Big Sam’s driv­ing with the hand­brake on

By in Niall Quinn's Route One

It has been a short sum­mer. It seems like just yes­ter­day that four teams from these islands (sorry Scot­land) were head­ing off to France for the Euros. Every­body had high hopes.

And it seems like just the day before yes­ter­day when Brexit hit and the rest of Europe woke up to the news that the UK had taken its ball and gone home.

And now the Premi­er­ship is in full swing, the trans­fer dead­line day has passed, the World Cup qual­i­fi­ers have star­ted up. It’s busi­ness as usual and noth­ing much has changed apart from the fact that Sam Allardyce now has the Eng­land job.

I was relieved for Sam when Adam Lal­lana poked the win­ner through the legs of the unfor­tu­nate Slov­akian keeper Matus Koza­cik yes­ter­day with the last kick of the game. There were only ten Slov­aki­ans left on the field and in the press box the hatchets were already being sharpened.

Sam deserves bet­ter. Whatever was wrong with Eng­lish foot­ball dur­ing the Euros is still going to be wrong this week, next week and in a few years’ time. Sam’s job is to do what he is good at, get­ting res­ults with the resources he has. Whether those res­ults look pretty or feel ugly doesn’t mat­ter. Improv­ing the resources that Sam has is some­body else’s job.

In an ideal world Sam Allardyce’s entire squad would be made up mostly from the top four premi­er­ship clubs. He’d have a few dozen play­ers just under­neath that level knock­ing loudly on the door, one or two ply­ing their trade at top Span­ish or Ger­man clubs too.

Why that isn’t the case is a big­ger prob­lem than one man­ager can deal with. Sam’s first game as man­ager came in the week of trans­fer dead­line day. Nearly all the big stor­ies emer­ging out of the annual mad­ness con­cerned for­eign play­ers com­ing to the Premi­er­ship. From Sam’s point of view Joe Hart went to Torino and Jack Wilshere decided he’d enjoy Bournemouth a little bit more than he would enjoy Rome.

When the dust settled sev­enty for­eign play­ers had just arrived in Premier League. About half that num­ber had left but most of the lads pack­ing their bags were lads who didn’t quite make it. Hardly any ripples were made by play­ers from the UK or Ire­land.

Times have changed at the top. Sadly beneath the sur­face our foot­ball cul­ture hasn’t moved on. We are too insu­lar.

Back when the Premier League star­ted in 1992/93 there were thirty six for­eign play­ers in the league and about eleven of those were starters. Now the league is global. Play­ers from 105 dif­fer­ent nations have played Premi­er­ship foot­ball.

The situ­ation facing the Eng­land side (and the rest of us on these islands) isn’t going to change from the top down­wards. The big clubs and the people who run them don’t feel respons­ible for the Eng­lish team. Their job is to get the best tal­ent avail­able and to get it now.

Every now and then (bad res­ult to Ice­land etc) fans moan about the lack of Eng­lish play­ers in the league but it’s like tour­ism to places of nat­ural beauty. We all feel that we have the right to be there but that maybe they should ban all other tour­ists in case the place gets spoiled. Most fans think there are too many for­eign play­ers here but at ten o clock in the even­ing on trans­fer dead­line day when your team needs a striker you don’t care if he comes from Tyneside or Tim­buktu. Just sign him.

As an out­sider look­ing in it seems to me that the prob­lem is so ingrained in foot­ball cul­ture that it will take years to solve. As a kid at Arsenal I came through to the first team with about seven other lads I had played with in the youth side. We all went on to have decent careers. Fer­gie did some­thing sim­ilar at United with the Class of 92. It will be a long time before any­thing like that hap­pens again. It won’t hap­pen just by wish­ing for it to hap­pen.

Arsenal are an inter­est­ing example. My friend, Google, tells me that in 1930 Arsenal bought a Dutch player called Gerry Keizer. The FA said tut tut and brought in a crude anti-for­eigner policy. That policy las­ted until 1978.

