Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Who's Next for Wales as Cookie Crumbles?

It ended as it began, with a whimper. Following what was the most successful- on paper- tenure of any Welsh national team manager, Chris Coleman's side looked out of answers against an Ireland side who believed- apparently correctly- that they could kick, elbow and head-butt their way to the World Cup finals in Russia. The World Cup's "controversial" hosts and at least one of those they are set to welcome should get on like a house on fire.

But while fans may be embittered by the fundamental lack of sportsmanship exhibited by their Celtic cousins, and the desperate failure of the officials to curb their excesses on the night, neither of these iniquities can mask the truth that the man who will go down in history as the first to take Wales to the semi-finals of a major championship looked at a complete loss in combating some fairly basic tactics.
Coleman's contract is set to expire and, upon signing it during Euro 2016, he had intimated he would depart following the Russia campaign come what may, perhaps seeking a new challenge in European club football, looking to improve upon disappointing experiences in both Greece and Spain. He now claims he will think about his options, presumably, as he sees it, including the possibility of prolonging his stay.

However, the FAW should now be bold in seeking a new captain for their ship. Accept that the man who (whether through design or mere good fortune) led them to a European Championship semi-final has exhausted most of his best ideas. The structure behind the first team has been radically revamped in the last decade, and much of their on-field success may be attributed to it, perhaps even more so than Coleman's efforts.

As such they should embrace similarly radical thinking for his replacement, and not wed themsleves to the same handful of names served up by the tabloid media at times of change, seeking out a new man with the vision and energy to take the team to the next level. Here are three potential candidates to take up the helm in a newly emboldened era of Welsh international football.

CAMERON TOSHACK: His more famous footballing father may not have had the success he would have hoped managing his country between 2004 and 2010, but it is his emphasis on youth development and expanding squad depth that arguably laid the base for Coleman's recent achievements.
After working for Wales as a performance analyst under said parent, Cameron Toshack has quietly built up a reputation as a knowledgable coach in his own right and will soon be celebrating 5 years at Swansea City where he has been a key figure in developing the club's youth system.

Whereas the senior side have struggled in recent seasons, Toshack's Under 23 side have reached the highest level of competitive reserve football, and made it to the quarter-final of the Checkatrade Trophy. All the while staying true to the 'Swansea Way' the club cultivated under Roberto Martinez but which first team coaches have seemed oddly incapable of bringing back to the Liberty.

Perhaps unlikely to be offered a first team role in club football anytime soon, Cameron Toshack would likely jump at the chance to reach that major finals his father was never able to attain.

MARK SAMPSON: Flagged as a real up and coming talent on the coaching scene when Roberto Martinez picked him as the head of Swansea's centre of excellence at just 24, Sampson went on to take Bristol's lady's team to two consecutive FA Cup finals before being appointed as manager of England Women, with whom he went to the semi-final of the 2015 World Cup.
Despite this record achievement, Sampson became the centre of a furore when it emerged he had been accused of  several racist comments by a player he had dropped, Eniola Aluko. Despite the fact that an FA investigation had completely exonerated him, scrutiny intensified, and when it emerged that he had once had a relationship with one of his players at Bristol Academy, the PR obsessed Football Association quickly and removed Sampson, despite his success and popularity with the squad.

With an excellent reputation for his tactical nous and his experience of international tournament football, Wales could stage a real coup on their old enemy by welcoming him back into the game, provided they are strong enough to face down ideological media and political interests to which their prissy neighbours capitulated.

CARL ROBINSON: Along with his namesake Carl Fletcher, became something of a cult figure among long-suffering Wales fans under John Toshack's management, through which he served selflessly and without complaint while many of his contemporaries flounced off into early retirement, unhappy with the post-Mark Hughes regime.
After amassing 52 international caps and hundreds of games in the football league for the likes of Norwich and Wolves, Robinson's playing career enjoyed a rather unusual ending as he headed for the MLS and enjoyed a successful spell at Toronto, before an incongruous final season at New York Red Bulls where he played alongside the likes of Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez.

With his playing career at a close, he leapt at the chance to head back to Canada to assume his first managerial position as assistant coach of Vancouver Whitecaps. The following season he was promoted to head coach where his reputation has blossomed. Readily discussed by MLS observers as one of the coach of the season contenders, Robinson is much revered by the Whitecaps' faithful who admire his ability to eke all he can out of the club's meagre resources.

Although plainly loving the lifestyle in Canada, the improvement in wages and the chance to manage his country would doubtless be too much for Robbo to turn down were the FAW to make an approach. And after his loyalty to Wales through the bad times, he surely deserves a chance to enjoy them during the good times if he can show that  he shares the association's vision. 

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