Category Archives: European Football

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!

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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!

Do the hopes of two nations hinge on Haifa clash?

Following tremendous starts that have seen both sides go unbeaten in Euro 2016 qualifying so far, Israel welcome Wales to Haifa on Saturday in what is rightly being labelled the biggest game of the group to date.

Wales manager Chris Coleman labelled this game as Wales’ biggest since their Euro 2004 playoff with Russia, which the Welsh lost 1-0 on aggregate over two legs.

At the squad announcement last week, Coleman said: ‘This next game will be the biggest game in Welsh football for years, since Russia. It is an absolutely huge game for us.

‘Top against second! The next two games are going to dictate whether we finish in the top two or whether we’re fighting for third.’

The History

Anyone who knows the history of the Welsh national side knows not to get ahead of themselves too much because, like against Russia, or against Romania or Scotland in years gone by, it can all go so wrong so quickly.

Confidence in Welsh football right now is at it’s highest since that 2004 campaign and some have argued that there are striking similarities between now and then.

On both occasions, Wales went undefeated in the opening four games as well as securing perhaps unlikely results both home and away in both campaigns, in this campaign’s case perhaps the two 0-0 draws and in 2004’s case the Italy/Finland wins.

Perhaps what is fuelling Wales’ fans pessimism, or will at least be at the back of their minds, is what happened after the opening four games of Euro 2004 qualifying (Wales didn’t win another game in that campaign).

Old habits die hard

Two problems Wales have had over the years, both interlinked in previous campaigns, are an abundance of injuries and a lack of commitment.

For the first time this campaign, Wales have a (more or less) full strength squad to choose from as they go into this international clash against Israel.

Earlier in the campaign, Wales were rocked by over a dozen injuries as they faced Bosnia and Cyprus in a double header at the Cardiff City Stadium.

This time there is just a handful of injuries to worry about, something that leaves Chris Coleman with a nice selection headache for once in midfield.

Despite the fact that Jonny Williams is still out, Chris Coleman has to decide if he plays all three of Aaron Ramsey, Joe Ledley and Joe Allen in midfield, and in what system if so.

Wales have played a 3-5-2 and a 4-2-3-1 this campaign. No-one is expecting to see the former again as that was a system catered for Bosnia so if the three are to play in a 4-2-3-1 do we see Ramsey at number 10 with the other two sitting deep, and if so can he fulfil that role?

I think he can. Former FAW Head of Youth Development Chris Whitley described Ramsey to me as someone who ‘wants to take the corners and head them in’ so his commitment is beyond question.

He has the creativity to play in that role and, whilst some have said his performances for Wales recently haven’t been up to scratch, shifting him to 10 could change that.

On the commitment front, Ashley Williams is the perfect example of why those issues are now a thing firmly in Welsh national football’s past.

He will earn his fiftieth cap on Saturday, in only the 57th Wales fixture since his debut, so an amazing show of commitment from the Swansea City skipper.

Joe Allen, who knows the centre-back very well from their time playing alongside each other at Swansea City, said that Williams’ commitment is his most impressive trait:

‘Ash has been a fantastic influence on me, at club and international level. I think the commitment and the drive he has to succeed is brilliant and rubs off on the entire squad.’

James Chester won’t partner him at the back as Coleman left him out of the squad due to Chester’s longstanding shoulder injury but a Williams-Collins combination is a good alternative.

Coleman said: ‘Shoulder injuries take longer to recover than doctors say – it is a shame because he’s been magnificent for us and has struck a great partnership with Ashley.’

Bale Bother

For all of the criticism being levied at Gareth Bale in Spain at the moment, whether you think it is justified or not, his commitment for Wales cannot be questioned.

Chris Coleman commented in this regard: ‘Gareth comes here, he wants to be involved, he’s incredibly motivated – he is the last person I am worried about honestly.

‘We’re almost half way and we’ve got a really good chance. The pressure is on and he loves that pressure, he can handle that, that environment where everything is on the line.’

Wales left-back Neil Taylor reaffirmed the views of his manager and added that, despite the criticism, Bale isn’t taking any notice of it and is just enjoying his football:

‘I don’t know if playing here is a release for him, you’d have to ask him, but all I know is that he looks like he is enjoying his football.

