Seven games in seven months to decide Chris Coleman's Wales future
After seven matches in charge, Chris Coleman remains very much on trial. Having lost his first four, friendlies with Mexico and Bosnia, plus World Cup qualifiers against Belgium and Serbia, the latter a 6-1 spanking, some feel he was lucky to remain in situ. Since then, results have improved, a loss in Croatia sandwiched by wins against Scotland and Austria, but the next seven games, scattered over the next seven months, will dictate whether or not Coleman will have his current Wales contract extended.
First up is Scotland at Hampden Park on Friday, with the hosts looking to avenge a fortuitous 2-1 Welsh victory in October. Scotland were the better side and leading 1-0 when they had a goal wrongly ruled out, before Gareth Bale took charge and inspired an unlikely late win. This incident has been regarded as a turning point in both the game and Coleman’s reign, but Bale’s influence over the side cannot be underestimated. He remains very much a one-man band.
Coleman’s future depends on him fashioning a cohesive whole out of an imbalanced talent pool. Blessed with an abundance of talented full-backs, his options at centre-back are limited and Craig Bellamy remains the only striker of international standard. With plenty of nimble central midfielders, Wales are lacking wingers of a sufficient standard, Bale aside. Top teen talent Jonathan Williams has been selected for the senior squad and should help redress the balance, having earned rave reviews for Crystal Palace this season.
“I do worry a little about England’s recruitment policy sometimes,” said Palace co-chairman Steve Parish recently. “Little Jonny Williams is a fantastic player in the Jack Wilshere mould but he’s opted for Wales. There is a prejudice in the England set-up about Premier League players and I feel sometimes the other countries are making more of an effort to get these kids.”
England’s loss is certainly Wales’ gain and capping Kent-born Williams must be a priority, having previously allowed Middleborough’s Rhys Williams to slip through their grasp.
Wales face Croatia at the Liberty Stadium on Tuesday, before a friendly with Ireland in August, Macedonia away and Serbia home in September - Macedonia home and Belgium away in October round up a pretty daunting run of fixtures for Coleman to navigate. Qualification may already be out of reach, but the more positive results the better if they are to improve their FIFA ranking and subsequently their seeding for the 2016 European Championship draw.
Coleman inherited an unenviable task, after the death of his close friend Gary Speed. He deserves to see out the remainder of his contract but you get the impression that he is out of his depth managing at international level. Fortunately for him, alternative options remain both thin on the ground and underwhelming.
Dean Saunders is building an uninspiring CV, Bryan Flynn has been denied an opportunity on numerous occasions and is now in charge at Doncaster, while Tony Pulis would be crazy to leave Stoke. Ryan Giggs remains the popular choice, but he looks set to extend his decorated playing career. Mark Hughes would also be welcomed back but a return to the role is unlikely to appeal.
The post remains Coleman’s to lose but his long-term job prospects should become more apparent in the next few days.
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