A couple of days after Gary Speed (1969-2011) was appointed Wales manager in 2010 I rattled off a blog on the subject. When I re-read it now I shudder at that last horribly prophetic throwaway line – and wince at much of the syntax too, but that’s another matter. There’s a lesson here, something about showing circumspection when dealing with topical events; a lesson I will now ignore while examining the prospects of Speed’s successor Chris Coleman.
Essentially, all the points I made following Speed’s appointment apply equally to Coleman so I won’t repeat them here. There are further similarities in their backgrounds as establishment figures for whom the English pyramid is the centre of the universe. But Coleman, with his colourful phraseology and pop-eyed gurning, definitely has a personality all of his own. He won 32 Welsh caps during a playing career at Swansea City, Crystal Palace, Blackburn Rovers and Fulham, a fearless, gritty central defender only falling short of the highest class due to a lack of mobility that gave him the turning circle of the Exxon Valdez. His playing days ended when he suffered terrible leg injuries after wrapping his top-of-the-range Jag around a Surrey tree in 2001, and he then cut his managerial teeth under the Mohamed Al-Fayed regime at Fulham – compared to which, dealing with FAW councillors will be like a vicarage tea-party. He did well at Craven Cottage but his stock has subsequently fallen, after so-so stints at Real Sociedad, Coventry City and Larissa, and he is now required to make the transition from the Greek 2nd division to international football. Coleman is the 11th man to manage Wales, not including caretaker-managers, and will be paid a basic £200,000 a year plus bonuses should we qualify for the 2014 World Cup finals. Pause for irony-laden laugh. If we get to Brazil I vow to walk naked down Clifton Street singing I Know An Old Lady Who Swallowed A Fly while eating a Pot Noodle. There’s a police station on Clifton Street too, so that shows you how confident my lack of confidence is.
Ah, I hear some say, but we have a great young side with quality players, have won four of the last five games (and should have at least drawn against England in the one defeat), have rocketed up the FIFA rankings (currently 49th, 2011’s biggest risers), and have landed a World Cup qualifying group containing Belgium, Croatia, Macedonia, Scotland and Serbia that is hardly frightening. Allow me to remove those rose-tinted spectacles.
There are two players of undoubted international quality at Coleman’s disposal, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey. But there’s nothing new about Wales fielding at least a couple of top-notch players. From Billy Meredith (1874-1958), football’s first superstar, through to Ryan Giggs, Wales have always had the occasional outstanding individual, but it’s never helped before – football being an 11-man game and all that. And, since both Bale and captain Ramsey have clearly shown their commitment to Wales is contingent on it not interfering with their boot sponsorship deals and personal ambitions, we can be pretty certain that the young millionaires will be unavailable due to ‘injury’ for all but the high-profile games. As for the recent run of victories, they had one thing in common: the matches were dead rubbers. Only when Wales win a match that matters to both sides (a very rare occurrence – the last time was the 2002 European qualifier against Italy) should we start getting impressed.
Coleman, like all Wales’ managers before him, has an impossible task. If the FAW appointed a laboratory-manufactured clone of managerial titans Bill Shankly (1913-1981), Helenio Herrera (1910-1997) and Brian Clough (1935-2004) it would still make no difference. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, nor can you make a successful international football team out of a couple of handfuls of randomly aggregated, semi-detached mercenaries whose main loyalties reside in another country. Chris Coleman will be a hostage to fortune, entirely reliant on no injuries and no withdrawals due to the usual pressures from English club managers. Given that Wales and Good Luck have never been natural bedfellows, I would put his chance of success at zero.
I want to be wrong. I’d love to be wrong. In fact, this blog is a complicated attempt to get Wales to Brazil by tricking fate into preferring to leave me with egg all over my face instead of orchestrating yet another Welsh failure. Now what did that old lady swallow after the fly…spider, bird, cat, dog, goat, cow…um…oh yes, of course: a horse…