Category Archives: Welsh 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.’

 

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!

Lots of Positives for Wales after Slovakia double-header.

Ahead of two friendlies against Slovakia this week, Wales Women’s team manager Jayne Ludlow said as she announced her squad that the games would be another opportunity to develop an identity and style of play that will bring success.

The Welsh won their first fixture on Monday 1-0 thanks to a 55th minute goal from Helen Ward, and were leading 1-0 in the second game on Wednesday but eventually lost 2-1.

Pessimists will say, given that Wales conceded a lead to lose the second game, the style of play needs more work. Looking at each game individually though, I disagree.

Wales fielded a full-strength team in the first game on Monday and, despite what the score suggests, they absolutely decimated Slovakia – particularly in the first half – and could have been 4-0 up at half-time.

The main criticism of Wales in that game is that they didn’t finish their chances as Ward in particular could have had a hat-trick and a few others could have got their names on the score-sheet too.

They created an abundance of chances though, something Ludlow told FAW TV she was very happy about, and with Helen Ward returning from recently having given birth, surely it won’t be long before she is back on top form and building on her record total of 33 goals for Wales.

The former Reading Women’s manager also told FAW TV that, having taken the national team job in November, she thinks her tactical ideas and the identity she is trying to develop, is being taken on board by the players:

‘I’d like to think my messages are coming across to the girls, they’re working extremely hard and we’re testing them in every training session – there’s changes to how they’ve played in the past as a group and as individuals but they’re responding really well and performing really well.’

Wales were as good as Slovakia were poor though; Slovakia’s coach was seen at times striking the dugout to express his anger, such was the lack of quality in his team’s performance.

Wednesday’s game was always going to be a slightly different story, not least because one of the team’s star players – Jess Fishlock – had returned to her club, Seattle Reign, following her appearance in Monday’s game.

Furthermore, Slovakia had clearly learnt a lot of lessons from the manner of defeat in the first game as they pressed Wales vigorously right from the offset – something they hadn’t managed previously.

Wales, whilst still dominant in possession and way clear of their opponents in terms of chance creation, hadn’t learnt their lessons as they didn’t finish off the great chances they had.

That being said, the attacking play was excellent. Natasha Harding and Angharad James stood out in what was an excellent all-round midfield performance by Wales in both games.

The two Slovakia goals were fairly soft though, which will have disappointed the Wales camp.

The first saw Skorvankova pick the ball up in the centre circle before running through the entire Wales defence and slotting past goalkeeper Alice Evans. An excellent run, but a tackle probably should have been made.

The second came from an excellent corner by Feckova, which wasn’t dealt with by Wales’ goalkeeper and eventually met by Klechova who scored a bullet header. A great finish again, but appeared to get away from her marker too easily.

Defeat in the second game obviously didn’t go down well as some players expressed their disappointment on Twitter afterwards but all things considered, I don’t think Wales are too far away from where they want to be.

When Ward finds her best form again, Wales will be a different animal. For all of Slovakia’s improvements in the second game, Wales still had enough chances to win comfortably.

Also, with Fishlock not playing and Helen Bleazard not starting, as well as playing a very demanding formation twice in three days, the level of performance may understandably have dipped a few notches.

FAW President Trefor Lloyd Hughes, however, is a strong supporter of Ludlow, praising her work in his programme notes prior to these fixtures, but told me how he felt Wales missed Fishlock:

‘I think with (Jess) Fishlock missing tonight it makes a hell of a difference to the team, she is a top class player and would have made the difference tonight, I think.

‘Natasha (Harding) played well, and played better when she moved out wide. She’s really improved over the last eight months and understands the game very well – she’s a key player too.

Hughes was also optimistic about Wales’ chances in Euro 2017 qualifying, as the draw for qualification takes place on Monday in Nyon:

‘As long as they realise they have a good chance, they’ll be alright in qualifying. This was a good opportunity for them to test themselves in front of a good crowd. I think they have a good chance.’

All in all, a very impressive couple of performances for Wales over the last few days though. Yes, they could have done a couple of things a bit better but there are a lot of positives that will be taken from these two games, and rightly so as Wales were excellent for the most-part.

The draw for the qualifying rounds of Euro 2017 takes place on Monday the 13th of April in Nyon, Switzerland. Wales are ranked 19th among the 40 entrants – of course, I wish them the best of luck going into qualification!

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.

‘Gareth should stay where he is’, says Coleman

Chris Coleman has given his thoughts on the current criticism surrounding Wales talisman Gareth Bale saying he thinks the Real Madrid star should stay put, amidst speculation of a move back to England.

Bale has been labelled as lazy and a ball hog this season, but speaking after Wales’ squad announcement yesterday for their upcoming Euro 2016 qualifier against Israel in, Coleman said:

“He’s the most expensive player in the world, I think he’s been caught up in a bit of a storm but knowing Gareth I’d be really surprised if he turned around and said he’d had enough and wanted to leave.

“He’s good enough to win the big trophies and play on the biggest stage with one of the biggest clubs and Real Madrid fit that bill,” He added.

It is well known that winning isn’t enough at Real Madrid as fans, board members and the media always expect them to not only win, but to do it convincingly and entertain in the process.

Coleman acknowledges this: ‘They’re different to Chelsea because although the pressure is on to perform every game, it is almost like a show when watching Madrid, there has to be entertainment.

‘Although they lost to Schalke they still got through but that isn’t good enough at Madrid. You can’t just win one or two nil, you have to win by more than that and entertain at the same time.’

