Monday, September 09, 2013

How the 'Cookie' Crumbles!

Chris Coleman - Plenty of food for thought!
Ranting on about the state of international football in Britain and trying to put together a constructive and valid argument on why all our home nations are so poor and ineffective when the players pull on their national shirts is a futile exercise.

As football fans we are all aware of the club versus country argument, the failure of players to deliver on the pitch, should they actually grace us with their presence in the first place, along with the worrying lack of passion and desire to proudly wear the national shirt by many of these men that have been blessed with a gift for a sport that rewards them handsomely in more ways than one is baffling!

Our respective nations have failed to perform over many years now and most of us have our own views and thoughts as to why we are so limp in our attempts just to qualify for major tournaments let alone win anything. It doesn't look like things are going to change dramatically in the next few years and I would be surprised if I see any nation from the British Isles come close to winning a major trophy in my lifetime.

The reason I say that is because the events of last week simply re-iterate my disillusionment with our game at international level - farcical!

'Cookie' in his Palace playing days.
Mr Chris 'Cookie' Coleman (right) was one of my favourite players when he plyed his trade at Selhurst Park between 1991 and 1995 for my beloved Crystal Palace. Manager of the Welsh national team since January 2012 'Cookie' took his seat in the dugout in Macedonia on Friday night as his Wales team took on Macedonia in a World Cup qualifying fixture.

The 2-1 defeat in Skopje was not a major surprise, it was typical old-school Wales as they ended up losing a game they should have won, but the humiliating 1-0 defeat inflicted on the Wales under-21 side by their counterparts from San Marino, (that nation’s first competitive victory at any level since their under-17 side beat Andorra in 2002) simply compounded a farcical week. At the heart of all that has been the line peddled by optimists about the supposed existence of a conveyor belt of young talent   that would, in time, emerge to make Wales a different proposition.

'Cookie' joined the squad late in Macedonia, missing the final training session because he had lost his passport and missed the flight on Thursday. It was an oversight unfortunate enough on its own without the way it was compounded by Coleman’s claims that his subsequent late arrival didn't matter, because when Wales train abroad they do "next to nothing".

‘Cookie’ knows a lot of people are going to be looking at these turn of events and thinking that’s amateurish.

Then of greater consequence were his tactics and the clutch of what appeared to be mystifying substitutions the manager made as the game slipped away from Wales.

Why bring on defensive midfielder Andrew Crofts when they had Macedonia on the rack? Why bring on full-back Adam Matthews for an attacking midfielder? Why introduce striker Sam Vokes with just five minutes left?

Coleman also left the world’s most expensive player, Gareth Bale, on the bench rather than introduce him even for five minutes. There’s no suggestion at all of anything underhand on either Coleman’s part or Bale’s.

Coleman says he spoke to the player on the day of the game and he was not ready. Fine!

Coleman argued vehemently that Bale was only put among the replacements to provide psychological ammunition. But in deciding to put him on the bench, while having no intention of using him, Coleman opened himself up to inevitable criticism if the result went against Wales, which it subsequently did. I understand the psychological game he was playing but the ‘fear factor’ was only going to work if he’d brought him on. By not doing so, it was neither here or there.

I’d like to think Bale was genuinely injured on Friday night and could not play a part in Macedonia, but there’s a lot of politics involved in players – especially ones as expensive as Gareth – in playing for their countries.

Coleman has now presided over 11 competitive international matches. He’s won three, drawn one and lost seven.

Worryingly, in the last seven competitive encounters his team have scored seven times, but only twice from open play – Bale’s wonder-strike against Scotland at Cardiff City Stadium and Hal Robson-Kanu’s header in the return match at Hampden Park.

The defeat mathematically ended Wales' remote chance of overhauling Group A's top two Belgium and Croatia but ahead of the Macedonia game, the manager spoke about the importance of chasing third spot in the group and thus securing an improved seeding for the Euro 2016 qualifiers.

But if Wales lose to Serbia on Tuesday that’s another target which will be all but gone. You have to think the quest then will simply be to avoid finishing rock bottom of Group A. If they do then there is a good chance another home nation, Scotland could fill that void.

I hope that does not happen, but if it does, Coleman, just like any of his peers in the same position, would have to think long and hard about his future.

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