All posts by Jamie Thomas

From Novi Sad to Zenica, Chris Coleman’s tenure comes full circle with Euro qualification

It’s September 12th 2012, Wales have just lost 6-1 to Serbia in Novi Sad the night before – a disaster, a huge blow, catastrophic, all the usual terms used to describe a heavy defeat are brandished by the big names in the media in criticism of Chris Coleman’s side.

The national squad hadn’t suffered a defeat that heavy since 1996, but that side in the nineties was a team in transition playing against a strong Netherlands side – this was supposed to be the Golden Generation of Wales, pushing on to reach the World Cup for only the second time in their history.

Instead, they were a team in limbo.

After the tragic passing of their previous manager Gary Speed, 10 months prior, everyone knew that it was going to take time to heal – you never forget something like that – that the excellent form the team had showed under Speed in his final five games in charge might not immediately be reflected in Chris Coleman’s first few games as Wales manager, but nobody expected this. Five defeats on the bounce, with performances gradually getting worse up until the point where Serbia swatted Wales aside with ease.

Chris Coleman had nowhere to hide.

Sat in the airport the day after the game on his own, he looked like the loneliest man in the world – externally finding solace by being away from the presence of others but internally he was frantic. Admitting recently that he considered quitting before he found new motivation from his friends and family, Coleman said he felt he has never felt like that before:

‘We didn’t just lose in Serbia, we embarrassed ourselves and when you do that you embarrass the country – and that’s another ball game. I’ve never felt that before.’

Nowhere to hide.

Fast forward to today, as I sit here three years later writing this on my journey home, and the boot is firmly on the other foot. Make no mistake, with Wales now having qualified for their first major finals since 1958 and their first ever European Championship tournament, Chris Coleman still has nowhere to hide from all of the attention that is being focuses on him – but this time it’s adulation that is being thrown his way, not criticism. A funny old game, isn’t it? But the turnaround is undoubtedly deserved!

You have to give immense credit to the man for, in the very spirit his team now embodies on the pitch, coming out swinging when his back couldn’t be any more pressed against the wall. For being adamant that his way was the right way, and ultimately being proven right by the way his team have performed in Euro 2016 qualifying.

This past week, he and his squad have seen the rewards of demonstrating that tremendous spirit as they changed the country’s sporting history.

Fitting as well that the crucial game, the 2-0 defeat to Bosnia on Saturday the 10th, should happen in Zenica – the closest Wales have ever been to Novi Sad since that fateful 6-1 thumping in 2012 – and fitting also that luck should go their way this time, to the point that the defeat didn’t matter because other teams had done them favours to ensure qualification for Wales a game early.

Gareth Bale called it the best defeat of his life. I think every single Wales fan would have to agree. Never had a defeat been so lauded by the fans. 800 roaring dragons penned in to a tiny corner of an old, wet stadium in Bosnia, with the total ecstasy that followed warming the souls of a nation.

But this was only the penultimate group game – there would be one more chance for Wales fans to watch their heroes in action three days later against Andorra in Cardiff. A meaningless game for the neutral, a total dead rubber, with Wales already certain of qualifying and Andorra already certain of maintaining their position at the foot of the group table.

But for the Wales fans, it would be an opportunity to wash away years and years of misery and near-misses with one evening of pure celebration.

An hour before the game, the stands were filling up, songs were being chanted, merchandise was being bought commemorating the occasion – 58 years is a long time to wait, or a lifetime for those of us not fortunate enough to be around in 1958, and the Welsh weren’t going to miss this opportunity to lap it all up and enjoy it.

Even the match itself was perfect. A lot of people around Cardiff afterwards or on social media in the days since have said it was a frustrating affair and Wales could have done better than they did, or at least scored sooner than Aaron Ramsey’s 55th minute opener, but from this fan’s perspective the performance was rather fitting. A metaphor, if you like, for Wales’ journey from that fateful night in Novi Sad to this epic occasion I witnessed before me in Cardiff that night.

It wasn’t pretty at times, Wales had to work hard, they were being frustrated by so many factors out of their control such as opposition injuries and negative tactics, they had to come up with a Plan B, but, more importantly they had to keep faith and believe in what they were doing and that it would work – it eventually did, as Ramsey and Bale scored, and the likes of Ashley and Jonny Williams, Ben Davies and others put in a tremendous effort to give Wales that 2-0 win.

