Chris Coleman departs Wales with a nation's thanks, but Dragons youngsters prove the future is bright

Matt Jones 18/11/2017
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Chris Coleman’s resignation is the climax to one of the most successful eras in recent memory for Welsh football, but it shouldn’t be seen as its death knell.

It should be viewed for what it is, a chance to carry on the great work predecessor Gary Speed began, which he progressed.

And that starts by nurturing an exciting crop of new, young talent that could provide an even more exciting future. In order to do that, the Football Association of Wales (FAW) must make the right appointment.

And the right man is Osian Roberts – Coleman’s number two and a key figure in Wales’ rise to a FIFA world ranking of 13th. They were as high as eighth in 2015, heady progress indeed from the 117th place out of the world’s 204 teams they occupied in August 2011.

That nadir was reached under Speed himself – although by the former Newcastle and Leeds United midfielder’s death in November 2011, Wales had vaulted into the top 50.

Of his 10 games at the helm, Speed won five and lost five. But it was the effort exerted and finances invested at youth level and drastic improvements made to the nutritional and fitness infrastructure in the Welsh set-up that would serve as his legacy.

It has been carried on brilliantly by Coleman, although it was a rough transition – five of his first six games ended in defeat, including a humiliating 6-1 defeat in Serbia.

Since then, Coleman has breathed new life into Welsh football – culminating in qualifying for a first major tournament in 58 years, Euro 2016, where the Dragons defied all the odds to reach the semi-finals, beaten by eventual champions Portugal.

North Walian Roberts has been Coleman’s assistant from the start but has been involved in the national team set-up since the mid-1990s.

He has been key in developing the likes of Gareth Bale, Joe Allen, Aaron Ramsey, Ben Davies and Wayne Hennessey – who form the current spine of the team.

Once described as “the most influential man in Welsh football”, Roberts himself, on Saturday, threw his backing behind former Manchester United star and 64-times capped Ryan Giggs.

Giggs is seen by many as raw, though Speed had only four months of managerial experience at Sheffield United before his country came calling in December 2010.

WalesOnline have instilled Giggs as the favourite to replace Coleman, although some of the names on the list – Thierry Henry and Craig Bellamy – seem far-fetched.

Their head of sport, Delme Parfitt, even suggested former England coach Glenn Hoddle – a man who hasn’t held a managerial appointment in over a decade.

Giggs would be a sound appointment in many ways, as would West Brom boss Tony Pulis, but having been at the core of Welsh football for so long and so often the man in the background, many believe Roberts would both relish the role and maintain the standards that have seen Wales rise both on and off the field.

Ryan Giggs at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo last April.

Ryan Giggs at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo last April.

To many, Coleman’s departure is not a surprise. His contract was up after the World Cup. The peculiar thing is he is set to leave to take over at Sunderland – a club bottom of England’s second tier.

Of more pressing concern now is safeguarding Wales’ stars of the future – many of whom are beginning to stir.

The sight of Ben Woodburn (18), already a match-winner twice for Wales during their unsuccessful World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign, David Brooks (20) and Ethan Ampadu (17) simultaneously introduced from the bench in their recent 2-0 friendly defeat to France had Dragons fans dreaming of a bright future. Just because Coleman has gone, does not mean those dreams are dashed.

He has gone, and he leaves with the grateful thanks of a nation. It is now time to turn the page. And if their recent storybook success is to continue, Roberts has to be the man to pen the next tale.

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Carlo Ancelotti the favourite but list of Italy job candidates is full of big names

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After Italy’s shocking failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, it was no surprise that Gian Piero Venturo was sacked soon after — if anything, the fact that it took two days to confirm the decision was more surprising.

Now one of the highest-profile jobs in world football is available. But revitalising this Italian set-up is going to be a huge challenge.

Former Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Juventus, AC Milan, Real Madrid, and PSG manager Carlo Ancelotti is the clear favourite for the job at the moment, but he’s far from being the only candidate.

Here’s a look at five potential managers for Italy.

CARLO ANCELOTTI

The clear favourite, Carlo Ancelotti has reportedly already been approached by the Italian FA regarding their vacancy. Ancelotti’s managerial record, even after being unceremoniously sacked by Bayern Munich this season, means he’s regarded as both the popular choice and the best man for the job.

