The longest wait in British football is at end – Ryan Giggs has, finally, managed to land himself a permanent manager’s role.
No more “Give it to Giggsy” memes, no more unrequited declarations of interest leaked to the press whenever a Premier League job opens up and no more ill-judged interviews in which a sense of self-entitlement – denied after the fact – overrides a sense of desire.
A four-year deal is expected to be announced on Monday for the ‘Welsh Wizard’ to lead the land of his birth throughout the cycle for World Cup 2022.
This decision comes nearly four years since Manchester United’s greatest servant undertook a short caretaker stint in charge after the David Moyes debacle. It is also more than a year since an association stretching nearly three decades with the Red Devils was broken with the recruitment of Jose Mourinho.
Yet despite being a player of monumental achievement, the collective apathy greeting his appointment by the Euro 2016 semi-finalists came as no surprise.
In short, the blinkered Football Association of Wales got the underwhelming candidate they deserve.
From the moment chief executive Jonathan Ford reacted to the inspirational Chris Coleman’s exit by telling the BBC he favoured Welsh “passion” over wider managerial pedigree, a limited field narrowed further. He beat peer and fellow managerial rookie Craig Bellamy, the 78-cap forward who is now a youth coach at the Championship’s Cardiff City, plus former national assistants in Osian Roberts and Mark Bowen.
That respected ex-striker John Hartson had “conversations” about the post speaks volumes. His present-day coaching commitments stretch to a part-time striker’s role for Scottish Championship-outfit Livingston.
It did not need to be this way. For a nation of modest size and historical achievement, there is a gold mine of prospective coaching talent waiting to be tapped into.
Many of the leading football figures of the past 20 years have flocked to the FAW’s renowned coaching programme at the Dragon Park centre in Newport. Ex-Newcastle and Liverpool livewire Bellamy is among this number, Giggs isn’t.
Recent luminaries to pass UEFA A-licence qualifications there include legendary ex-Arsenal skipper and current New York City FC boss Patrick Vieira, the Gunners’ all-time top scorer and Belgium No2 Thierry Henry plus Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City assistant and another Arsenal alumnus Mikel Arteta.
All their numbers are playing giants, taking the early steps on the road to eventual managerial glory. That this trio chose to head to Wales – a country they have no ties to – speaks volume about the quality of guidance on offer.
This is a link which should not be forgotten by the FAW. A lukewarm approach to naming a foreign coach, partly born of the residual painful memories forged more than 20 years ago under Englishmen Mike Smith and Bobby Gould, should not continue to be a factor.
The run to the semi-finals two years ago in France came 58 years since a last major finals appearance. Of the 92 teams from the Premier league to League Two, only six currently have Welshmen in permanent charge.
One of these is Coleman at Sunderland, while new Middlesbrough hire Tony Pulis seems tied to club football. None are in the top flight, with the average position on the 92 rungs being 55 – or 11th in League One.
Top-quality players continue to be produced. Beyond Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale and Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, prodigious 18-year-old forward Ben Woodburn remains highly valued at Liverpool, as does Ethan Ampadu, a 17-year-old midfielder, with Chelsea.
Managers like Wales Under-21’s Robert Page, Manchester City reserves’ Simon Davies, Luton Town’s Nathan Jones and Newport County’s Michael Flynn could kick on.
But if icons like Henry and Vieira show any future inclination or interest, it would be a further – and unforgivable – dereliction of duty by the FAW to ignore them. “Land of my Fathers” doesn’t cut it as a recruitment strategy.
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