That is the story of Wales since that night in 2012. Nothing has come easy for them, it has all been hard work; spirited performance after spirited performance has seen them break all manner of records in the last few years and finally get this little nation of three million people noticed on the world footballing stage for the right reasons.

Not for missing out again, not for succumbing to a horrendous defeat, not for promising so much and delivering relatively little – people all over the footballing world are now talking about and looking at Wales and thinking ‘hey, these guys over here are pretty good.’

The big question is now – how do we build on that?

The European Championships will be key. Wales aren’t just going there to make up the numbers. They’ll obviously be going there to do well, to get out of their group and see where things take them. Can they achieve that? Absolutely. They’ve proved in this campaign that they can beat the best teams in the world – earning four points out of six against the now #1 ranked team – Belgium – is a clear indicator of that.

Will they achieve it? Who knows? But with the best fans in the world, one of the most tight-knit, talented group of players that Wales has ever had, and a manager who is as passionate and as well-regarded as Chris Coleman, Wales have as good a chance as anyone of doing the business out in France next summer!

Vive le Gallois!

Chris Coleman: No contract talks will happen until after we’ve qualified

After the incredibly difficult start Chris Coleman had to his Wales managerial career, especially after losing 6-1 to Serbia, many supporters would have raised eyebrows if you’d said to them after that game that in three years’ time the Wales team would be on the verge of qualifying for their first tournament since 1958, and also that Chris Coleman was to be offered a new contract.

Nonetheless, that is exactly the situation the Wales faithful finds themselves at this very minute. Leading their Euro 2016 qualifying group, undefeated after six games and having only conceded two goals, Wales are flying, and Chris Coleman is the man to thank for that!

After such an incredible turn of results that has seen the side go on an undefeated streak in competitive matches stretching almost two years, fans and those in the media have inevitably started talking about the small matter of Chris Coleman’s expiring contact and what the future might hold for Wales’ leader.

When asked about his contract situation at the latest Wales squad announcement for the games against Cyprus and Israel, Coleman admitted that brief informal discussions took place after the recent World Cup qualifying draw in Moscow:

‘Yeah, we all went out for food after the draw in Russia, myself, and the delegation that came over to Russia such as the FAW President, the CEO and so on, and we had an informal chat. My reason for not really getting into all of this though is simple: we haven’t got the job done yet and we need to get to France.

‘If we achieve that target – and I’ve believed for a long time that we will do it in this campaign because of the depth, talent and experience we have in the squad – then fine, we’ll sit down and have that discussion about a new contract or an extension, but until then we’re not going into it.’

Pride in his work

Chris Coleman has constantly been praised, whether performances are going well or not, for his passion for Welsh football. It is obvious he loves his country and wants to see them succeed. So much so that, if he wasn’t on the touchline as a manager shouting instructions to his players, you’d be pretty safe in betting that he’d be there in the stands doing exactly the same thing from there instead.

Coleman offered somewhat of an explanation of just how much the job means to him as he announced the squad for the games against Cyprus and Israel yesterday, as well as an insight into what Wales’ future might look like following this current qualifying campaign:

‘Even throughout the last campaign where we all had such a horrible time following Gary’s passing, managing my country was then, and still is, the biggest job there is in football to me, and the biggest honour that could possibly be bestowed upon me in my career – regardless of whether it is a successful tenure or not.

‘I don’t want that honour to be taken away from me, of course I don’t, but I still want to finish this current campaign on a successful note by reaching France and we can only do that by concentrating on each game in turn. The next campaign will be here soon enough but this campaign is obviously the priority at the moment.’

Succinctly, Coleman summarised exactly what this current period of his career meant to him:

‘The pressure is enormous, but this time in my career right now stands out as the biggest challenge and honour that I have ever had in my life.’

Excitement engulfing the country

Don’t ever underestimate the marketing influence of Football Association of Wales CEO Jonathon Ford. Having thrown all of his experience and expertise behind the FAW’s Together Stronger marketing campaign, the support the national teams have received as a result has done through the roof; something Coleman says he feels as he travels around the country for his work:

‘You can feel the excitement about the city, about Cardiff, around the entire country even. People are starting to believe, people are excited, therefore the pressure is immense but this is what we’ve always wanted, to be in this position, so we can’t complain!’