After a 22-match winning streak that saw Madrid trail-blaze their way to the top of La Liga, their momentum has taken a serious hit recently and they’ve been criticised a lot as a result.

The Wales manager said: ‘Because it is Real Madrid and they are who they are if you’re not top of the league and banging in the goals every game then the fans aren’t going to be happy.

‘If you look at what has been said it is quite a personal attack on Bale – you can’t say they’ve not done as well in two or three games because of Gareth Bale’s performance, that just isn’t correct.’

The ex-Fulham manager feels that the criticism being levied at Bale is a bit too personal, and unfair given the tempo of the league and the work-rate of some of his Madrid teammates:

‘It is getting personal but lazy is the one word I wouldn’t use for Gareth Bale. He’s always up there far up beyond anyone else in his sprinting. I hope his tenure at Madrid doesn’t become untenable.

‘La Liga is different to the Premier League, the tempo is different, England is much less forgiving but he’s in better shape for us now as a result of him being there, playing twice, three times a week.

‘He does a lot of work Gareth, a lot of running and that’s his game when he gets the ball he’s off. I watch every Madrid game and you don’t often see Ronaldo, Benzema or Isco running back.’

Despite the criticism being thrown his way, Bale isn’t having any issues according to Coleman: ‘I spoke to his agent a few days ago and there’s absolutely no issues with him, he’s fine’

Bale has been praised this season whilst donning the Wales shirt for developing leadership qualities that have benefitted the Wales squad; Coleman says Bale loves the group ethic that has developed:

‘When he comes with us, it’s us, it’s a group thing and that’s our strength – he likes it. When he goes to Haifa next week he could have a bad game, but he could score a goal that wins us the match.

‘What he does do is he works hard for us and he fits into the system, whether we play him down the middle, out wide, at 9 or at 10, he knows wherever he plays it is to get to where we need to go.’

In spite of all the criticism, Coleman is adamant that Bale will have his mind firmly focussed on the task at hand when he joins up with the Wales squad next week and that reaching Euro 2016 is his aim.

‘The goal is to get enough points to go to France and that’s where he wants to be, that’s where he belongs at a tournament as one of the best players in football so I’m not worried when he joins us.’

‘We’re almost half way and we’ve got a chance, 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.’

 

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!

 

Anglesey Assembly Member strongly opposes Team GB Proposal

Rhun ap Iorwerth today criticised the English FA’s attempts to form a Team GB football team for the 2016 Olympics as something that ‘threatens the independence of our FAs’.

The GB football team at the 2012 Olympics was pitched as a one off, but still caused outrage as Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland saw the move as a threat to their independent status.

The emergence of a possible team for 2016 has seen the FA come under fire for organising the proposal with the British Olympic Association without the consent of the other three nations.

Rhun ap Iorweth expressed his disappointment with The FA’s actions: ‘I am disappointed the English FA would do this. We were told at the 2012 Olympics that a Team GB football team was a one off.

‘The FAW and SFA made it quite clear in 2012 that they were opposed to it but here the English FA are now going into 2016 and surprise, surprise they want a Team GB again.’

FAW President Trefor Lloyd Hughes added: ‘The BOA should be more open and transparent. It’s supposed to be the British Olympic Association not the English Olympic Association.

‘I am absolutely gutted with the English FA. If they want to work with us they have to be more open with us and they don’t seem to be keeping to agreements. I’m livid about it.’

Mr ap Iorwerth noted that although assurances have been given by FIFA that joining forces for the Olympics wouldn’t threaten each country’s status, the implications of a GB Team are huge.

‘This taps into a much bigger debate about national identity. We have a great, longstanding tradition of our teams playing independently of each other and against each other. ‘Frankly I think we should make sure we aren’t in a position where we undermine in anyway the integrity or the independence of our own football associations,’ He added.

The ex-journalist said that as well as the discussions that are known to be on-going between the home nations now on this matter, the public and politicians have a role to play in proceedings.

‘Politicians have a role because at the end of the day some of us are football fans and if we can use our platform to bring attention to the issue and help in any way then we have a responsibility to do so.’

The reaction to this issue in Wales particularly has been very anti-Team-GB, as many high-profile figures have criticised the proposal, but some have used the British and Irish Lions as an example of how this could work.

Mr ap Iorweth acknowledges that point but outlines the key differences: ‘I support the British and Irish Lions but the situation is totally different as there is a lot more respect to each country.

‘You only have to look at the badge to see that – each country is fairly represented. As well as that, it is a specialised tournament that is played every four years and selects players from each nation.’

The Plaid Cymru AM also referred to home nation cricket teams as an example of the disrespect that Wales could receive if it were to become part of a Team GB.

Having noted on his Twitter feed that he felt Wales could’ve qualified for the group stages of the Cricket World Cup, Mr ap Iorwerth said to me: ‘The situation regarding cricket is quite disrespectful to Wales I think.

‘What is officially abbreviated to ECB is actually the Wales and England Cricket board, and when the team plays they are only referred to as England which is totally disrespectful to Wales.’ He added.

This morning saw rumours emerge in the Daily Telegraph that the FA’s proposal was in tatters as Wales and Northern Ireland have again taken a strong stance on the issue.

It is unclear whether or not the rumours have any substance but, given Trefor Lloyd Hughes’ insistence that it would be difficult to block the FA, expect this debate to develop in the coming months.

 

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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