THE next seven days will or most certainly should decide the fate of Wales boss Chris Coleman as the Dragons resume their rocky road towards World Cup qualification.
There can be little debate that the giant strides taken under Gary Speed have been eradicated since his death, a combination of factors conspiring to consign Welsh football fans to once again wistfully wonder ‘what if?’ It’s very easy to dismiss friendly results if things turn out well once the real business of competitive qualifiers begin, but much harder to do so when you open with a losing home qualifier in which you are outclassed and then a thumping defeat on your travels.
Wales have scored just once in Coleman’s tenure to date and the total collapse in Serbia and the cricket score that followed was a genuine low in a recent history littered with such disappointments.
However, though little has gone right for Wales, many could easily argue Coleman has done more harm than good for his own cause, a series of bad judgements on his part causing undue problems.
From day one Coleman risked the ire of his players by failing to secure a working future with Raymond Verheijen, who like him or not, definitely has the affections of the dressing room.
Coleman has kept the formation deployed so successfully by Speed but has ditched the footballing ethos of a short and sharp passing game. The former Fulham boss insists you must “earn the right to play”, but that to me smacks of nothing more than jargon, a cliched response to justified criticism of kick and rush football bypassing midfield.
The performance against Belgium in the opening qualifier was concerning in that Wales (even with 11 men) never looked to try and dominate possession.
Instead they regressed to the hopeful ‘get it to Gareth Bale and hit them on the break’ tactic that proved so emphatically to be a failure during half a decade under John Toshack.
It was a slowly but surely process in enticing fans back to watch Wales after the Toshack reign and unfortunately Coleman is losing that battle as well. He doesn’t appear to have the backing of the nation like Speed did and setting his side out so negatively isn’t going to help.
It also remains to be seen whether Coleman has the backing of his players with the evidence so far suggesting he doesn’t.
The capitulation in Serbia smacked of a side lacking in motivation and faith in what they are being told to do and several faux pas have certainly had me scratching my head.
Coleman’s public declaration of interest in Ryan Shawcross was bound to cause issues with Aaron Ramsey, so why do it unless you knew Shawcross was going to answer ‘yes’ when the call came?
Ramsey was always a curious choice to be Wales captain in my view and is probably better off without the armband, but why make such a change and in the same press conference express the belief that who is captain doesn’t really matter?
Coleman is also handling a delicate situation with Craig Bellamy horribly.
It has been no secret that Bellamy is suffering with not just his usual injury troubles but is also troubled by personal issues in the aftermath of Speed’s passing. Instead of treating Bellamy with discretion and understanding, Coleman is issuing public ultimatums about his participation. Simply put, Wales can’t do without Bellamy and Coleman is only succeeding in potentially pushing away a talisman.
If all the above seems like an attack on Coleman or a one-sided representation of his tenure to date, I’d counter by asking to see the other side of the argument? What have been the positives of Coleman’s tenure to date?
In truth, not even Coleman’s employers have full faith in him. How do I know? How can I make such a statement? Because they’ve only given him a two-year deal. They only believed Coleman was the right man for this qualifying campaign.
And that’s why I believe strongly that unless Wales beat Scotland (or Croatia four days later), there will be little point in drawing out the Coleman era.
Anything less than three points from the next two games will put pay to ANY chance Wales have of remaining competitive in this group and will make the remainder of the campaign redundant unless it’s building toward the future.
That’s why it’s win or bust for Coleman, just as it is for his counterpart Craig Levein. The stakes couldn’t be any higher.