THE first thing Sam Allardyce did when Craig Shakespeare took charge at Leicester was call him and say: “Welcome to the madhouse.”
The former England colleagues go head-to-head today when Big Sam’s Crystal Palace take on the Champions League flag-flying Foxes at Selhurst Park.
Allardyce took then-King Power No 2 Shakespeare on secondment to his England backroom team following his appointment as boss last summer.
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The pair shared a dugout for September’s 1-0 win over Slovakia in Trnava in what turned out to be Allardyce’s only game in charge.
His 67-day reign came to an end under a cloud, leaving Shakespeare to concentrate solely on being Claudio Ranieri’s assistant at the King Power Stadium.
But Alan Pardew was axed by Palace in December and Leicester showed Ranieri the door in February — so Allardyce and Shakespeare will be on opposite sides today.
The Foxes’ coaching Bard has been given the hotseat until the end of the season.
And he has not done a bad job so far, having led the Premier League champs away from the relegation zone and within 90 minutes of the Champions League semi-finals.
They face Atletico Madrid in Tuesday’s second leg of their quarter-final looking to overturn a 1-0 defeat in Spain.
Allardyce admitted: “I didn’t think Craig had any ambitions to become a manager.
“He was an assistant manager for a long, long time and I don’t know if he is thinking about taking the job permanently.
“He started off by getting results and stabilising the club. Whether that elevates to him a permanent position at the end of the season I don’t know.
“You’d have to ask him that question and whether he wants to be a No 1 or go back to being a No 2.
“I’ve not spoken with him recently but when he was given the job I called him and said: ‘Welcome to the madhouse’.
“This is a mad, mad, mad world. You have to be mad to be a football manager.
“The pressure is constant and no two days are the same. But I don’t like to eat the same thing for breakfast every day, so that suits me.
“Everything is a challenge and some days the challenges are bigger than others. But that’s why you do it.
“Because you love the challenges, you love the involvement, you love making decisions and you love putting out a team to win.
“So you have to be capable of taking the good with the bad and the bad with the good while trying to stay level and focused.
“Then, hopefully, you come out the other end by getting your team to play the best they possibly can.”
Despite the madness, Allardyce promised he and Shakespeare, 53, will have a drink together after today’s game — but will they talk about what might have been with England?
Big Sam said: “No. That ship has long gone . . . it’s probably in the Atlantic or even the Pacific by now!”
The Eagles chief, 62, has been in management for more than a quarter of a century but insists the last 18 months or so have been the craziest yet.
He said: “My life as a manager has always been bonkers — but especially the last year or so.
“I’ve gone from plotting how to make Sunderland better to the England job — which I never thought would come my way — to Steve Parish bringing me to Palace and where we are now.
“Never mind my autobiography, the last 18 months of my life would make one helluva book.”
Palace have won five of their last six matches to haul themselves six points clear of the relegation zone.
Victory over Leicester would boost their survival hopes even further.
And, as Allardyce once again prepares to go through the looking glass this Easter weekend, he admits even his wife Lynne thinks he is “mad as a hatter.”
He added: “She says ‘can’t you leave this game alone. Come on’. But I can’t.
“She has always been the backbone in my career and I’ve always had her support — even though she would prefer that I didn’t put myself through the trials and tribulations.
“She sees me when I’m not at my best, when we are not winning games of football and trying to turns things around.
“And it’s not an easy thing turning results around.
“She’s a fantastic listener and knowing me as long as she has, she knows me better than anyone else.”