‘He’s fit and ready, like everyone, he turns up for every trip and always gives his best so you can see how much he wants it as a Welshman.’

Whatever is being said, his talent is undeniable. The criticism and the car-bashing in Spain is too far. Sure he can improve but who can’t? If he scores the winner against Israel but has an awful game otherwise, which of those two facts would people remember more?

Israel’s Monsterous midfield

A bit if research will tell you that, although they aren’t doing it in the English Premier League or in La Liga, Israel’s midfield are more than competent goal-scorers!

Biharis Nacho, Eran Zahavi and Lios Refaelov have all scored tonnes of goals domestically this season – Zahavi has managed to get 25 on his own – and Damari up front is joint-top-scorer with Danny Welbeck in qualifying so far on five goals.

Israeli journalist Raphael Gellar told me of his confidence going into these fixtures: ‘It is a very good time for Israel. I expect us to beat Wales and hopefully get a point from Belgium.

However Gellar was realistic regarding the run Israel have had to get to this point in the group: ‘If we can get 3-4 points from the next two matches, I will be impressed.

‘I am not surprised we are doing well but at the same the only tough team we played is Bosnia (and arguably Cyprus) but Bosnia had several injured players and they didn’t support their manager.’

They’re no slouches on the defensive end either; when Israel played Portugal in the last campaign, they completely shut down Cristiano Ronaldo, so could they do the same with Bale?

What is clear is that this is a huge game for both teams – if Wales lose, does the memory of previous campaigns come back to haunt them? Will it be too big a task to pick the players up for the next game, which is at home to Belgium in June?

For Israel, this game is the first of a double-header that will decide what they’re fighting for in the group. If they lose to Wales, can the manager pick them up for a game three days later against Belgium,  one of the best international teams in football?

So much is on the line in this one for both sides – as a Welshman I will obviously be backing Coleman and the guys but Wales are absolutely going to be up against it in this one.

Vokes returns to squad for Wales’ ‘biggest game in 12 years’

Following a terrific start to their Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, Chris Coleman this morning announced his Wales squad for what he is calling Wales’ biggest game since 2003.

Back then, Wales faced a two-legged Euro 2004 playoff against Russia to uplift for the final tournament but lost out, losing 1-0 on aggregate.

Coleman said: ‘This next game will be the biggest game in Welsh football for years, since Russia. It is an absolutely huge game for us.

‘Top against second! The next two games are going to dictate whether we finish in the top two or whether we’re fighting for third.’

No Chester

The squad contained all of the usual names, as well as the returning Sam Vokes and Simon Church but there was no place for James Chester who has missed a lot of time with a shoulder injury.

There had been speculation as to whether or not Chester would be included as he is expected to make a return this weekend against Chelsea but Coleman was very dismissive of the possibility.

‘I don’t think he’ll play this weekend. You never know but speaking to James last week I can’t see him playing, and even so he’s been out a long time.

‘Shoulder injuries take longer to recover than doctors usually say – it is a shame because he’s been magnificent for us and has struck a great partnership with Ashley (Williams).’

Big 50th

Ashley Williams is expected to win his 50th cap for Wales in the game against Israel and Coleman was full of praise for his skipper.

’50 caps – it was inevitable really for him – he’s a great captain and great leader and what better game to get his 50th in?

‘Ashley’s been in the real world; he didn’t start at a top Premier League academy or anything – he saw what life is really like.

‘He respects and cherishes every game he plays – that’s why he doesn’t miss games – he loves his job.’

The Wales manager also noted how he expects many more players to break the 50 and, hopefully, 100 cap barriers for Wales in the coming years.

‘We don’t have any players with over 100 caps. Of course we don’t get regular tournament football but still.

‘Ash could do it and get 100 but so could Chris Gunter – 57 caps is a very impressive return but we’re trying to push them to as many caps as we can.’

Vokes Return

Coleman thinks Sam Vokes, who has made a comeback from injury in recent weeks, adds something to the squad that they haven’t had before.

