Welsh fans around the globe are still shaking their collective heads at the news that broke yesterday that Chris Coleman, the man who led Wales to the Semi-Finals of the European Championships only last year, is leaving his post and is off to the North East to manage Championship side and currently bottom of that respective league, Sunderland.
Welsh fans have always been aware that Coleman was coming to the end of his contract, and was seeking certain guarantees before signing a new contract. Some of these guarantees are thought to include additional finances for the infrastructure of the game in Wales as well as looking for improved contracts for his support staff, thought to include Fitness and Conditioning Coach, Rylands Morgan. Whatever did occur in those negotiations, Coleman has made the decision to pursue another challenge, which he most certainly will face at The Stadium Of Light with Sunderland.
When Chris Coleman took up the role as Welsh manager after the tragic loss of his close and dear friend, Welsh legend, Gary Speed, not many fans were enamoured with this choice in difficult times. Coleman as a manager had mixed fortunes. He had guided Fulham to their highest ever position in the Premier League finishing ninth. He then moved to Real Sociedad in Spain, where he lasted six months, after a difference of direction of the club with the Club President. From there, “Cookie” moved to Coventry City, where he was in charge for two years, and then his last post before becoming manager of Wales, in Greece at Larissa. This role Coleman lasted eight months and left due to financial issues at the club. With this kind of record, you can understand why many fans were sceptical but my word did he prove us wrong, but not without rocky times before the good times.
With Coleman at the helm, Wales lost their first five games under his management, including an absolute hammering away in Serbia. Many including as he has admitted himself, Coleman, wondered whether he was the man to take this team forward. In his next game in charge, Wales played Scotland in a World Cup Qualifier in Cardiff. The pressure was on, but on a rainy night in Cardiff defeated Scotland 2-1 with the winning goal an absolute screamer from Gareth Bale, the celebrations by the players and by the manager, his suit soaked through as he celebrated on the touchline, showed his delight mixed with a heavy dose of relief. He and Wales was up and running.
From there, Coleman and the players have taken us to heights we never believed could happen. The team spirit, the belief in the players, the change in the playing system, playing three at the back, a change in captaincy, and star names such as Ramsey and Bale playing as a team, leaving any egos, that many stars have at the door when they come into the Welsh camp. The management staff and players in complete unity, “Together Stronger” as the saying goes. Victories stacked up against major footballing countries such as Russia and Belgium (more than once). It got to the stage that Wales are not afraid to take anyone on, the confidence that Coleman deserves so much credit for has not been at this level hardly ever before, if ever before. With Coleman in charge, Wales reached their highest ever FIFA World Ranking of eighth, and of course, we will always have that summer in France, an unbelievable tournament for us Welsh fans.
In the recent World Cup Qualifiers, Wales were in a winning position only to end in defeat. They had too many draws as well, but in a highly competitive group, Wales were still in it going into the final round of matches. In Cardiff, Wales lost to the Republic Of Ireland, the dream was over, Wales would not be playing yet again at the World Cup Finals. The players and management group were crushed as were the fans. The big question on many peoples lips was would Chris Coleman remain in charge? Two friendlies followed, France away and Panama at home, when Welsh fans made it clear they wanted their manager to stay, but as we know now it was not to be.
The question I have is why Sunderland? The North East team have in the last fifteen years had sixteen managers. The club has been in and out of top-flight football a number of times in recent years. It is a club that has been in turmoil on the football pitch for years, so why is this the job that Coleman has gone for, when he has a talented bunch of footballers in the Welsh squad and some great young talent who has shown their potential in recent matches, such as Ethan Ampadu, David Brooks and Ben Woodburn plus a rare footballing talent in Gareth Bale. I struggle to make sense of it all. Coleman’s stock after the Euros in 2016 was so high, and I am sure he must have had offers, however, he stuck with Wales through a World Cup Qualifying campaign that ended in failure. Did he feel that he needed to move now before his stock dropped too much? When Wales completed their campaign in early October, managerial vacancies after this became available at established Premier League clubs such as Everton, Leicester City and West Ham United, was Coleman not interested in these roles or was he not approached? Did he then realise that his hopes of managing a top established side who could battle for top half of the League and be playing in Europe were not going to happen in the next few years? Or was it purely a decision based on finance? Who knows, but I do know the FAW now have a huge decision to make on his replacement.
Early days as yet, but names linked are people such as Ryan Giggs, Carl Robinson, Thierry Henry, Lars Lagerback, Craig Bellamy and Kenny Jackett. Again, Coleman, coaches and players have now made the Welsh job such an attractive proposition to many managers out there, which certainly would not have been the case previously. Wales now are invited to high profile friendlies such as France in Paris plus an invitation to the China Cup early next year, this is down to the success on the playing field. The successful candidate will be in a good place with the players he has at his disposal, will he want to bring in his own backroom staff, or will there be an opportunity for people such as Osian Roberts to continue his great work he has done with Wales? We shall see.
In closing, I wish Chris Coleman the very best at Sunderland. The man has given us Welsh fans many happy moments as a Welsh fan, accomplishing feats I never thought we would see in my lifetime. He made us believe again and for that, we owe him a huge amount of gratitude. France last year will last with me forever, and also the effect it had on Wales as a country. Unbelievable memories, and as was one of the lines that was sung by thousands “Chris Coleman had a dream, to build the national team”. He did, and for that, I thank him from the bottom of my heart.