“It’s my job to lift Welsh football from top to bottom and I’m really looking forward to the challenge,” – Gary Speed
“I don’t really know what that means” – Me
This month, the FAW finally got around to the task of appointing John Toshack’s replacement at the helm of the Welsh national team. You may have noticed that, despite this being a job coaching an international side, it has received a fraction of the coverage that, say, Sam Allardyce or Chris Hughton’s sackings did.
To me, there’s only one reason as to why this is. It’s Wales, and outside of Wales, no one cares about Wales.
You may argue that those examples were quite controversial; Chris Hughton’s certainly was. Speed’s hiring is not particularly controversial, though it’s definitely unexpected…
Lets look at the facts, a former Wales captain of over 80 appearances, a Premier league winner with Leeds in ’92, and a two time FA cup finalist. It’s fair to say that, as a player, Gary Speed did a hell of a lot.
Nowhere in the above spiel does it say ‘finished 9th in the Premiership with a team everyone expected to be relegated’ like Chris Coleman or ‘qualified for back to back international championships’ like Lars Lagerback or for that matter ‘beat Arsenal with Wrexham’ like Brian Flynn.
It doesn’t say that because he’s never done it. With only four months at Seffield United under his belt, he’s almost completely untested at the top level and only has his playing experiences on his CV.
Why have Wales hired this man? Because he’s Welsh and he’s played for Wales. Period.
Instead of picking the best man for the job on paper, the FAW have gone for a man respected among his peers, who led by example on pitch and off and who quite clearly understands the game from a players point of view.
Let’s go back ten years. Kevin Keegan has left England after losing to Germany. Who do the FA turn to? Sven Goran Eriksson? Never before had a foreign manager taken the reigns in England’s history but Sven accomplished a lot. British football fans are, by definition, fickle and while Sven’s England career will probably be remembered for Wayne Rooney stamping on Ricardo Carvalho’s balls and Ulrika Jonsson, he got them to two world cup quarter finals and spanked ze Germans 5-1.
So why the history lesson? Because the term ‘England manager’ has changed. Thanks to Sven, fans seem almost eager to accept a proven foreign manager. In fact, in the run up to hiring Fabio, the only manager from the British Isles to get a look in was Martin O’Neill.
English managers will now and forevermore be stymied by unfair comparisons with Shteve Mclaren, Terry Vegetables and Graham ‘Do I Not Like That’ Taylor.
It’ll probably be a while before we see if the FAW’s faith in national pride is justified but I’m not expecting miracles right away.
Speed’s first major game in charge of Wales will be England. Absolutely no pressure at all there then! Surely he hasn’t been brought in with the instruction to qualify for the European Championships? Because that’s just cruel!
With the majority of Wales’ best players currently plying their trade in the second tier of English football, would anyone begrudge a new manager an early taste of defeat?