LONDON: Sam Allardyce, on being appointed as England manager a decade after he was first interviewed for the job, said he wanted the players to have some “fun” playing again for their country after the serious business of losing to Iceland at Euro 2016.
Allardyce, who has never won a major trophy but is a devotee of modern sports science systems, begins his new era with Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Slovakia in Bratislava. He has maintained links with Roy Hodgson’s ‘old guard’ by retaining most of the players who went to France and reinstalling Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney as captain.
The one interesting newcomer is the West Ham winger Michail Antonio who, like Jamie Vardy, built his game and career outside the top flight before making the breakthrough last season. Antonio, who scored for Hammers against Manchester City last Sunday, refused to believe he had been called up when told by his team-mates.
“I thought it was just great banter,” said the 26-year-old. “I’ve only ever cried once before in my adult life. I’m probably what you’d call a ‘raw’ footballer. I was never one to play neat and tidy football. I just like to run at people or jump above them at the far post.”
Rooney, with 53 goals in 115 internationals, has said that he will end his national team career when England’s World Cup campaign comes to an end, hopefully in Russia.
He said: “I started playing professional football when I saw 16 and international at 17. Fifteen years is a lot. Russia will be my last opportunity to do anything with England so I’m going to try to enjoy these two years and hopefully end my time on a high.”
Rooney has yet to discuss with Allardyce whether he will remain in the attacking midfield role to which he was switched by Hodgson or up in attack. That is one of the unknowns about Allardyce’s plan.
However, it was educative from Allardyce’s opening training sessions that his coaching staff, led by Sammy Lee, put the accent on high tempo and close-work possession play in boxes and triangles.
England have not lost a qualifying match since 2009, going unbeaten to reach Euro 2012, the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016. However, they have not won a tournament knockout game since the 2006 World Cup.