‘A few times we’ve created scenarios in the games where we’re getting balls into the box that would’ve been ideal for Sam so it is great to have him back.

‘Watching him come back into the fray, it is clear he isn’t 100% but he’s two or three weeks away and, most importantly, back playing football.’

The former Fulham manager also praised Burnley for the way they have handled Vokes in his return from the long injury layoff.

‘Dyche has managed it in the correct way. Some managers might’ve pushed Sam back into the team quicker if they were in the position Burnley were in earlier in the season but he’s handled Sam really well.’

Bale Criticism

Israel’s manager recently made comments  saying Bale was saving himself for Wales amidst criticism of his form for Real Madrid. Coleman jokingly responded: ‘If he is then it is great for me!’

He added ‘When you play for Real Madrid, winning is not enough – you have to entertain too! Gareth’s a big boy and he’ll come through this no problem.’

Reporters asked Coleman whether or not the comments were mind games designed to unsettle Bale further. Coleman simply responded saying it showed Bale is on their minds:

‘I think they’ll be thinking about him – I would be! Most teams would be looking at him – whether he’s on form or not he can turn a game on its head.

‘Gareth comes here, he wants to be involved, he’s incredibly motivated – he is the last person I am worried about honestly.

‘I’ve never been one for mind games. I’d rather get down to business when the whistle blows and see what we can do.’

The Wales squad fly out to Tel Aviv late next week ahead of their qualifier in Haifa on Saturday the 28th; the game kicks off at 5pm on Sky Sports 5.

Bangor City Football Club looking to trial safe standing next season

The Football Supporters Federation and the Safe Standing Roadshow gave an exhibition at Bangor City Football Club today that could shape the future of how spectators watch the game in Wales.

The Citizens welcomed the exhibition to Nantporth Stadium today as supporters, politicians and a number of people from the club’s hierarchy made the trip to see what was on offer to the club.

The focal point of the day was a demonstration of a new innovation called rail seats, which enable football stands to be converted from seating areas to standing areas with the turn of a key.

Rail seats, which are very popular in Germany are more durable and more compact than the plastic seats you’ll find at football grounds across Britain and meet all of the necessary safety regulations.

Safe Standing Roadshow representative Jon Darch demonstrated the product today and was adamant that whichever club used rail seats first would see a massive increase in media attention.

He said: ‘What I feel is that I’m very excited Bangor City seem so keen to be the very first club in the UK to install rail seats. If they are to do that, the media coverage they get will be out of this world,

‘All of these people will be here again but so will Sky, The BBC, ITV, all the papers – everyone will be here – there will be coverage for whoever it is and that coverage will be a huge benefit to any club.’

Bangor City FC Chairman Dilwyn Jones expressed his satisfaction with the exhibition and gave brief details with regards to when Bangor City fans might be able to expect this innovation at Nantporth.

‘Things have been moving very, very quickly since we moved to Nantporth with the 3G pitch finished now, and we’re hoping to have this safe-standing project done over the summer.’ He said.

Jones also outlined how the move to increase Nantporth’s capacity might be necessary sooner or later anyway due to the European footballing body’s regulations with regards to stadium capacities:

“We can hold around 1100 right now but we need 1500 by 2016/17 because at the moment the FAW are getting special dispensation from UEFA to reduce their regulations to 1000 seats,

‘One day UEFA are going to stop being so generous and we’re going to suffer for it if we haven’t sorted it out because we will have been benefiting from that dispensation for a long time.

Mr Jones made it clear that the club’s intentions are to have one stand prepared over the summer, but admitted that the stumbling block of another stand being built the following summer is funding:

‘It’s all down to funding, whether or not we do one side this summer and one side next summer. Grants are a struggle because stands don’t have a community benefit.’

Alun Pugh, former Welsh Assembly Sports Minister and current Welsh Labour candidate for Arfon was pleased but said if he were still Sports Minister he would want to be reassured of its safety.

He said: ‘Naturally, I would want to be convinced on the safety of this, especially since obviously we’re meeting in the week of when the Hillsborough inquest is taking place.

‘The presentation was a very powerful one and certainly the Bundesliga in Germany don’t take risks with the safety of their fans, where this system works, so yes I would like to see this made available.’