In 1989 Arsenal became the last team to win the league title with no for­eign play­ers in their squad. In 2005 Arsenal became the first club to put out a team made up entirely of for­eign play­ers.

That’s his­tory through just one top club. Top clubs will always want the top tal­ent. We have known that since 1930, at least, but we still haven’t adap­ted prop­erly.

When for­eign play­ers began com­ing into the league they were a nov­elty and there were no for­eign man­agers or for­eign own­ers. I was at Manchester City by the time I played with a for­eign player. After exper­i­ment­ing with a couple of Dutch and Ger­man play­ers the club signed Georgi Kink­ladze.

City didn’t know what to do with Georgi. He had immense tal­ent and fans loved him. But he was home­sick and his mother and sis­ter had to move to Manchester. He didn’t do track­ing back so when he’d make a run out wide I would be told to go and pick up the oppos­ing full back. I vividly remem­ber one day against Leeds and every time Georgi lost the ball my job was to chase after their gal­lop­ing full back Gary Kelly. City got releg­ated twice in three years. Joe Royle who was in charge for the second releg­a­tion said: “To the sup­port­ers he was the only pos­it­ive in all that time. To me he was a big neg­at­ive.”

Eng­lish foot­ball never really bridged that cul­tural gap. Now the top clubs are for­eign owned and have for­eign man­agers who bring in their own for­eign coach­ing staff and pack their academies with young for­eign play­ers. Who can blame them?

The Eng­lish game is a long way behind the big European powers in terms of the num­bers of A and B qual­i­fied coaches we pro­duce. So not enough kids at pre-academy level are get­ting the best coach­ing and not enough young coaches have a path­way to the top of the game.

The real­ity is harsh. If a club invests money in bring­ing a young payer and his fam­ily from abroad they have an interest in that kid suc­ceed­ing. When it comes to cut­ting the num­bers it’s easier to get rid of a local kid unless he is truly excep­tional.

Sadly our homegrown play­ers aren’t seen as a trust­worthy com­mod­ity in for­eign leagues. Joe Hart trav­elled against heavy traffic last week. While Eng­lish clubs scout the world for play­ers you don’t find scouts from Juventus or Bay­ern or Barca turn­ing up at muddy pitches watch­ing kids in the UK or Ire­land. There aren’t a dozen or so play­ers from these islands get­ting Cham­pi­ons League exper­i­ence with for­eign clubs.

So we have the greatest, most excit­ing and diverse league in the world but there is a price. The solu­tion lies in the broader cul­ture.

There is no quick fix. No point in say­ing we hope to have 45% domestic play­ers by the year 2020 or whenever or hop­ing that Brexit might be a help in some way. The game needs to open up, accept that there is a ten year job to be done below the sur­face and start look­ing to Europe instead of hop­ing to shut it out. The Premier League is a jug­ger­naut. It is not going to be stopped by a lol­li­pop lady.

In the mean­while blam­ing Sam Allardyce for any­thing that goes wrong, if it does go wrong, is exactly the sort of short term, knee-jerk think­ing that got the game to this point.

Sam got the job done yes­ter­day. Other people have an even big­ger job to do.

TRIPS WITH TIPP.

I was rasied as a Dub with Tip­per­ary blood in my veins. I’m the son of Billy Quinn, a hurler from Rahealty. We lost him in Janu­ary of this year and in Croke Park yes­ter­day he was hardly out of my thoughts.

It was an emo­tional day but a good one. Myself and Dad saw many bad days so this was one to be enjoyed. I can safely say that I was at every Tip­per­ary cham­pi­on­ship through the sev­en­ties and eighties. It’s not a great boast. Most years it was one game and the year was done.

Tipp won an All Ire­land in 1971 and it was 1987 before Pat Stake­lum lif­ted the Mun­ster trophy and offi­cially announced that the fam­ine was over. That was a great day but the after­noon that sticks in my mind is the Mun­ster final of 1984 in Semple Sta­dium.

