When I explain to people I consider myself half Welsh half English, most cannot fathom it, but it is who I am and who I support. I have never been prouder of my Welsh blood than last summer when Chris Coleman gave Wales their best summer ever at the 2016 Euros. He is undoubtedly the greatest manager Wales have ever had, taking the country to unknown heights with inspiring passion. Coleman’s contract was due to run out next summer but he has decided to leave now for the role of managing current championship struggler’s Sunderland. On paper it seems a strange decision but dig a little deeper and sadly the writing has been on the wall for a while…
Coleman publicly stated the World Cup 2018 campaign would be his last following Wales’ failure to reach Russia 2018 and it may have seemed futile to stay to play just a few friendlies. There was hope he could be convinced to stay and sign a new contract, especially with young talented Welshmen coming through such as Ben Woodburn and Ethan Ampadu.
There is huge potential for the next Euro 2020 campaign and Wales’ future could be bright. The FAW knew this too and spent time trying to convince Coleman to stay and sign another contract. Ultimately it was clear they could not match Coleman’s wishes over new infrastructure and facilities as well as full-time roles for back room staff. It seemed Coleman and Wales had different ideas going forward, the FAW does not have the financial resource of the English FA or big clubs in the Premier League and Championship so this would have played a part. Indeed, he is believed to have trebled his salary by taking the job in the North East. Coleman leaves Wales as a legend, and has stated the need for another Welshman to follow in his footsteps is of huge importance.
Coleman has a decent record at club level. At Fulham, his first managerial role, he steered them to safety before being given the job permanently in 2003. He was sacked after a 7 game win-less run in 2007. After this he joined Real Sociedad and was doing well with the club in 5th place when he left citing a difference of views with the newly elected President. Coleman’s time at his next club, Coventry was not successful. He was sacked following a 19th place finish in the Championship. He also managed at Greek side AEL but was only there for 6 months due to the clubs financial troubles. When he took charge of the Wales job in January 2012 he was successor to his friend, Gary Speed, who had died the previous November. It must have been hugely difficult to take charge in such circumstances, and his reign got off to a rocky start becoming the first Welsh manager to lose their first five games. He has said he had considered leaving his post…thank goodness he didn’t!
Coleman took charge of Sunderland this week. They languish at the bottom of the Championship following relegation from the Premier League last season and without a league win at home this calendar year – an astonishing statistic which shows the magnitude of the task ahead. By his side will be assistant Kit Symons who he worked closely with for Wales. Symons witnessed Sunderland’s 2-2 draw with Millwall from the bench on Saturday where goalkeeping bloopers, from both sides, unfortunately stole the show. Robbin Ruiter and Jason Steele are the current keepers vying for starts at Sunderland but neither have particularly convinced this season and Coleman will need to suss out which he can rely upon. He has already acknowledged he will not have a huge amount to spend in the January transfer window so will need to utilise the players at his current disposal to really start performing to stay up.
In his first press conference Chris Coleman said he is ‘hugely excited’ and called the offer ‘too big to turn down.’ For Coleman’s first game in charge he faced the unenviable task of getting a result at Villa Park. Aston Villa have really picked up since their start of season form, and within 10 minutes they were ahead. The game ended in a 2-1 defeat for Sunderland and Coleman said after there were no excuses. Questions have been raised in the media this week should he have bided his time to wait for a different offer – would the new vacancy at West Brom have been a better option? Or might something else in the Premier League have come along in time. From an outside perspective, you feel if it goes wrong at Sunderland, which it very easily could given their position – this could affect his stature in the game. Sure he is a legend for Wales, but get this wrong and could the cookie quite literally crumble? The task is huge, but from how he has spoken so far Coleman is under no illusions and if he is to steer Sunderland out of the mire his credit will rise even more.
Wales’ attention will now turn to Coleman’s successor, with Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy, Mark Hughes and Tony Pulis (of course now a free agent after West Brom sacked him) being touted for the job. Whoever steps in to Coleman’s shoes has huge boots to fill. Wales may have missed out on Russia 2018, but what happened at Euro 2016 made a nation dream. As someone who is half Welsh, and has followed them just as much as England over the years – diolch, Chris.
Follow Michelle on Twitter – @MichelleOwen7