THERE is a horrible familiarity about having to assess the start of Wales’ latest attempt to qualify for a major tournament.
Welsh football fans have seen more false dawns than religious zealots from America perennially found preaching the end of the world on cable television from their mothers’ basements.
Usually the latest flop and sequence of bad results would lead to an inquest in where the problems lie, but in this instance it seems clearer.
Wales, to a large degree, have been unlucky.
Progress has been checked and momentum stopped by the death of former manager Gary Speed and the failure to retain his backroom staff.
New boss Chris Coleman has entered international management at a time where his stock as a coach could hardly be lower, having arrived from the relative backwater of Greek football (and not even the top tier) on the back of a failure at Coventry City.
Listen to his critics – and there are already many on the terraces and in the press box – and they’ll tell you his tenure is at best going to lead to antipathy and at worst it’ll be like the John Toshack days again.
Much of this criticism is unfair, even if he has lost four games out of four (I’m counting Costa Rica and the Speed memorial match because if they’d have won, so would Coleman) and Wales have yet to score since he took charge.
But essentially he’s only been found wanting in one game of consequence (Friday) and a good result tonight in Serbia would change the complexion of the group and perception of Coleman.
It’s easy to forget the success he had at Fulham and the fact for about two years most in Wales would’ve been desperate to appoint him over and above Toshack.
I certainly fall into that camp and wrote as such.
Simply put, it’s too soon to write him off and entirely unfair to do so. Which is not to say criticism is unwarranted.
The style of football on Friday was unacceptable and unsuitable for the players.
Long balls to Steve Morison will get Wales nowhere and the tactic of simply seeking out Gareth Bale time and again made Wales horribly predictable.
Coleman says Wales need to “earn the right,” to play football but that’s absolute nonsense. Winning competitive games under Speed was exactly that, Wales earning the right to play good football.
It certainly suits their players better than the Dave Bassett-style fare served up against the aristocratic Belgians.
But it’s not like Coleman can’t point to extenuating circumstances for the defeat.
Losing the likes of Joe Ledley, Wayne Hennessey, Neil Taylor and Jack Collison to injury was a little unlucky but, I suppose, par for the course.
However, losing Craig Bellamy because of off-the-field issues (I wish Craig well and hope he gets the support he needs) is really unlucky for Coleman.
As is being reduced to ten men only a quarter of the way through the contest because of one player’s stupidity.
It’s hard to see a way back for Newport’s James Collins now. He lost his place under Speed due to a succession of errors and now his utter lunacy has cost Wales dearly. Coleman backed the wrong horse in blaming the referee.
It is, however, aggravating hearing certain sections of the media wistfully talking about the important role in Wales success that Raymond Verheijen played.
As I said before, a failure to retain Speed’s support staff has hampered Coleman. But it’s not so easy to apportion blame on that score because there are probably things the Football Association of Wales, Coleman and the individuals involved could and should have done differently.
Especially Verheijen who frankly picked up his ball and said he didn’t want to play anymore.
And where is the football guru now? Taking charge of Spain? Integrated into the set-up at Barcelona? Leading the youth revolution in Germany? No. He’s taken on the assistant manager role for Armenia.
If Verheijen wanted to continue what he’d started with Speed, he should’ve swallowed his pride after not being made caretaker manager and stayed on to see the job through.
Instead we’ve got an entirely new regime and the start has been far from encouraging but we’re only doing ourselves a disservice by writing off Coleman entirely.
He’s got to show marked improvement starting tonight against Serbia in order to keep Wales competitive. If he fails to do so, it’s two more years in the wilderness.
And what a wasted opportunity that would be.