A year ago, the Welsh FA were tasked with the job of replacing John Toshack and the shortlist contained John Hartson, Brian Flynn, Lars Lagerback and Chris Coleman. The candidates were interviewed and are believed to have impressed, yet they eventually opted for Gary Speed, who was in the midst of an underwhelming spell in charge of Sheffield United. Twelve months later and 72 places better off in FIFA’s rankings, Coleman has been tasked with maintaining Speed’s legacy and maximising the potential of an upwardly mobile generation of Welsh talent.
Close friends with Speed – they were roommates on international duty as players – and as a result, the press conference was a sombre affair. “I’ve already spoken with the FAW members and I said ‘excuse me if I don’t seem that excited, I am excited, I’m just a little bit subdued because of the circumstances’,” Coleman confessed. “It won’t be easy but I’m looking forward to it. I think for any manager who was going to come in it was going to be difficult because of the situation and it’s more difficult for me with my relationship with Gary. It’s not going to be easy, but it’s something I’m prepared for.”
Coleman’s task is an unenviable one. If he were to succeed in the role, many would attribute the success to the foundations put in place by Speed. If he fails he will be criticised for not maintaining the current high standards. He was also a clear second choice, as was Gary Speed, with Ryan Giggs the preferred option on both occasions, but Sir Alex Ferguson twice rebuffed both full time and part time advances.
Gareth Bale and captain Aaron Ramsey have been vocal in their support of Raymond Verheijen and Osian Roberts, Speed’s highly-regarded assistants, who were heavily involved in coaching, team meetings and Wales’ current style of play. Verheijen took to Twitter to urge the Welsh FA maintain the status quo, claiming that would protect Speed’s legacy and would be what he wanted. His claims are believed to have been deemed inappropriate by the FAW’s chief executive Jonathan Ford and the future of Verheijen and Roberts remains unresolved. Talks are planned with Coleman, who has already outlined his intention to involve Kit Symons in his backroom staff, but Verheijen’s public utterances may have made his position untenable.
Coleman’s first match in charge will be the Gary Speed memorial match against Costa Rica in Cardiff next month, but his first challenge will be in winning over the likes of Ramsey and Bale, as well as Craig Bellamy, who may decide to bring an end to his international career. Replacing Speed has been a delicate, sensitive issue and the Welsh FA are to be commended for the dignified and prompt manner with which they have handled the situation. For Coleman, a thankless task awaits.
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