Going into such a crunch set of fixtures, Coleman also offered his players some small crumb of friendly advice going into this crucial international window:

‘It is pointless to live up to the fact that we are Wales and that we are a small nation of just three million people. We are making an impression, we should strut about a bit more, show our confidence, because that is what required for us to reach our targets.’

 

INTERVIEW: Jack Harper – ‘I’m just concentrating on trying to make a name for myself.’

A young Scottish man, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale as he plays his football for one of the world’s biggest football clubs – welcome, everybody, to one of Real Madrid’s brightest youth prospects, Jack Harper.

Like his fellow Brit Gareth Bale has been doing in the first team, Harper has been lighting up the stat sheet for Real Madrid’s youth teams for some time now, notching goals and assists at will in domestic and European competitions.

Such impressive form from the youngster has inevitably resulted in comparisons to great forwards of years gone by, such as Robin van Persie and Alan Shearer, but Harper shows incredible maturity in the face of such comparisons:

“I’ve always tried to learn from watching players like Van Persie and its great to be compared to such great talents but I’m just concentrating on trying to make a name for myself.

“I’m always happy to hear my name getting compared to great players, and I’m putting in the work to hopefully become a top player in the future.”

National Pride

Born and raised in Spain, it would have been easy for Harper to join the Spanish youth ranks at a young age – there was surely plenty of interest in him – but the youngster opted to join the Scottish set-up.

It is a rare combination of course, a Spanish-born youngster playing for Scotland, but the youngster speaks in a Scottish accent and has been known to regularly travel to Scotland to visit relatives and so on, as well as travelling back for national duty while most of his teammates head to train with the Spain set-up.

It shows how much Scotland means to Harper when I asked him whether debuting for Scotland’s first team or Real Madrid’s first team would mean more to him, he gave a short, defiant answer, with a smile: “Scotland.”

Such national pride is encouraging, almost inspiring, to see from such a young man who could, with all due respect to Scotland, win a lot more with Spain in the long run.

Especially given the fact that Ricky Sbragia, Scotland’s Under-19s coach, caused outrage a few months back as he declined the opportunity to pick Harper for his squad as Sbragia deemed him a ‘luxury player’ who wasn’t big enough, despite Harper standing at over 6ft tall.

Even in response to such a setback from a country he clearly loves, Harper showed maturity:

‘I’m always determined to get better and better. Hopefully my time will come but I would rather pass on to another chapter now. I’m still young, I will work very hard and see how the future pans out.’

9? 10? 9 and a half?

If you look at the great forwards in the game these days, Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez, Cristiano Ronaldo, they’re all equally proficient at leading the attack as they are at putting the ball on a plate for others.

Former Scottish FA Performance Chief Marc Wotte mentioned in a Daily Mail article previously how it isn’t certain if the Scottish youth international is a number 9 or a number 10, prompting one of his Real Madrid coaches to label him a ‘9 and a half’.

It seems Harper would fit the mould then of these other top forwards as he himself has scored and assisted with equal frequency this year, but which does he prefer?:

“Playing as a number 9 you do tend to score more goals but I do prefer playing in a more creative role, linking up the midfield play with the centre forward. As a number 10 in Madrid this year I have scored plenty of goals and assisted from that position too.”

Learning Lessons

There are few better environments in football to learn in than Valdedebas, Real Madrid’s training ground – the perfect place for Harper to develop technique akin to his inspirations, Robin Van Persie, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo.

After another great season for Real’s youth team, the young Scot admits he has learnt some key lessons along the way this year:

“The big lessons are to work hard in training and try and learn from the great managers I’ve had all these years. That in any great team you always have to play 110% because the squads are big and you have fierce competition as everyone obviously wants to play in the starting XI.’

Harper famously offered to help the most expensive player on the planet, Gareth Bale, settle in to life in Madrid and feels he benefits greatly from being able to watch and interact with these top players regularly:

“The good thing is we see a lot of the first team walking about Valdedebas in the gym, the pools etc. When I see Gareth Bale we have a quick chat now and again, he’s a great guy, an inspiration to all British players. He’s one of the best players in the world playing for one of the best teams.”

It’s impressive to speak to a young man who has his feet firmly on the ground whilst still having his heart and mind focussed on the job at hand – becoming a top class footballer for one of the world’s top teams.

I firmly believe that Jack will do something special in the future if he keeps progressing through the football world in this manner – I can’t wait to see how it all pans out!