Possibly the only wrinkle in this dream scenario for Italy is Chelsea. Ancelotti’s former employers are reportedly keen on bringing back the only manager to have done the Premier League and FA Cup double with the club, with stories emerging that Blues owner Roman Abramovich has personally been in touch with the Italian.

Out of respect for his friend and compatriot Antonio Conte, the current Chelsea manager and another man linked with the Italy job, Ancelotti has not commented on the speculation regarding his former club, but he might feel he has unfinished business with Chelsea and the Premier League.

Ancelotti has never managed an international team, however, and the fact that he’s achieved more or less everything there is to achieve at club level, coupled with the honour he’d consider it to be to manage his own national team, would probably push him towards the Italy job if it came to a straight choice. Winning again with Chelsea would be nice. Success with Italy would be the pinnacle of an already storied career.

Ancelotti has one last mountain left to climb.

Ancelotti has one last mountain left to climb.

GIAN PIERO GASPERINI

Although Ancelotti is the clear favourite, there have been plenty of calls for the federation to consider Gian Piero Gasperini.

The 59-year-old has done an absolutely stunning job with Atalanta, leading them to fourth place in the league last year with a young side whose best players are sold the moment the club feels it’s time to cash in. Atalanta are now almost guaranteed of passage through to the Europa League knockout stages after a strong group stage campaign this season, another feather in Gasperini’s cap.

The biggest appeal surrounding Gasperini is his success with young players. With Daniele de Rossi, Giorgio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli, and Gianluigi Buffon all retiring, the Italian side has lost a wealth of experience all at once. It also has a host of young, talented players, including Marco Verratti and Lorenzo Insigne, as well as several with whom Gasperini worked with in the Atalanta setup.

For all his success with Atalanta, Gasperini has to know there’s a ceiling for the club; barring a miracle, the Serie A is likely beyond their reach, although winning a cup here and there is definitely a possibility and a Europa League triumph would be no less feted.

But the national job is a logical step up for the Atalanta manager. The federation probably wouldn’t opt for him if it Ancelotti’s available, but they’d at least have to consider him either for now or as Ancelotti’s potential successor.

Gasperini could be the perfect manager for a young Italy side.

Gasperini could be the perfect manager for a young Italy side.

ANTONIO CONTE

Heading into Euro 2016, no one expected much from the Italian side. Yet they tamed a Belgian side packed with firepower, then got wins over Sweden and Italy to finish the group stages with a perfect record, and then — the peak of that campaign — upset Spain in the Round of 16 with a masterclass of a performance. They lost to Germany in the quarter-finals after a dramatic penalty shootout, but nobody had thought they’d come within a whisker of the semi-finals in the first place.

That they did was all down to Antonio Conte. The Chelsea manager burnished his reputation with the way he got Italy to play and perform in Euro 2016, and memories of that tournament are still fresh on many fans’ minds. Given his tensions with the Chelsea board and mounting speculation that he could leave the London club soon, maybe even before the Premier League season ends, a return to the national team is definitely a possibility.

Conte and Italy seem like a perfect fit – indeed, he’s proven that already. And the current circumstances are something Conte relishes. An Italy side reeling due to failure, in need of a lift quickly – this is Conte’s specialty, and he’s arguably better suited for that job than any of the other candidates, including Ancelotti.

He took a side that had been knocked out in the group stages of the 2014 World Cup to the quarter-finals of Euro 2016. How he’d love to do even better a second time around.

MASSIMILIANO ALLEGRI

If and when Max Allegri chooses to leave Juventus, he’ll leave with a stellar record. Three consecutive league and cup doubles, along with two appearances in the Champions League final, means he’s already one of the most successful managers in recent Italian history, having already previously won Serie A with AC Milan. He’ll have the pick of the offers when he makes himself available.

There’s no reason the Italian national team job won’t be one of them. Even in a field full of excellent candidates, Allegri will stand out.

He has tactical flexibility, he can organise a side defensively and get the best out of attacking players – Gonzalo Higuain has never had it so good – and he can certainly motivate a team; Juventus have had to guard against complacency for years, and yet Allegri has managed to lift them time after time.

