Gary Speed’s appointment as Welsh manager does not set the pulse racing. As a player he was a strong and mobile box-to-box hustler, but by no stretch of the imagination could he be called international class. His 85 caps for Wales (the record for any outfield player and second in the all-time list to Neville Southall) reflected more the dearth of players available than Speed’s intrinsic qualities, and for all his dedicated galloping around, Wales qualified for jack-shit during his 14-year stint as an uncreative midfield pivot.
As a manager he can boast four months in charge at Sheffield United, in which time he moulded them into genuine relegation candidates, and, and…oh, that’s it. Such niceties do not bother the FAW who conduct affairs according to the topsy-turvy logic of Planet FAW. Once they had rejected Lars Lagerback, highly respected maestro of international football who guided Sweden to five successive major finals (out of the question, he wouldn’t understand our systems and traditions/unconscious cravings for defeat – delete as appropriate), they were down to a short-list that consisted of Speed’s suited-and-booted establishment-man schtick, Brian Flynn’s disconcerting rictus grin, Chris Coleman’s eye-popping mangled syntax and John Hartson’s continuing struggle with the after-effects of chemo (yes! this is the blog that wanders into places other blogs avoid!). So, natch, the clean-limbed, just-washed Speed got the nod; he’ll look plausible opening wards at children’s hospitals and intoning truisms to friendly reporters in Vale of Glamorgan hotel lobbies.
Already he has set out his ambitious target: nothing less than qualification for the next World Cup (Brazil 2014). That’s what every single one of his predecessors said they were going to do – airy, groundless optimism and the promise of sunny futures in a tomorrow that never arrives are part of the job description. Speed’s inability to marshal a single original thought (he was one of the very few ‘celebs’ stupid enough to openly support to the ‘No’ campaign in the 1997 devolution referendum) will also be useful in the job – the suggestion he might bring back past flops like the ludicrous Robbie Savage is early notice of what to expect. I give him two years, max.
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