FootbalL: Gent Gould goes gracefully

AS MIGHT have been expected from Bobby Gould, he fell on his sword smiling. There was no bitterness, no regrets, although there ought to have been a few. The last time he handed in his notice, when manager of Coventry, it was in the gent's loo at Loftus Road. This time, as manager of Wales, it was in the doping room at Stadio Dall'Ara, but on neither occasion were urine samples necessary for his teams: Gould knew it was he himself who had tested positive for failure.

Wales go into the crucial European Championship game against Denmark at Anfield on Wednesday with the novice managerial partnership of Neville Southall and Mark Hughes in charge. Despite the emergency nature of it, it can only be for the better. Gould is nothing if not honest and he knew he had not only lost a football match, but he had also "lost" his players.

Discontent over his tactics and team selection had been rumbling for some time, ever since their shambolic performance in a friendly against Tunisia last summer, if not before, but following the defeat to Switzerland last month his authority was being openly challenged. The defeat to the Azzurri merely confirmed it.

His initial selection for Saturday evening's match was, apparently, rejected by the players and when he came up with an alternative one he had omitted Ryan Giggs, Wales's only world-class player. Not surprising in the circumstances, since the Manchester United player has rarely been made available to Gould during his three and half years as Wales manager. "I just felt the Welsh people would have turned even more against me after this result," he said. "A new spark was needed from somewhere. I have gut feelings about things and this was a gut feeling to go."

So a career in international team management, which began with a leek, which the Englishman pulled from beneath his jacket during his interview, just to show how much he cared for the Principality, ended with a leak of a different kind; Wales's defence on Saturday had more holes than a collander and it was a wonder Italy scored only four.

The Football Association of Wales, which accepted his decision with "great reluctance", was at pains to stress the importance of his work at the lower levels of Welsh football. No-one could accuse Gould of not giving his all and it may be, as Southall said, "a few years before the fruits of his labour are appreciated".

The former Everton goalkeeper made it clear at a press conference here yesterday he wants the job full-time. "They will have to go a long way to find a better partnership", he said of his liason with Hughes, who has been having a substantial input in the team for sometime.

While Gould has done sound work beneath the surface of an unimpressive record (seven wins in 24 games), there is no natural heir to his throne. The likelihood is that the new man or men, who will appointed prior to the game in Belarus in September, will make wholesale changes to the backroom staff.

The FAW should have been grooming a young successor, like Kenny Jackett, a former international player of repute who has made a big contribution to Watford's progress, or Kevin Ratcliffe, who has worked miracles at Chester. Knowing the FAW, it will go for a high-profile name like Ron Atkinson, a retrograde step.

GOULD'S JOURNEY FROM BOOT ROOM TO BOOT HILL

1946: Born in Coventry, 12 June.

1963: Makes debut for Coventry.

1967: Joins Arsenal. 57 appearances, eight goals.

1970: Joins Wolves, one goal.

1971: Joins West Bromwich.

1972: Joins Bristol City, 15 goals

1973: Joins West Ham then returns to Wolves.

1979: Ends playing career with spells at Bristol Rovers and Hereford United.

1979: Assistant manager at Chelsea.

1981: Manager at Bristol Rovers.

1983: Manager at Coventry.

1985: Manager at Bristol Rovers.

1986: Wins Freight Rover Trophy with Rovers.

1987: Manager at Wimbledon.

1988: Wimbledon win FA Cup.

1990: Leaves Wimbledon.

1991: Manager at West Bromwich.

1992: Manager at Coventry.

1993: Leaves Coventry.

1995: Wales coach after spell working in media.

1996: Involved in racism dispute with Nathan Blake.

1997: Involved in a public row with John Toshack after Istanbul defeat.

1998: Wales win 2-1 in Denmark in Euro 2000 qualifier in October.

1999: Gould resigns as Wales coach after a 4-0 defeat in Italy.

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