Whether a rebuilding job is something he’ll be good at is less certain. However, early in his career he managed Palermo to an impressive ninth-place finish, and no one expected AC Milan to win the Serie A title in 2011, so he’s no stranger to an against-the-odds job. He has the resume, the experience, and the passion – Italy could come calling.

Allegri's resume is as strong as anyone's.

Allegri’s resume is as strong as anyone’s.

ROBERTO MANCINI

This is a star-studded list, and Roberto Mancini’s star has actually fallen recently. He’s enduring a frustrating time at Zenit St. Petersburg, after having left Inter Milan in disappointing fashion in his second spell. But what he achieved with Manchester City speaks for itself, and few would have forgotten his first spell with Inter.

Four years ago, Mancini would have been a shoo-in for this job. The issue isn’t just that his star has fallen but that others’ have risen. Conte, Gasperini, and Allegri have seen their reputations grow, and Ancelotti would always have been the preferred choice to Mancini.

But he comes with much the same credentials as everyone else. Success at club level, pedigree at organising a side, and skill with managing a high-octane attack. This could be the moment and the job for his redemption.

Time for Mancini's redemption?

Time for Mancini’s redemption?

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Welcome the newest Aussie sporting legend, Mile Jedinak, a good Croatian boy from Parra

Alex Broun 16/11/2017
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Hat-trick hero: Jedinak.

There is a proud list of Australian sporting legends: Don Bradman, John Eales, Dawn Fraser, Herb Elliott, Betty Cuthbert, Cathy Freeman, Rod Laver, Greg Norman, Ian Thorpe.

But to that august list you can now add another name – Socceroos captain Mile Jedinak.

With his long, bushy beard, reminiscent of another Australian legend – Ned Kelly – Jedinak was on fire at Stadium Australia, the sight of Freeman’s heroics 17-years previously.

If Australia had simply won, Jedinak would have been lauded for leading the nation to a fourth World Cup in succession. But to do it scoring a hat-trick (denied by a curious own-goal ruling) elevates him to the likes of Thorpe and Laver, if not perhaps Bradman.

There were even doubts the 33-year-old would even take the field last night in Sydney.

Jedinak’s year has been plagued by a persistent groin injury for which he had surgery in June.

He has only just recently got back on the park for his club, Aston Villa in England’s second tier, but played a valiant and crucial 90-minute role in Australia’s 0-0 draw with the Hondurans in San Pedro Sula on Saturday.

But having only played one other full game since April, the Socceroos qualifier against Saudi Arabia in Adelaide in June, doubts were high over his capacity to back up, especially given the long haul flight from Central America and the dodgy pitch upon which both teams played on the weekend. (Although it must be noted Sydney’s pride and joy didn’t look much better).

The fact that regular starter Mark Milligan, who was suspended for the first leg, was available would also have given Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou pause over whether to play “The Beard to be Feared”, as he is known by the Villa Park faithful.

But Postecoglou made the call – Jedinak got the start – and the rest, as they say, is history.

It all adds to the growing legend. Aussie sporting immortals don’t have to just do great things on the field they have to have the back story as well.

Bradman used to practice with a golf ball and stump against a water tank in the back-yard. Freeman overcame family tragedy losing a brother and a sister before winning Olympic gold.

Jedinak also has his own tale to tell. For starters his name isn’t even Mile – it’s Michael, but he shortened it because of his Croatian heritage.

“I was named ‘Michael John’ by my parents,” explains Jedinak, “but being of a Croatian heritage and growing up with grandparents who didn’t really speak a lot of English, everyone called me ‘Mile’.

“I just went with it. In football I played for Croatian background clubs, I just stuck with it.”

He started playing football in a competition between Catholic schools in Parramatta, in Sydney’s inner-west, and began his senior career playing for semi-pro Sydney United, formerly Sydney Croatia.

He played briefly for Croatian club Varteks, making one appearance in a 2003/04 UEFA Cup qualifier, before joining Central Coast Mariners in the A-League where worked his way into the international set-up.

In 2009 he moved to Turkish club Genclerbirligi before joining Crystal Palace, where he became a club legend leading them back to the Premier League in 2013.

Villa fans now hope he will keep his legendary status going when he gets back on the field for them.

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