It is said that when Julius Caesar was asked why he divorced his wife Pompeia, it was because she was suspected of some wrong doing and he could not associate with her anymore. And so the phrase 'Caesar's wife must be above suspicion' entered the public domain. It is worth noting here that it is not recorded whether Caesar's wife actually did anything wrong, she was merely suspected of it, and that itself is sufficient. And so we come to Big Sam Allardyce, England football manager for all of 67 days, for the England football manager, like Caesar's wife, must be above suspicion.
Back in the day when I used to claim back my expenses from my employer, we didn't have too formal a policy but my manager would ask of any claim, 'would this embarrass you if it were printed on the front page of the FT?' The odds of my expenses getting on the front page of the FT were pretty low, but as the newly appointed England manager, Sam Allardyce surely must have known that the papers would be digging around for the merest hint of scandal: what was he thinking?
Among the many things that come to mind, we might marvel at how Allardyce had such a blind spot in this respect, and marvel further that a man who had just landed a job paying £3 million a year should so soon be grubbing around for a few more thousand on the side when all of his energy should have been focused on the national team.
Wrong on so many levels, why this is so inappropriate when we consider the behaviours of the national manager is that the leader defines the code of ethics of the group he leads, so the broadcast message to the squad becomes that self interest trumps the needs of the team. And if there is one thing that is absolutely clear in top flight football (and anything else) it is that a team that doesn't demonstrate teamship will never be winners.
Former US General and Secretary of State Colin Powell says in respect of military leadership:
I focus on taking care of the troops, on communicating selfless passion and intensity about the purpose of the organization, and on basic honor and honesty. Troops— followers— will only go up the hill for leaders who have character, integrity, and moral and physical courage.
Consider the key words in that sentence: selfless passion, intensity of purpose, honor, honesty, character, integrity and moral courage. Oh Sam.
Internet entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox similarly suggests:
If you are not bold why should you expect anyone else to be bold for you?
You can substitute for 'bold' any word you like in there: integrity, passionate, hard working... the truth of the sentence is in my view central to leadership. In fact you could do worse than chant that each morning on the way to your office or kitchen or where-ever.
Sam's mistake, at one level, borders on the unbelievable, yet even in the singular world of England managers, similar blind spots seem almost endemic. Glenn Hoddle was sacked from the job back in 1999 for his comments about disabled people leading the FA executive director David Davies to say
The position had become increasingly untenable for both the FA and Glenn Hoddle, who accepts he made a serious error of judgement and of course he has apologised.
But if David Davies thought that was bad, life didn't get much better. At the 2003 FA Christmas staff party, Davies' PA Faria Alam sat between FA Chief Executive Mark Palios and England Manager Sven-Goran Eriksson. She had an affair with the former shortly followed by an affair with the latter. The Guardian at the time quoted an FA Official:
The end result is the worst crisis the FA has ever faced, and Sven could easily lose his job over what's happened. Some people definitely want to get him and see this sex scandal as a way to change the England manager
Against a backdrop of failed leadership, is it any wonder England have consistently performed so badly? But while our newspapers (and I guess public) love a gossip, more seriously, these are people (supposedly) at the top of their game, paid millions of pounds and are charged with executing on leadership at the national level. It is a sobering thought and should challenge all of us to consider our own blind-spots.
If England ever want to win a major tournament ever again, I think there is only one candidate for the job: Colin Powell.