Reports in the past few weeks about Chris Coleman’s imminent contract extension from the FAW has staggered many Welsh football fans, as it demonstrates a complete lack of ambition from the country’s governing body. Coleman’s year in charge of the Welsh national team has been made up of 13 games, three victories, a forgotten passport, a public dispute with a player, ludicrous “mind games” and a qualification campaign in which the team look set to finish bottom. It is hardly the kind of form or direction that the FAW should be looking to continue for a further two years.
The Welsh squad that was assembled for their most recent game against Serbia contained three players from the Scottish Premiership, seven players from the Championship, seven players from the Premier League and one player from La Liga. That Spanish-based player also happens to be the most expensive footballer in history and the most talented Welsh footballer since Ryan Giggs. No one is pretending that those facts alone are enough to get any national team to an international tournament but it does show that Wales has the talent to achieve something greater than falling into Europe’s lowest qualifying pot.
Coleman’s management of the current array of Welsh talent has led to a wasted World Cup qualifying campaign in which genuine damage has been done to the national team’s seeding and Euro 2016 looks even further away than before. Aaron Ramsey has been in incredible form for Arsenal. Ben Davies has taken on the pressure of being a Swansea starter and performed admirably. Craig Bellamy is topping off an incredible career with a final stint at Cardiff City in the Premier League. Gareth Bale has sealed a huge move to Real Madrid and began with a goal on his debut (even though Coleman didn’t deem him fit or mentally ready to start in either of Wales’ most recent fixtures). Yet their national team manager couldn’t assemble them into a force that could challenge Serbia, Belgium or Croatia for all three points.
The talent pool that the FAW have to pick a new manager from is hardly plentiful but with some imagination and ambition there is no reason why qualifying for an expanded Euro 2020 can’t be designated as a genuine possibility. Candidates like Tony Pulis, Mark Hughes, Ryan Giggs and John Hartson would all have their issues if pursued by the FAW (lack of interest and lack of experience being the major ones) and so extending the net beyond the Welsh shores will be vital, bucking a trend of hiring only two non-Welsh managers (Mike Smith and Bobby Gould) in its 137 year history.
A leap in the dark is needed. Wales has a lot to offer in terms of talent and is a prospect that any newly emerging manager or coach would love to begin a CV with. One man under the spotlight recently is English coach Paul Clement, who in the summer was appointed assistant coach at Real Madrid. He has enjoyed a career coaching at Chelsea, Fulham, the Republic of Ireland, Blackburn Rovers and Paris Saint-Germain but in a recent interview with the BBC explained how he hoped there would be “a chairman out there who will look at me and think “he’s had a good apprenticeship”” and install him as a manager. Wales are in the perfect position to offer someone like Clement that confidence and job security. With faith in the national team at an all time low, and expectations having fallen even lower, Clement would have the entire national set up to mould exactly to his image.
Unlike being manager of England, Brazil, Germany or Spain, being manager of Wales does not require a career that has been trained in the media spotlight and whose every word is picked apart. The national team needs someone with genuine tactical knowledge and coaching assets who can develop the current young Welsh crop. When Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United this summer, and David Moyes moved into Old Trafford, one of the major departures from the club was first team coach Rene Meulensteen.
The Dutch coach spent a number of years at United enhancing every area of the club in various positions: skills development coach, reserve coach, technical coach, youth coach and first team coach. Yet all that he has been offered for all the incredible attributes he brings was 16 days at Anzhi Makhachkala, and not even a consideration for the England Under-21 position that was vacated by Stuart Pearce. Once again the FAW can offer a position in which they hand over all control to shape a national structure in whatever way the new manager desires.
The best thing to come out of this current qualifying campaign is that because the Welsh national team has hit the bottom, it can only bounce back up. The FAW can appoint a manager who has no incredible legacy to follow, has no huge expectations on his shoulders, who doesn’t have a prowling media circus after him but does have a group of young footballers, many of whom are enjoying great form, and who are hungry to become the first Welsh team since 1976 to feature in an international tournament.
Considering China, Angola and Latvia have been to either the World Cup or European Championships since the turn of the millennium, there is no reason why Bale, Ramsey and Co. couldn’t negotiate their route to France, Russia or Qatar