to life in the UK. He and his wife Lynne have spent many holidays in Florida ever since his spell in Tampa Bay, and he spoke of his interest in possibly running a Major League Soccer franchise in his autobiography, suggesting that his wife might like the idea of living in the United States full-time.
It certainly didn’t hurt that Allardyce was a fan favorite during his time in Tampa and loved the American fans just as much as they loved him. His interest in running an MLS side might have waned in the past two years, as he said after his time at Crystal Palace that he was not interested in running another club side. However, at the same time, he suggested that he’d be open to the right international job, suggesting the news that came out about his desire to try running the U.S. national team.
4. He Managed England for One Match Before a Scandal Cost Him the Job
Allardyce had long called England’s national team his dream job, and in 2016, he got the chance to live out his dream when he was named the coach of the Three Lions for the World Cup qualifiers. His first match got England off to a good start, as his side gutted out a road win at group runner-up Slovakia. However, it would be the only match Allardyce would ever get to coach for England.
In September of 2016, the Telegraph revealed that Allardyce had been caught explaining how to get around English soccer transfer rules to what he thought were a group of businessmen from the Far East. In actuality, these businessmen were undercover reporters working on a story exposing the corruption in English soccer. As the nominal head of English soccer as the coach of the Three Lions, Allardyce’s comments came as a national embarrassment, and the Football Association of England responded by firing Allardyce immediately.
In the United States, no such system exists with a transfer window, so Allardyce wouldn’t have to worry about repeating his mistake. He has said that helping Crystal Palace avoid the drop zone helped him put the England nightmare behind him, but he admits he still thinks about what happened and has only recently been able to watch England matches again.
Despite the incident, it hasn’t hurt his domestic reputation in England. On Tuesday, when Leicester City fired Craig Shakespeare as its manager, Allardyce became the instant favorite to take the position, despite claiming that he would not manage another club team at his age.
5. He’s Had His Nickname Since the Age of 14
To most soccer fans familiar with the English league’s, Allardyce is best known as “Big Sam”. A look back into the history books reveals that Big Sam first got his name for a simple reason: he was the tallest player on his teams as a youth.
At 14 years old, Allardyce was already 6-foot-2, easily making him the biggest player that his squad had. According to his teammates, he was also the youngest player that his side had. Even then, his coach saw something in him and gave him a chance.
A year later, Allardyce was a professional, competing for Bolton as a 15-year-old. In a sign of things to come, he would help Bolton win promotion in 1978. He would eventually play for seven English clubs along with Limerick and Tampa Bay during his pro career, which spanned 21 seasons and consisted of 479 matches.