MICHAEL PEARLMAN SAYS: Coleman hasn't come out of this week well at all
MAKE no mistake, the transcript of Chris Coleman’s debrief with the Press after Wales’ 2-1 defeat to Macedonia made for a painful read.
As prickly as John Toshack and with a total failure to address the two big issues – Passportgate and Gareth Bale – with any kind of understanding of how those issues are perceived by others, Coleman came across as defensive and aggressive.
While I believe it premature to be calling for his head – many fans disagree – it’s surely foolhardy at best for the Football Association of Wales to offer him a new deal before the end of the campaign?
Before Bale’s unbelievable heroics against Scotland in October Coleman was reported to be on the brink and things haven’t ostensibly changed since.
Two defeats to Croatia – put into context by the fact Scotland won in Croatia – and a slightly fortuitous victory at Hampden Park that nevertheless hinted at brighter things to come.
But the fact is that Coleman currently has a lower winning percentage than Bobby Gould, he has seen Wales defeated in Macedonia in a contest he himself described as “huge,” and is emphatically failing in the task of reigniting the interest of the Welsh public.
You know, the incredibly passionate football fans of Wales? The ones who ensure Cardiff and Swansea always have 20,000-plus sell-outs. The ones who are ensuring Newport County’s crowds are as high as they’ve been in 30 years. The ones who ensure only Luton have bigger Conference attendances than Wrexham.
In the past five years Wales have only twice had home crowds of over 20,000 in games that didn’t feature England. Wales can’t even attract half the fanbase of Cardiff, Swansea and Newport.
It’s a sad state of affairs and Coleman didn’t help himself this week.
Let’s begin with the passport, an issue that Coleman and the FAW ensured was far more of a big deal than it needed to be.
Where was the humility? The national manager of Wales lost his passport and had to go to Newport to get another one, ensuring he missed his flight and subsequently his media duties and training the day before Wales played a competitive game.
Have you ever heard anything like it? Is it even possible to come across more amateurish?
Yet it’s a situation Coleman only compounded.
No apology required to the Welsh public, because Wales don’t really do anything in training the day before a game, he barked. Accusations that it was a story only in the minds of the journalists on the trip and anger that it would even be suggested that Coleman owed the public an apology followed.
This was an issue that demanded a delicate touch and a sense of humour, both assets Coleman possesses. He could and should have offered an apology and made light of the situation and it would’ve gone away.
What’s truly ironic, however, is Wales walking into a PR disaster when their eagerness for good PR saw them totally misjudge the situation with Bale.
That’s Gareth Bale, ladies and gentleman, the world’s best-paid and most expensive ever travelling mascot.
He comes out at half-time, does some tricks, even interacts with lunatic fans who invade the field, he’s one of us, Welsh through and through.
If I believe some of my Twitter followers, simply having Bale on the team bus will ensure sponsorship and endorsements and attention for Wales and the FAW that are all linked to Bale’s image rights.
In all seriousness, in the long term, there is little debate that they are right about this. And in its own way, it is reassuring that Bale wants to be with Wales.
But if he’s not injured, if he’s really only ‘lacking match fitness’ due to his protracted, Daniel Levy-delayed move to Madrid, from going Galactico, then he should be playing.
Bale at 10% of his best would still be the change ANY Welsh fan would make with the score in Macedonia 1-1, yet it was Adam Matthews who came on.
Wales without Bale are a team bereft and if he’s not fit enough to play any part tomorrow, the public can legitimately gripe that they’ve been misled.
The fear, of course, is that Wales are adhering to an edict that Bale can’t play. My suspicion is that a club who are the most image conscious in world sport want the world record player’s next appearance to be in a white shirt.
Coleman made noises about “looking after the player”, and “thinking about long-term relationships”, and that doesn’t help to persuade otherwise.
However, while the passport incident was badly handled and the situation with how often Bale will be available in the future remains one to watch, the FAW faces a far bigger, immediate issue.
Rewind five years and Wales U21s lost 5-4 on aggregate to England in a play-off to reach the U21 European Championship (and battered the English over the two games), and two years later they lost out to Italy by a single point in the race to major qualification with unprecedented success under Brian Flynn.
On Friday Wales’ U21s lost 1-0 to San Marino. Last month they lost 5-1 to Finland (though the FAW website carefully navigates this issue by listing the result as a 5-1 win).
With so much investment in grassroots football and with facilities better than ever, something appears to have gone horribly wrong.
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