Chris Coleman has announced that the 2018 World Cup campaign will be his last as the Wales manager and he has promised to do his utmost to build on the success at Euro 2016, when his team reached the semi-final, before losing to Portugal.
Coleman, who took the job in January 2012, signed a new two-year contract on the eve of the tournament and, with Wales’s run to the last four having earned the Football Association of Wales £15m, he joked that he would have been better off to have waited. “My staff are saying that my timing was not always the best as a player and it’s the same now,” he said.
Coleman has no thoughts of pushing for a renegotiation or jumping ship to another job while his stock is high, saying it “would not feel right”. He is merely focused on one last campaign and he does not think that his players will be adversely affected by him serving notice of his intentions.
“I am sure this will be my last campaign, whether we qualify or not,” Coleman said. “That will be six or seven years in the job, which is a long time. So, I think this will be my last hit at it and I will give it my best shot. I would not consider going anywhere else. I want to see this through.
“I hope the players just look at this next campaign, like they looked at this one, when the attitude was: ‘It’s do or die.’ Each game that came our way, it was everything on that game. That’s all I need them to do. I’ll certainly do that. Players are different, anyway. They won’t see past the next challenge or the next season. And two years in football is a long, long time.”
Wales have been drawn alongside Austria, Serbia, Republic of Ireland, Moldova and Georgia in their World Cup qualification group and, when Coleman considered the challenge, he talked about the need to add to the strength in depth of his squad.
He challenged the younger players on the fringes of the setup to push their claims and the broader discussion took in the need for the FAW to remain alive to the possible eligibility of players who were born outside of Wales. Nine of Coleman’s 23-man squad at Euro 2016 were born in England.
“I would not go down the road as if we are bending the rules but if there is Welsh blood in the family, they are welcome with us,” Coleman said. “We have to be greedy with what we have and we are always looking to improve in strength and depth. It will always be a little problem for us because we are such a small nation.”
Coleman gave short shrift to anybody who might question the credentials of any of his players. “There has been a lot about some of our players who were not born in Wales but they have mums or dads who are Welsh,” he said. “It is funny, really, because they use that against us. It had not been said about us for a long, long time and when we started doing well, we get banged over the head with that.
“But if you look at other sports – the English rugby team, where were half of those players born? They are not born in England but they have got English heritage, which is fine. We get to the semi-finals, and nine or 10 of our players are born here or there, but it is nonsense. They have Welsh blood in them. It is not as though they have been to Aberystwyth for the weekend a year ago.”
Coleman knows that the dynamics have changed for his team, before the World Cup qualifiers, in which he has demanded a fast and positive start. Wales benefited for much of the European Championship from being considered the underdogs, meaning they could absorb pressure and look to play on the counterattack.
It will be different now. There will be more respect shown to Wales and the onus will be on them to break down deep-sitting opponents. Coleman suggested that he may have to change his formation which, for the vast majority of the past campaign, has featured three at the back.
“The biggest challenge for us is that we will be a scalp now in this campaign because of what we’ve just done,” Coleman said. “Teams will play differently against us and, rather than us being the underdogs, which we’re very good at, we’ll be expected to win.
“We’ve not been used to breaking teams down. I’m going to have to come up with something a little bit different than I did in this last campaign. Change the formation? Maybe. I’ve had something in my head.”
Coleman promised he would not be afraid to do so – or to make any bold decisions – having learned from the mistakes that he made during his first World Cup campaign. He came into the job after the tragic death of his boyhood friend Gary Speed and, at first, he did not impose his own ideas and results were poor. Coleman has come to appreciate the need to do things on his terms.
“Switching to three at the back for this campaign was such a big change for the players,” Coleman said. “When you change formation with an international team, sometimes, you’re on thin ice but you have to be brave and I will be. If I fall flat on my face, so what? I’d rather do that than not do anything.
“In my first campaign, for large parts of it, I didn’t do anything. I was trying to do everything that Speeds was doing, because I was told it was working and don’t change it. It didn’t work for me – it blew up in my face. I’ll never make that mistake again.”
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