INTERVIEW: Fitness coach Raymond Verheijen on why Chelsea are better prepared than Manchester United or Arsenal

The Offside Rule

Words from Jamie Thomas.

Over the past couple of years, Raymond Verheijen has become one of the most outspoken and talked about fitness coaches in the football world. Verheijen has worked with some of the world’s top clubs and coaches and hasn’t pulled any punches when discussing the failings of certain Premier League clubs. He spoke in-depth to us about the importance of pre-season.

Seems an obvious place to start, but just how important is it for clubs both at the top and the bottom of the leagues to get it right in pre-season?

What is important for a coach in pre-season is that he has his priorities right and that he has an understanding of what objective is most important. The most important objective in pre-season is to develop your time so that your players can develop an understanding amongst themselves, to learn to communicate verbally and non-verbally.

That…

View original post 2,113 more words

FEATURE: Martin Tyler on the new season, FIFA 16, ‘that’ Aguero goal and much more…

The Offside Rule

Martin Tyler is the voice of football commentary and one of the few people who has been part of Sky Sports since the very beginning. About to embark on another new season of commentary, he spoke to us about the new campaign, new players, the goal everybody remembers and a whole lot more.

On his coaching role at Hampton & Richmond. I’ve been coaching at three different clubs in the last 10 years, I help out a manager I know and we’ve developed a good partnership. It fits in with work as it’s football related and I usually work Sundays, so I have Saturday’s free.

It’s a return to the level I played at and grew up watching because I supported Woking, I still do, people ask how I manage it but everybody in non-league football has another job, it just so happens that people know what my other job…

View original post 2,201 more words

Tyler Roberts – The next big thing in Welsh Football?

‘I think the biggest compliment I could give him is that you wouldn’t have known that he was so young; he fit straight in – a very talented lad.’

Those were the words of captain Ashley Williams following Wales’ unforgettable 1-0 win over Belgium at the Cardiff City Stadium last week. ‘Who was he talking about?’, I hear you ask. West Bromwich Albion’s and Wales’ newest and most exciting strike prospect, Tyler Roberts.

Another thing you might be wondering right now is why I asked about a 16-year-old prospect after one of my country’s most memorable victories in recent times, without a doubt for at least 13 years. Well, that’s how highly I rate this guy.

I’ve not seen him play too often but, to paraphrase Al Pacino in (the abysmal) Ocean’s Thirteen, some people I take very seriously have told me that Tyler Roberts is a very serious football player.

My only live glimpse of Roberts’ talents came on a cold night in Bangor, North Wales (like a cold night in Stoke, but more difficult) late last year when Osian Roberts’ Wales Under-16s got their teeth stuck into what would be their first outright victorious Victory Shield Campaign since the 1948/49 season, beating England 1-0 in their first game of the tournament.

It was obvious almost immediately that this guy was something special – the whole team played well, don’t get me wrong. A real embodiment at times of the ‘Welsh Way’ of playing the game that Gary Speed, Chris Coleman and Osian Roberts had/have worked so hard to implement and develop over the last few years – quick passing and great movement combined with astute defensive work.

But Roberts stood out for me because he just did everything.

Captaining a side at that age, you don’t necessarily expect the kind of hands-on performance that you might see from the likes of Wayne Rooney in the Premier League or whoever when they get involved with everything but ‘TyRo’ did that. He took free-kicks, he dropped off and got involved with the build-up, he worked the goalkeeper and was involved in what would be the winning goal for Wales which was scored by Cardiff City defensive prospect, Liam Angel. A really great performance before being substituted after 73 minutes.

You can always put one great performance down to a fluke of course; I’m sure we’ve all had a game where we’ve felt like Lionel Messi or whoever, but this wasn’t that and Roberts had a great campaign overall, notching two assists and getting a goal himself in the remaining two games against Scotland and Northern Ireland. He’s quick, powerful, tall and looks an intelligent footballer!

Since then, his season has just gone from strength to strength. West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis, proud of his Welsh roots himself, clearly values him and has labelled Roberts a ‘very promising talent for the future’, evidenced by the fact that Roberts made the bench for West Brom’s final game of the season against Arsenal, and also made a trip to Old Trafford earlier on in the season, but was only involved in the warmup, as West Brom won 1-0 against Manchester United.

Invaluable experience for the youngster!