Mr Darch understood the comparisons with Hillsborough but said that its difficult to compare the two scenarios as where in some ways there may be links, in others there definitely aren’t:

‘It’s a new product – it is the introduction of a brand new form of standing which is a lot safer. I know in many ways Hillsborough and this are linked but in other ways they aren’t linked at all.

‘Clearly Hillsborough was failings of stadium maintenance and crowd management; not the fact that they were going into a standing area. People link the two things but in reality there is really no link.’

For more information on the Football Supporters’ Federation’s Safe Standing Campaign, click here and for more information on Bangor City Football Club you can find that here!

 

Mentality key to Borussia Dortmund turnaround

The Offside Rule

By Jamie Thomas.

Borussia Dortmund team-mates Mats Hummels and Roman Weidenfeller breached the ‘Yellow Wall’ to confront fans after their defeat by Augsburg and with it broke down the mental barrier contributing to their winless streak.

Since then, they’ve recorded impressive back-to-back victories in the Bundesliga to give the supporters renewed optimism about the remainder of the season. Commentators had initially questioned the players’ actions – why risk being abused? Even gaffer Jurgen Klopp looked bemused at the time.

But that simple act’s turned out to be something of a masterstroke in sparking Dortmund’s revival. It also helped placate the crowd; showing the players understood that no matter how bad they felt about the slump, the fans were feeling much worse.

It’s been a tumultuous season for Dortmund. Less than two years after the high of reaching the Champions League final, they have spent most of this term languishing at…

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Should The FA be wary of backing Prince Ali in the FIFA presidential race?

The Offside Rule

By Jamie Thomas

Earlier this week the Football Association threw a spanner in the works of Sepp Blatter’s bid to remain Fifa president as sources announced they would be backing one of his main rivals. It was reported on Wednesday that the FA are set to give Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein of Jordan one of the five nominations he needs to stand against Blatter in May’s presidential election.

This is the same FA that has been among the leading voices criticising the present Fifa regime. Prince Ali, a Fifa vice-president himself, has long been critical of the current administration as well, making him a prime candidate to earn the backing of the FA.

Whether or not the FA are supporting him because they believe in his vision of an ethical and transparent organisation, or because they want to put as many people as possible in a position to challenge Blatter (with…

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EXCLUSIVE: Women’s Football the focus of Next Policy; Confidence in Team Ginola Growing

FIFA Presidential Candidate David Ginola this morning announced that his second of nine policies designed to change the way FIFA is run will be based on bringing equality to the women’s game.

Speaking exclusively to me before his TV appearances this morning, David Ginola said ‘We have some great policies – the first one being the tax equality and the next one is regarding equality with women’s football’.

Having committed to announcing a policy a day until the January 29th nomination deadline, Ginola yesterday announced a proposal to scrap benefits that FIFA use to avoid paying full tax in countries where World Cup tournaments are hosted.

Today the ex-Spurs winger is expected to announce a proposal that will bring the stature of the women’s game in line with that of the men’s by bringing the Olympic structure into football and combining men’s and women’s World Cup tournaments into one event.

Publicity Stunt:

Following criticism of his campaign from some circles who argue that being sponsored by Bookmakers, Paddy Power, is a gimmick, Ginola was keen to reiterate the integrity of his cause.

‘It is important to know where we are going and important to let people know where we stand on these key issues. We are absolutely for real – it is not a stunt at all’ He said.

Ginola faces a tough task to qualify for the election given the risks attached to supporting his cause and the support that other candidates are known to have for their campaigns; he is struggling at this early stage to meet any of the criteria that would make him an eligible candidate.

Reason for Optimism:

  • The Frenchman, however detailed that there have been some developments recently in gaining the crucial support from the five Football Associations he needs for his campaign to be eligible to progress to the final election in May.
  • ‘We have spoken to a few Associations actually. A few have contacted us and we’ve contacted a few ourselves. We need their support and we will have some definite answers on that in the coming days’ He said.
  • ‘The confidence is coming along as our policies come out. We need to carry on unveiling our great ideas and assure people that if I become president of FIFA those ideas will be implemented’ He added.

