Commentary

"Big Sam" Allardyce pays price for being entrapped by his own greed

Former England captain Alan Shearer describes his country as the laughing stock of world football.

It is worse than that.

Whether you believe greed or stupidity drew in Sam Allardyce and his advisers to a simple newspaper sting that cost him his job as England manager after just one game, there is worse to come.

The Daily Telegraph, anything but a down-market tabloid, has made more sinister claims. It says that, following 10 months of undercover work by its "investigative team" it knows of eight current or former managers in the English Premier League who took bungs.

Allardyce is toast at the Football Association. His departure "by mutual consent" from his dream job is, so far, a tawdry tale of a man who bragged that he was "the perfect fit" for the seat.

"It's not a poisoned challenge for me," he told reporters last July. "I'm tough enough to take it. So bring it on lads."

He was going to drag England out of 50 years of underachieving on the world stage.

For an extra S$ 708,750 on top of his FA salary, he risked everything. Allardyce and his "advisers" who were pictured with the reporters during the negotiations sold the game down the Swanee.

Big Sam's bombast split the media, and split football insiders, down the middle. He is brash and boastful, of the school that British is best.

He was paid £3 million (S$5.32 million) a year to make good on that boast. More, actually, because there were generous win bonuses in his contract. The world of sponsors would queue at his feet if he truly could make the old country the major player it perceives itself to be.

After walking out on Sunderland to sign up for England, Allardyce did two things. He won, by the last squeak in the last minute against Slovakia.

Before that, and shortly after signing his England contract, he twice met with reporters purporting to represent a "Far East" consortium (alas, Singapore was mentioned as its base) that would pay him a fortune to bend FA rules over third-party ownership of players.

You will be familiar by now with what Allardyce told the Telegraph posers, and what they promised him.

He says, the morning after being caught out and forced out, that it was entrapment, which of course it was. Entrapment of a mightily unguarded and seemingly unprincipled man.

He is seen and heard on The Telegraph's secretly-recorded video at a London hotel and then a Cantonese restaurant in Manchester, negotiating hard for first-class air travel and hotels (possibly in Singapore). Four trips a year were mentioned, Allardyce's price was £100,000 a trip, and though he repeatedly said he would have to run it past "the powers that be" he said more than enough to incriminate himself.

It might not have been against the law of England. It certainly was against the decree that the Premier League (and the FA, and much later Fifa) set out years ago to denounce the practice of "third-party ownership".

That, in essence, was ownership of players' contracts by shadowy figures, often agents or nowadays known as super agents, and businessmen.

It has been called slavery. But while slaves never earned the types of salaries that the EPL pays to players, it is an evil practice because ultimately it makes players beholden to manipulative money spinners who have no regard for the game, and only a passing regard for the players.

Allardyce lamented yesterday that "entrapment has won on this occasion".

Well, yes. A gullible 61-year-old manager was entrapped by journalists who deceived him.

He signed nothing. But once his tongue was loosened - by the look of it - by booze and a "free meal", he had lambasted the FA's "stupidity" in spending itself into debt over the new Wembley Stadium, about Prince William the FA president, about his predecessor Roy Hodgson, the game and its rules, and about his fellow managers.

Entrapped by his own foolishness and greed.

For an extra S$ 708,750 on top of his FA salary, he risked everything. Allardyce and his "advisers" who were pictured with the reporters during the negotiations sold the game down the Swanee.

Yesterday morning, Big Sam braved it out in the street around his home in northern England. He admitted making a terrible error of judgment, for which he paid the consequence.

He said he went along with it to try to help someone he had known for 30 years (the struggling football agent Scott McGarvey who, along with his current gent Mark Curtis and his accountant Shane Maloney) sat in on the free meal sting.

Four men all taken in by the lure of easy money, on the side.

The parting shot of Allardyce yesterday was that he had signed a confidentiality agreement and couldn't say more.

He did say "I'm off abroad", and asked if this was his last job in football, he responded: "Wait and see."

After a period of reflection, he will no doubt be back doing what he has done for 25 years - managing mostly struggling clubs in the mire of relegation struggles where buying and selling players, and talking them into defying the odds, has been his forte.

He looked like a crestfallen man who now has to live with his own,as he put it, error of judgment.

The duty now of the FA is to stop moralising to the rest of the world, and to clean up its own house. The duty of the media is to find a way to name the eight allegedly corrupt managers implicated in its undercover operation.

More than 20 years have passed since Arsenal sacked George Graham for taking £425,000 from Norwegian agent Rune Hauge after two of his players John Jensen and Pal Lydersen joined the Gunners.

The FA then banned Graham for a year for accepting money as "an unsolicited gift".

"Unsolicited gift" was a euphemism for bung. Two decades on, the FA's own freshly installed employee has been caught apparently negotiating a similar sum.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2016, with the headline 'Big Sam pays price for being entrapped by his own greed'. Print Edition | Subscribe