And now, he’s had a great training camp by all accounts with Wales’ senior team and there really should be a place for him in that team in the future. It’s probably the first time in 30 years or so that Wales haven’t had a really top-class number 9. Over the years Wales have had the likes of Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Craig Bellamy, John Toshack, John Hartson and Robert Earnshaw – all very good for Wales in their own right but an argument could be made that the current crop of forwards (not including Gareth Bale and Hal Robson-Kanu who are wingers, sometimes deployed as forwards) aren’t at that level.

It would be foolhardy of course to say that Roberts is at that level yet, because he isn’t, not yet. He could well be though in a few years’ time if he continues his current rate of development! Hopefully for Wales fans, we can see him making his Premier League debut next season.

Everyone and their dog in the Welsh media has been quite quick to enquire, in light of Wales’ recent success, about the Golden Generation – is this current crop the one? If they qualify for Euro 2016 then you’d be hard-pressed to argue against that! The next generation, however, led by the likes of Tyler Roberts could surpass that still!

The next big thing: Tyler Roberts is Wales’ rising star

The Offside Rule

By Jamie Thomas.

“I think the biggest compliment I could give him is that you wouldn’t have known that he was so young. He fit straight in and is a very talented lad.”

Those were the words of captain Ashley Williams to describe West Brom’s rising star Tyler Roberts following Wales’ unforgettable 1-0 win over Belgium at the Cardiff City Stadium.

My only live glimpse of the 16-year-old prospect’s talents came on a cold night in Bangor, North Wales, late last year when Osian Roberts’ Wales Under-16s got their teeth stuck into what would be their first outright victorious Victory Shield Campaign since the 1948/49 season; beating England 1-0 in their first game of the tournament.

It was obvious almost immediately that this guy was something special. The whole team played well; a real embodiment at times of the ‘Welsh Way’ of playing the game that Gary Speed, Chris Coleman…

View original post 407 more words

Apple Watch: Some Musings

Reflections On Glass

image-20150309-13559-1axt29y

By Andrew McStay

I’ve left this blog for far too long so time for an update of sorts. Since I started this blog I’ve got though a lot of wearables and now have a shelf’s worth of bits, bobs, trackers, wellbeing helpers, EEG units and wearable computers (not least Google Glass). Of all the wearables I’ve kept using, I like Spire’s respiration wearable. This is a pebble-like object that clasps into trouser hips or bra straps tracks breathing so to assess whether people are feeling calm, tense or focused. While breathing, inhaling and exhaling may not seem an especially subtle measure, the results are actually quite accurate (verified by me).

IMG_0124IMG_0125 (1)

The unit itself gives prompts when to take a break and when to collect one’s thoughts and get things in perspective. For people who spend a lot of time with computers this can be quite useful. Although Glass hasn’t had…

View original post 905 more words

A fire in my heart for you

Supporters Not Customers

There was a time I thought I would probably never go to Cardiff City Stadium again. There was a time I thought that Wales would never qualify for a major tournament in my lifetime. After Gary Speed’s death, there was a time I wondered if I could ever enjoy supporting the national side again. There was a time. On a rain soaked Friday night in Cardiff, the greatest Welsh side in living memory changed everything you thought you knew about football in our small but proud country.

Wales are the team who are capable of a few good results, but will always let you down in the end. We’re the team who constantly put ourselves in good positions, before throwing things away in the most unlikely or heartbreaking way possible. Not any more. Not this team.

In my time following Wales before this campaign, we have seriously threatened to qualify…

View original post 2,244 more words

Wales v Belgium: Roberts ready to take Euro 2016 rivals down

The Offside Rule

By Jamie Thomas.

Wales’ assistant manager Osian Roberts admits Belgium are in their best ever form – but he still believes they can exploit any weaknesses.


Chris Coleman’s No2 is confident ahead of Friday’s top-of-the-table Group B clash after doing his homework on the Red Devils with a trip to Paris on Sunday to witness the Marouane Fellaini-inspired 4-3 victory.

While Roberts was full of praise for the newly-crowned second best team in the world – who have risen nine places from 11th to their highest ever position in the Fifa rankings – he insists Wales are capable of causing an upset after November’s shut-out.

He said: “Nothing they did against France surprised us; they’ve been playing that way for a while but I think what you saw was that they’re in a rich run of form at the moment. That’s the best I’ve seen them play for a while.

View original post 578 more words