A feature on Ryan Giggs’ first competitive test following the UEFA Nations League draw.
The draw for the inaugural UEFA Nations League competition took place in Switzerland on Wednesday morning, and new Wales manager Ryan Giggs was in attendance as his team were paired with Denmark and the Republic of Ireland in League B.
Inevitably, the focus was on Giggs as he arrived at the auditorium in Lausanne, and his status in the game from his unrivalled playing career means that he has a profile unmatched by any previous Wales manager. No stranger to the camera, Giggs acknowledged the outcome in his post-match media commitments, and can now start planning for the first competitive games of his tenure.
Although the UEFA Nations League will not start until September, Wales will not be in Russia this summer, and Giggs’ first competitive game will ironically be the same as his predecessor’s last. World Cup qualifying hopes ended for Chris Coleman against the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff last October, and Martin O’Neill’s side will return to the capital next September in the opening match of this new competition.
Prior to taking on the Republic of Ireland and Denmark, Giggs will take his team to the Far East in March as they compete at the China Cup, and a series of summer friendlies are already being discussed. Giggs’ profile has made Wales an attractive option for a number of nations, especially with Gareth Bale’s sporadic injury concerns, and there will be teams now keen to welcome Wales as Giggs looks to make his mark in management.
Giggs comes into the job in quite a unique situation, and it offers him a unique opportunity to ensure his side are more than ready by the time the UEFA EURO 2020 qualifiers eventually begin in early 2019. Coleman departed as Wales’ most successful manager, but for all the glory and success of EURO 2016, his tenure came to a close on the back of a failed qualifying campaign.
Unlike previous years, Giggs now has a full year to prepare for the next qualifying campaign, and has the luxury of an additional competitive tournament to see just what his side are made of outside of the traditional atmosphere of a friendly fixture. The China Cup and subsequent friendlies offer a nice build-up to the UEFA Nations League, which itself provides a strong base to prepare for the next qualifying campaign.
🏴 The last time @Cymru played @FAIreland it effectively ended Chris Coleman’s time in charge of the national team as @FIFAWorldCup qualifying dreams ended with defeat in Cardiff. Now Ryan Giggs will lead his country into the #NationsLeague #TogetherStronger pic.twitter.com/3on9kFdNRh
— Mark Pitman (@UEFAcomMPitman) January 24, 2018
When a management change is made there are usually different psychological elements to consider within the changing room, but despite failing to reach Russia this summer, Wales remained in contention for a play-off place until the final game. Injuries and suspensions to key players eventually proved too difficult to deal with, and while they did disappoint in that final match against Ireland, it was the only defeat of the entire campaign.
But there is no doubt that the players have a point to prove, and taking on the Republic of Ireland offers the perfect opportunity to redeem that performance. Likewise, Ireland will look forward to playing Denmark, as it was the Danes that ended Irish world Cup hopes with a 5-1 play-off victory. The extra edge to these fixtures will certainly add to the interest in this particular group.
Of course, it is impossible to compare the situation of Giggs’ appointment to that of Coleman, but it was the late Gary Speed who became national team manager three games into the EURO 2012 qualifying campaign. Having lost all three games, Speed had a number of fixtures to fine-tune and develop his team into his own vision, but the opening games of his tenure were largely spent picking the team up off the floor.
Coleman faced a very different issue, but it still took a year before he could even start doing things his own way as the players rediscovered their passion for playing for their country after such a devastating time. Even John Toshack had to contend with a string of international retirements when he took over the job back in 2004 following a narrow play-off defeat to Russia under Mark Hughes.
— FA Wales (@FAWales) January 24, 2018
But Giggs has inherited something very different, and while his appointment does not sit well in a number of corners, there was an optimistic feel surrounding his first press conference as he promised to answer his critics with results. Football moves quickly in the modern day, and his appointment now seems to be more acceptable to the majority just over a week after it was announced.
Giggs’ initial remit is to qualify for EURO 2020. While the UEFA Nations League offers an alternative path, it is the traditional qualifying route that the new manager will be focused on, and with further fixtures now confirmed he can start putting his plans into place. Inheriting something of a clean international slate, the only issue facing Giggs at the present time is public acceptance of his appointment, and even that doesn’t seem to faze him.
By the time the UEFA Nations League begins, and definitely by the time the EURO 2020 qualifiers start, we will know a lot more about Giggs’ Wales. The fact that his side will take on the Republic of Ireland offers extra motivation in the circumstances of Coleman’s departure, and while people may remain confused by the format, it could yet prove to be a key competition for Wales and Giggs at the perfect time.