Cymru Culture

Articles / Erthyglau

Russell Todd; So near, yet so far

(December 01, 2017)

Pêl-droed Cymru - Wales football
So near, yet so far

 Cymru-Wales, at Cardiff City Stadium

The road to Russia has come to an abrupt end. In truth, it ended with a whimper. Like a shot boxer in the twelfth, Wales were throwing punches that barely landed; and if they did the Irish repelled them with ease. The boxing analogy could be said to extend to Ireland’s robust approach to the game.

That their subsequent play-off drubbing at the hands of Denmark would have provided abundant schadenfreude for Welsh fans should not obscure the fact that Ireland are a blueprint for international success that Wales would do well to follow.

Unlike Wales, after Ireland’s debut appearance at a European Championships – its first ever international tournament – in 1988 it managed to follow it up with a World Cup appearance at Italia 90. In the 15 European Championships and World Cups since, and including, Euro 88 Ireland have played in six of them and missed out in the play-offs four times. That’s a two in three rate for reaching the final qualification hurdle in an almost 30 year period.

A key reason why Ireland did not return to being qualification also-rans was that it complemented the core of players that achieved those early tournament successes with young talent that itself tasted international success. In 1997 Ireland came third at the under 20s World Cup and the following summer were European champions at both under 16 and under 18 level, beating Italy and Germany in the respective finals.

In players like Ethan Ampadu and Ben Woodburn, integral to Wales’ relative success in reaching European elite competition and winning Victory Shields, Wales appear to have similar seams of talent that can complement an older, precedent-setting core. Indeed, the maturity and ability of Ampadu and Woodburn, as well as David Brooks, in November's friendies against France and Panama suggests players such as Joe Ledley and David Edwards could be displaced sooner rather than later.

Ampadu playing for Chelsea U23s in 2017
A 16 year old Ethan Ampadu
playing for Chelsea U23s in July 2017

They need not be put out to graze just yet though, as their experience will be required to help the transition between managerial reigns as, sadly, but perhaps not surprisingly, those friendlies were the final matches of Chris Coleman’s tenure, with Wales’ loss being Sunderland’s gain.

Without question Coleman can be considered Wales' greatest and most successful manager and his will be a tough act to follow. But a qualifying campaign that ended with a third place finish in a relatively easy group for which Wales were top seeds and in which they let slip five leads in four games probably saw his star wane slightly. Despite vacancies at Crystal Palace, Swansea, Everton and Leicester it was only Hull with whom Coleman’s name was seriously linked over the last 12 months.

The Welsh squad had shown its hand within hours of the Ireland defeat. With the injured Gareth Bale watching from the Grandstand, he was present to, presumably, play a part in the players expressing a desire that Coleman remain for a further campaign. Welsh football journalists have also spoke glowingly of their professional relationship with Coleman and in truth few fans can begrudge him a bumper pay day in the Championship. Even fewer will not wish him well on Wearside.

Coleman had previously spoken of wanting to coach in the Champions League after finishing with Wales. With Sunderland anchored at the foot of the Championship on the day his appointment was announced, he appears more likely to sample the Checkatrade Trophy at Fleetwood Town’s Highbury Stadium rather than the Champions League at Arsenal.

Chris Coleman & the Wales team in Cardiff
Chris Coleman & the Wales team on their open-top bus parade
in Cardiff city centre after EURO 2016

Like Ireland who began to be invited to invitational tournaments off the back of its early 90s success, Wales will grace the four-team China Cup in March. Coleman’s replacement will have that and a handful of end of season friendlies before a new campaign commences in the autumn of 2018. At the time of writing no clear cut candidates had emerged but the simmering clamour over several years at Media Wales for Ryan Giggs to be appointed has been coming to the boil. It would be a rich irony that a tournament that Giggs-the-player would surely have withdrawn from, would require Giggs-the-manager attempt to persuade players to travel almost 9,500km at the business end of the season.

Whoever is appointed, they will be entitled to fans' backing. Wales lit up Euro 2016 under Coleman and regained its self-belief under the late Gary Speed, both of whose reigns started slowly. The last Wales manager to hit the ground running was arguably Mike England in 1980. We may need to be patient if success is not immediate. If it is not, then we will need to remember that together, we’re stronger.

Russell Todd, December 2017

If you enjoyed this you will probably like these from Russell too:
     Make or break... Austria and Moldova; September 2017
     Next up... Serbia; June 2017

     Next up... Dublin; March 2017
     Pêl-droed: the beautiful country's beautiful game; December 2016

Russell Tweets as @llannerch
wefan Russell's website: www.thecommunitydevelopmentpodcast.co.uk
and he is one of the team Tweeting on Podcast Pêl-droed
wefan Podcast Pêl-droed's website is: www.podcastpeldroed.cymru

 

cylchgrawn Cymru Culture magazine
Published by/Cyhoeddwyd gan: Caregos Cyf., 2017
  

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