Why Chris Coleman should resign as Wales manager
This is as good as it gets for Chris Coleman as Wales manager, writes Paul McNamara
The circuitous, obstacle-laden route taken by Chris Coleman on his way to leading Wales to a European Championship semi-final is well-documented.
Where he goes from here, however, is a subject worth visiting.
Coleman’s excellent, painstaking four-and-a-half-year body of work in charge of his national team manifested itself in his magnum opus, Wales’s fearless, cold-eyed dismantling of Belgium in the quarter-final of the tournament in France.
And that, in truth, is as good as it will get for the 46-year-old in his current job.
For all the talk, in the wake of Wales’s ultimately timid last four defeat by Portugal in Lyon, of this being merely the beginning of a prolific era for the country’s football team, there is no real evidence to suggest this will be the case.
Stripped of Aaron Ramsey – one of their two genuinely first-rate players, beside Gareth Bale – against the Portuguese, Coleman’s team represented a husk of the one that so thrillingly disposed of the much-hyped Belgians.
The Dragons’ performance against Cristiano Ronaldo and co will not be held against Coleman. Nor should it be.
His stock now is at its absolute apogee. He has just guided a country of three million people, playing its first summer tournament in 58 years, to within one game of a European final.
But if he stays in the positon any longer, there is only one way Coleman’s reputation can go.
The next task for the Wales manager is to qualify the team for the 2018 World Cup finals. After what he has just achieved, Coleman will be expected be successfully negotiate a six-team group, which also contains Austria, Serbia and the Republic of Ireland.
And this isn’t the Euros, where around every corner waits a second chance. Only group winners go to Russia for certain. Second-place is good enough for a play-off against what the format demands will be stellar opposition.
If, for example, Wales play Austria in their last qualifying game next September in chronic need of a positive result and turn in a display resembling that which saw their Euro 2016 dreams ended, Coleman would unquestionably come under fire.
Certainly, his previously rock-solid job wouldn’t appear quite so secure. Any change of formation in order to frantically chase the game, such as the one he engineered when trying to retrieve a two-goal deficit against Portugal, would be dressed up as a manager under-pressure, abandoning his team’s self-proclaimed identity.
So why risk that scenario? Coleman, after all, has been down that particular road before.
He took charge of Fulham in 2003, a rookie, thought by plenty of observers to have been promoted beyond his means.
Instead, the former defender took to Premier League management as if to the manner born. In his first full season in charge an exciting, expressive Fulham side finished in the top half of the Premier League.
And then they flatlined. Of course they did. They’re Fulham, battling all sorts of odds to compete towards the top-end of the richest league in world football.
No matter, the first time Coleman found himself flirting with the division’s lower reaches, after four years at the helm, he was dismissed.
From there he’s had to go to Spain and Greece in search of employment, and in the particularly volatile atmospheres of Real Sociedad and Larissa, to boot.
Sandwiched between those foreign adventures, Coleman spent an unsatisfactory two years as boss of then Championship side Coventry City.
Perhaps a look at where Fulham and Coventry are today, both playing one division below that in which the Welsh boss left them, puts into a fairer context the strength of his work at those two clubs.
Still, when Coleman succeeded Gary Speed in the Wales job, in awfully tragic circumstances, there was an inescapable feeling that he was being appointed almost by default. There really was nobody else.
Now, the Welsh FA really wouldn’t want anybody else. Coleman, somewhat inevitably given the situation in which he took over, had to ride out a decidedly tough first year in the post.
But from there, the trend has been mostly upwards. There have been signs, though, even during these good times, of what the manager is up against.
Wales stumbled, rather, late in their Euros qualification campaign, drawing 0-0 at home with Israel and going down 2-0 in Bosnia.
Their four friendly matches in the months prior to the European finals yielded one draw and three defeats, the last one an especially poor 3-0 loss in Sweden.
But this is where Wales are. In common with plenty of other European footballing nations, they are capable of delivering at both ends of the performance spectrum.
They have enough good players and the requisite knowhow to pull off some wondrous escapades.
Nevertheless, the Welsh resources are not sufficiently deep to guard against the occasional fruitless sequence of results.
That will be the case regardless of who the manager is. But because Coleman has proved so adept in his role, the damaging spells are limited and full capital made when Wales run hot.
Right now, Coleman will be in the reckoning when some pretty juicy vacancies arise in this country, which they surely will once the new season is underway – even if he still won’t make the shortlist at clubs in the elite bracket, the Champions League set who are increasingly recruiting exclusively from abroad.
And beyond these shores there will be plenty of chairmen whose heads have been turned by the impressive figure leading Wales on their unlikely march through France.
If, however, come October he’s the bloke who’s just lost a World Cup qualifier in Austria, Coleman won’t be such an attractive proposition for any likely employers.
Come off second best to Serbia in November and, such is the capricious nature of his trade, he’ll almost be back to square one.
Look at the example of another ambitious manager. When Ronald Koeman was approached by Everton he would surely have factored into his thinking the possibility that next year could be the one when Southampton’s annual summer sales catch up with them.
Would Barcelona want to appoint a man who has ostensibly overseen the decline of a Premier League team?
This is how Coleman should be thinking now. If things go wrong on international duty for Gareth Bale he goes back to Real Madrid to focus on trying to win the Champions League. Aaron Ramsey returns to Arsenal, Joe Allen to Liverpool.
For Coleman, much like for Wales when they embark on their World Cup campaign, there are no second chances. This is his opportunity to strike out in club football. And he must take it.