Welsh Backing?

Ginola was campaigning in Cardiff yesterday evening in a FA Wales tracksuit – a move that sources say has angered the FAW who insist that, beyond allowing him to take his coaching courses in the country, they have no plans to support him.

‘Just to have their support would be nice but to have that support you need to believe in something and I hope they’re going to believe in me, in what we’re saying, what we want to change but I am very realistic’ Ginola said of the Welsh FA.

With the Welsh FA’s support or without it, the Frenchman has just over a week to win over the financial and political support he needs but is confident that it will come.

‘Once the first one joins the cause then the others might feel more confident in joining us too. We only need five to carry on the campaign and that is what is important because this campaign needs to go forward’.

‘This is the people’s campaign and if we’re going to be successful at the end it is going to be because the people decided that David Ginola is going to be their candidate and I hope I can make the people proud’ Ginola added.

You can follow David Ginola’s campaign on Twitter via @TeamGinola or pledge support, donate or keep up to date via teamginola.com

Victory Shield win shows Wales’ Golden Generation Still to Come

The Chair of The Football Association of Wales’ Senior Technical Group, Chris Whitley tonight insisted that Welsh Football’s bright future is soon going to get even brighter.

Speaking to me exclusively after coaching a youth football session in Colwyn Bay, Mr Whitley expressed his immense happiness regarding the Welsh National side’s current success before promising more was to come in the very near future.

‘Chris [Coleman] and all of them speak about this current Welsh National squad being the Golden Generation but I think differently if I’m honest’.

‘The Golden Generation will be the next one. We have half a dozen players at least now waiting to come through to the senior squad that are going to be great players very soon. Make no mistake!’

Mr Whitley, who is also the Head of Youth Development at Conwy Borough Football Club, has been responsible for pushing through the youth development of a number of Welsh football greats such as Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Gareth Bale, Ryan Giggs, Aaron Ramsey and so on.

However Mr Whitley thinks that the current group of youth players, such as the under-16s who won the Victory Shield recently coached by FAW Technical Director Osian Roberts, could make for Wales’ most talented squad to date when they join the seniors in the near future.

‘When we bolt these youngsters on to the existing lot, who in a few years’ time will still be young enough, we will have an exceptionally talented squad of players without a doubt’.

Whitley spoke of a number of Welsh Youth players who he believed had the potential to go to the top but picked out three in particular as his standout stars for the future.

‘There are so many talented youngsters coming through but Joe Murrell, Harry Wilson and Tyler Roberts really stand out for me’.

‘Tyler is absolutely outstanding in my opinion. I’ve seen so many youth players coming through but Tyler is the best number 9 I have seen in a Wales shirt since Mark Hughes without a doubt’.

Whitley’s career within the FAW has spanned over 40 years but he believes there are a number of key changes that have been made in recent years, most notably during Gary Speed’s tenure, that have put the current senior and youth squads in such a strong position.

‘This all started towards the end of Gary Speed’s era in charge where we said one of our objectives is to make our squads one of the best prepared squads in the world and they are without a doubt!’

Key changes have been made also in the way the FAW recruits its youth talent:

‘Our recruitment and retention of players now compared to years gone by has improved so much! To be honest, 75% of our team now are English-based players’.

‘Years ago we wouldn’t have discovered them because we didn’t go out there and look for them – we used to stumble upon them by accident sometimes’.

The National Coaching Conference took place in Newport at the Welsh Football Trust earlier in the week and, with a record number of coaches in attendance, Whitley believes the Welsh coach development is another key piece in what is currently a very successful Welsh Football structure.

‘The coaching education in Wales is first class, absolutely first class. We had a record number of coaches at our recent national conference – 350 coaches! Unbelievable!’

‘Our coach education programme is second to none. The Welsh Football Trust is doing a tremendous job in terms of coaching education and player development’.

Welsh football is currently going through a tremendous period of success and, having spoken to Mr Whitley about his experiences within the side and where we are making changes and trying to develop, I for one fully believe that the future for football in our country is very bright indeed and I hope we can continue to be rewarded for the amazing support that we fans have always given!