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09 Jul 2018

England: It all started with a pint of wine

REUTERS/Lee Smith

"I’m not putting myself in a position that the papers can investigate, cause me a problem, or the FA could," Sam Allardyce said as he tenderly nursed his pint of wine, unbeknownst that he was, indeed, putting himself in a position the papers - namely the Telegraph - could investigate.

Just as I perpetually interrogated my own father growing up regarding Italia 90 and why he so fondly recalled the tournament, children everywhere will want to know how exactly football came home - or within two victories of doing so. Just what was the turning point? Where can success be traced back to? Currently, there's a generation of dads out there already preparing their poignant recital of the Three Lions' run to the semi-finals.

Like a hung-over debrief over a fry-up, following a regretfully drunken night out no-one cares to relive, "it all started with a pint of wine," they'd begin.

REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

And rightly so. There - in that moment nearly two years ago - an undercover journalist bought the former England boss a pint of wine in a Chinese restaurant as he so nonchalantly began divulging his illegitimate method of accruing as much money as possible from a job he was yet to begin. Blissfully unaware of the consequences, Allardyce was signing his own death warrant just 67 days after he was given life.

Initially ruling himself out of the running for the England job prior to Allardyce's original appointment in the wake of England's acrimonious exit from Euro 2016, then U21 manager Gareth Southgate was gifted temporary charge of the senior team. The rest, as they say, is history. We weren't to appreciate just how symbolic the waistcoat was to become.

What followed was a period of continuity - in which two wins and two draws were enough to earn Southgate the England job permanently - before the former Middlesbrough boss embarked on his journey of national self-discovery and forthright change as the Three Lions sought their identity.

REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

But what would have happened had the pint of wine been avoided? It wasn't that Allardyce would have been perceived as a man of regular drinking habits, rather a manager set in his ways, with England still rigidly married to a brand of football deemed reactionary, negative and prehistoric, characterised by a fossilised 4-4-2 system Allardyce still so fervently defended on talkSPORT in the build-up to the Sweden quarter-final.

Chaos Theory dictates that a mere flap of a butterfly's wings at a precise moment in space/time can alter the course of the future - causing a natural disaster - just as the unscrewing of a bottle of Echo Falls ultimately avoided one, consequently changing the complexion of English football.

Instead of completely disregarding the growing trends in Premier League football and lamenting that he wasn't born Gareth Southgatici of Italian descent, Southgate embraced them.

Antonio Conte's re-introduction of a back three and use of fullbacks as centre backs was incorporated into the national set-up, for example. Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino's methods of pressing from the front were similarly drilled into the players, whilst Pep Guardiola's insistence of playing out of defence has been championed by John Stones and Kyle Walker and adopted by Kieran Trippier and Harry Maguire. There is, too, an element of Allardycian influence in Southgate's Lions, that being their emphasis on set pieces.

REUTERS/Lee Smith

Southgate has created an England team representative of how football is played in the Premier League. A modern system befitting the personnel, one characterised by pro-activity and deriving from the values intrinsic to the England DNA. English football is to be defined by what they themselves do, not by how they react to their opponents.

And this is how the 2018 World Cup will eternally be framed by England fans. For the drastic effect one pint of wine had on the English football landscape. Perhaps those dads retelling the tale of success should begin like this:

'Not all heroes wear capes, some don an M&S waistcoat. It's just as William Shakespeare once said: Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them by a pint of wine.'

Listen to the RealSport football writers preview all the action ahead of the World Cup semi-finals in Kremlins in the Basement: RealSport’s daily World Cup podcast.