I think I’m right in say­ing that Tipp had only one player on the field that day who had even played in a Mun­ster final before. Yet with five minutes left they were four points ahead of Cork.

My Dad always liked to make an early exit from big matches. We always had a train to catch, or traffic to beat or a quick drink to be had. This was his­tory though and there was going to be no quick exit.

Tipp fans won’t need to be reminded of what happened next. A John Fenton free. Three points. Then poor John Sheedy in the Tipp goal made a great save and Tony O’Sullivan put the rebound away. Level. Tipp had a goal chance. Pos­ses­sion got turned over though. John Sheedy bat­ted down an attempt at a point and Seanie O’Leary nipped in and whipped the ball into the net. I think Cork ended up win­ning by four. It was the cruelest defeat of all those bad years of los­ing.

The place was shell­shocked, nobody hurt more than Billy Quinn. I remem­ber him just sit­ting there for about twenty minutes not able to speak. There was noth­ing I could say to him so we sat there in silence. Would the bad times ever end.

Yes­ter­day early in the second half I thought to myself, Billy you’d be lov­ing this. Then Kilkenny got a goal and I made my excuses to him and said maybe the ghosts of 1984 were get­ting tangled up in what was hap­pen­ing. I kept Dad out of my mind till the final whistle blew.

I never see a hurl­ing game without think­ing how lucky we are to have this game at the centre of our cul­ture. Going into Croke Park I met an Amer­ican called Matt Young. It turned out that he had been a major league base­ball pitcher for eleven sea­sons with teams like the LA Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox. He was see­ing his first hurl­ing game.

He was enthralled. He had never seen any­thing quite like what he wit­nessed in Croke Park. I love the idea of him going back to Cali­for­nia and telling people about the exper­i­ence he had. This incred­ible game and the play­ers on the field cre­at­ing all that intens­ity to bring some­thing home to the place they come form, the place that their fans all come from. It is spe­cial.

How can a man go home to Amer­ica and describe the mag­ni­fi­cence of Seamus Cal­lanan yes­ter­day. Even watch­ing hurl­ing for the first time it was clear that some­thing spe­cial was hap­pen­ing.

If you saw Maradona or Cruyff or Messi in their hey­day everything they did looked easy. Yes­ter­day everything looked easy for Seamus Cal­la­han. Tipp had a lot of her­oes but you could see the dog in them fight­ing for everything. Noth­ing Cal­la­han did was easy but he made it look that way.

I was lucky grow­ing up as a foot­baller. I look at foot­ballers these days and they are post­ing up Ins­tagram snaps of them­selves out with rap­pers and MMA fight­ers. My bud­dies included a couple of real her­oes of mine, Nicky Eng­lish and Joe Hayes of Tipp. If you know Joe you don’t need to know any rap­pers or MMA fight­ers. He has it all.

The lads worked as hard at their game as I ever did at foot­ball in Eng­land and I never for­got that at the end of the week I was well paid for doing what I loved but Nicky and Joe had jobs and mort­gages and all the wor­ries of the real world to carry along with their hurl­ing careers. I’ll always be grate­ful to them for what they gave me in per­spect­ive and friend­ship. I know too well what yes­ter­day meant for them.

I’m work­ing in Lon­don tonight so I won’t be mak­ing the trip to Tipp I didn’t make it six years’ ago either. Instead we stopped at Url­ing­ford right on the Kilkenny-Tipp bor­der and set up camp. It was one of the great nights. Joe was there. The whole gang of pals from Tipp. They sowed it into the Kilkenny people. They knew they’d caused enough pain down the years, that they couldn’t com­plain. They knew they’d be back too.

The same will apply tonight. Kilkenny were great cham­pi­ons and they lost yes­ter­day like great cham­pi­ons. They’ll just have to put up with the noisy neigh­bours for a while. I’ll be think­ing of Url­ing­ford and of Billy Quinn all even­ing. Good times.