A feature on Chris Coleman following his decision to step down as manager of Wales.
The story ended much like it had started. Wales were held by inferior opposition in front of a half-full Cardiff City Stadium. The draw followed on from an away defeat and a failed qualification campaign. However, this wasn’t a throwback to 2012, and at the final whistle of the match against Panama last week Chris Coleman waved goodbye to acknowledge the heartfelt support for the final time.
The chanting of his name was not in direct appreciation of a largely forgettable match that was memorable only for the introduction of Ben Woodburn, Ethan Ampadu and David Brooks as a sign of what we can enjoy in the future, but instead, for everything that has been experienced and achieved over the course of the last few years. Coleman had come through the darkest of times in his tenure to become Wales’ greatest-ever manager.
Agreeing a new deal before the tournament in France to remain with Wales for the duration of the 2018 FIFA World Cup campaign, few people were considering his long-term future at the time. The focus was on France and the promise of finally seeing Wales compete at the finals of a major tournament. It was an incredible period in Welsh football history, and Coleman’s finest hour in a managerial career that appeared to be on a nomadic downward spiral before his appointment.
His character was defined by his appointment when he replaced the late Gary Speed. He took on the impossible job and had to make tough decisions to do things his way when his own future appeared to be very much in the balance. He galvanised the squad of players against the human tragedy that had affected them all, and built upon the foundations that Speed had put in place before him to change the overall culture and attitude towards representing Wales.
Once Coleman had made the decision to do things his way, he and his players never looked back. Changing the team brought closure for many of the squad over Speed’s death, and the new era brought with it a new determination that this would be the start of a successful new dawn. The focus shifted to EURO 2016, and while it started with Wales falling behind to minnows Andorra, it ended in a semi-final defeat to Portugal. It was the perfect football romance story of triumph over adversity as everything came together at the right time.
It was Coleman’s belief that there was still more to come in the next campaign, but his side eventually fell at the final qualifying hurdle as a combination of injuries and suspensions to key players took their toll. The margins remained fine, but the magic of the last campaign could not be repeated. Following the defeat to the Republic of Ireland that sealed Wales’ failure, a competitive abyss opened up in front of Coleman, and only a long period of rebuilding ahead of EURO 2020 qualifying was on the horizon.
— Wales (@FAWales) 17 November 2017
If Coleman had decided to stay, he would have had to stay for the long-term. If that was not in his plans, then he knew that he would have to leave. A number of talented young players are emerging, and it will take patience and time to develop them and create a team around them for the next qualifying campaign. It is a project that needs commitment and energy, a new drive and determination to succeed. Coleman had been through the lows, the highs and the lows again, and it was time to say goodbye to his dream job.
Coleman will be remembered as a huge success, but he wasn’t perfect, and never pretended that he was. He has been criticised in certain sections of the Welsh football press and public for the defeat to Ireland, but he is big enough to acknowledge his mistakes. However, Coleman’s ability stretches beyond tactical acumen, but to the galvanising of a group of individuals that ensured Welsh football would enjoy its greatest time under his leadership.
Chris Coleman has achieved everything he could have realistically dreamt of achieving as the manager of Wales. His contract negotiations were reported to have hinged on a number of factors being put in place for this new era to begin, but in reality, these were progressive factors that should have been planned for implementation as soon as EURO 2016 qualification was assured. Wales as a footballing nation has grown quickly through the success enjoyed under Coleman, but inevitably, the pace resulted in different areas being left behind.
A new manager will now come in and will have his own demands. There is a far more professional setup to welcome the next man to anything experienced by his predecessors, but there is still much to do, and as a new generation start to make their mark on the international stage it may be necessary for Wales to take one step back on the field before long-term progress and success can again be be achieved. In addition, Coleman has set a high standard for his successors to follow.
🏴 Good luck to @FAWales most successful manager. His tenure was a rollercoaster of lows, highs and more lows, but will be defined by our greatest achievement at @UEFAEURO last summer. Privilege to have been on the inside of an incredible ride #TogetherStronger pic.twitter.com/RqYez04ZA2
— Mark Pitman (@markpitman1) 17 November 2017
It is only right for Wales that Coleman’s future was decided as early as possible following the failed World Cup qualifying campaign, as his replacement will need a period of friendly internationals to implement his ideas and philosophies and to develop the young players that will form a key part of the next campaign. Coleman has always had a passion for what he described as his ‘dream job’, but the journey since his appointment inevitably left questions over his drive to rebuild at the present time.
But Chris Coleman has established himself in Welsh football folklore, and the redemption that he found after such a disappointing start is a story that remains rare in the modern game. Against the odds, Coleman and his trusted backroom staff found the perfect formula to bring the very best out the players at their disposal, and created a culture that ensured they would have the edge when taking on teams that lacked that same level of togetherness.
One of football’s most genuine people, Chris Coleman is a gentleman, and will remain a hero to many for what he has achieved. The players will be very sorry to see him leave, and his popularity extends to all aspects of the Welsh game. A supporter of grassroots and domestic football, he galvanised the nation in his early days in the job by holding regular question and answer sessions at clubs across the country, and the tide of resentment turned as the progress he promised became a reality.
Personally, I had the privilege of enjoying Coleman’s company during countless press conferences and in over 20 one-to-one interviews over the course of the last couple of years. I spoke to him directly after the highs and lows of each and every game at EURO 2016, and it was his infectious enthusiasm for succeeding with Wales that proved inspirational. A whole new challenge now awaits him at Sunderland, and reviving the fortunes of a fallen giant will give him little time to dwell on leaving Wales.
Chris Coleman took hold of a broken football nation following Gary Speed’s death. Only a special type of person could have done that as well as Coleman. It needed more than professional ability, it needed genuine understanding and compassion, it needed leadership and strength. The players responded to him, believed in him as he guided him through the dark times, and they rewarded him on the other side. This era has now sadly come to a close, but the memories of Coleman’s tenure will only grow brighter with time. Diolch, Chris.