New England boss Sam Allardyce determined to leave his mark
SLOVAKIA v ENGLAND
(Tonight, 11.55pm, Singtel TV Ch 109 - Eleven)
The laughter will have finally faded when Sam Allardyce takes charge of England for the first time. He will be very much his own man in a redemptive World Cup qualifier against Slovakia tonight (Singapore time) - a far cry from Roy Hodgson. Here's how Big Sam will do things his way.
1 Confidence is key
Allardyce is already under no illusions as to where England's greatest failure lies - it's all in the mind.
Lightening the mood with a quiz night was the first step in restoring confidence among his new charges.
Exuding his larger-than-life personality will also allow him to serve as a defensive shield to deflect any additional pressure away from the Three Lions.
Hodgson happily enabled a fragile mindset with, among other things, a paranoia about giving away his starting line-up.
"Big Sam", meanwhile, believes in full disclosure; his starting line-up for the Slovakia match became common knowledge several days in advance.
Rather than fearing what may afford the national side's opponents an upper hand, Allardyce prefers to challenge and cajole his players to again believe in themselves.
2 No more favouritism
An unhealthy policy of picking favourites based on their faded reputations was arguably Hodgson's biggest shortcoming at Euro 2016, typified by his persistence with an unfit Jack Wilshere during England's final two games in France.
Those few who were not guilty by association in being overlooked have found themselves untainted by that doomed summer in Allardyce's eyes; hence why the likes of Adam Lallana and new Manchester City defender John Stones have been given a new lease of life.
Similarly, Jordan Henderson's move out of his comfort zone into a holding midfield role against Slovakia ahead of Danny Drinkwater points to a willingness to make unconventional decisions, which Hodgson was guilty of being too meek to enforce.
3 Results over statistics
A death knell was signalled to the "tiki taka" movement two years ago, yet England were very slow to realise and adapt.
Where Hodgson was quick to produce statistics as evidence of the method to his madness, others pointed to the underwhelming scorelines they tended to yield.
Less time on the ball, and longer passes are likely to be hallmarks of Allardyce's tenure.
Only Tottenham utilised set-pieces more effectively than his Sunderland side last season.
Charging proven takers, rather than blind gambles like the one taken on Harry Kane this summer, with that responsibility will allow England to unlock a more direct approach.
It is unlikely to have the possession fanatics purring and will not vindicate Allardyce's claim that his style is better suited to Real Madrid or Inter Milan, but in an industry defined solely by results, it will offer something far more tangible.
4 Shifting perceptions
Allardyce could not have asked for a more experienced England side - with a combined 367 caps among them - at his disposal.
Yet the perceptions that he will remain archaic and inflexible have already been shattered during the formative stages.
An unsuccessful attempt to recruit Steven N'Zonzi, yet to become a full international with France, is unlikely to be the beginning and end of England's foreign policy, which previously allowed the likes of Mikel Arteta and Adnan Januzaj to slip through the net.
For all the derision about Allardyce, he has never been anything but forward-thinking and he is a firm advocate of parachuting in overseas players.
That particular talent pool is currently limited with most players already enlisted by their country at an early age. But the prospect of England fielding non-native players, in a move similar to their athletics and cricket set-ups, is likely to be on the cards.
For me it is about going out and the players showing not just how passionate they are, but how skilful they are at international level. We were the youngest squad at the Euros and i think the experience they have gained in that tournament — some of them for the first time — will give them a better determination and next time round they will be much better.
— Sam Allardyce on his team
'Allardyce can make Lions roar again'
Jay-Jay Okocha believes Sam Allardyce will create the type of environment that will enable England to thrive after years of underachievement.
Allardyce signed Okocha on a free transfer in 2002 when Bolton manager and it proved to be one of his most successful moves in the transfer market with the playmaker bringing flair and excitement to the Reebok Stadium.
England underperformed at a major tournament yet again when they were dumped out of Euro 2016 by Iceland - but Okocha believes they now have the right man holding the coaching reins.
"Sam is a great manager because of his man-management skills. He knows how to get the best out of the players," the Nigerian said.
"One of his strengths is his attention to detail, which is second to none.
"He lets you know what he wants and gives you lots of detail of who you're playing against.
"Sam was very good at making it enjoyable and if he could do that with lots of foreign players at Bolton, it will be a lot easier to do it with people of the same mentality.
"I have no doubt that the ambience in the dressing room will be fantastic and we shouldn't forget that he's well equipped with experience, so he will know how to handle issues.
"He's not shy at experimenting with things, but he's also good at knowing when to apply those things to get the best out of the team.
"He deserves to be England manager and I believe he will do a great job."
England's first match under Roy Hodgson's successor is a World Cup qualifier against Slovakia tonight and while Allardyce has a reputation for favouring long-ball tactics, Okocha insists he will be more flexible than that.
"What style England play will depend on who they are playing against," Okocha said.
"I don't think he will stick to one particular way of playing, he will prepare his team based on who the opposition are.
"It will be exciting to see what he comes up with." - PA Sport.