Football: Gould in a dream world

Passion returns for the Welsh; Trevor Haylett talks to the coach rejoicing in his side's resurgence
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The Independent Online
THREE NIGHTS ago Bobby Gould sat in a television studio and turned the pages of history back through his own playing career. Cue heavy nostalgia and Dickie Davies; muddy pitches, referees in black and a typical poacher's goal, what he called a "six-inch drive", from Gould that saved Wolves a point against West Ham.

Last week, 28 years on, we saw the same goal celebration from Gould, the upraised arms, the broad grin, when Kit Symons headed the winner for Wales against Belarus. Much has changed in football in those intervening three decades but one man's passion for the game burns as bright as ever.

Changing focus towards England momentarily, there are recurring themes amid the torrential volume of critical words threatening to sweep Glenn Hoddle out of office. They highlight a lack of passion, desire and motivation by his England team. Of course players should draw on their own inspiration from within but through words and deeds a manager can help that process along.

Whether they chose to like him or not, the Welsh players have begun to respond to the commitment and hunger that made Gould an awkward centre-forward to face and which is still very evident on the training ground and on the touchline. "I have a dream for Wales and I am determined to achieve it" he said after five memorable days of European Championship football had ended with the Welsh moving alongside Italy at the head of Group One.

Roundly criticised from many quarters, a beleaguered manager has displayed an instinct for survival that Bill Clinton would be proud to claim. Gould's own future is now more significantly assured than it was in the aftermath of their opening defeat at Anfield in September and the rumpus that followed Robbie Savage's televised contempt for Italian shirtwear.

Savage's heroic second-half display against Belarus provided vivid evidence that Gould can mend bridges as well as tear them down. When it was put to him that he had shown remarkable restraint in refusing to return the critics' fire, Gould replied that he was too much in love with football to go seeking revenge. "I've never been one for that," he said. "I've been at 14 clubs and I get a good welcome at everyone of them.

"When Wimbledon beat Liverpool in the FA Cup final in 1988 I remember looking for Don Howe at the end to give him a hug. The old bugger had disappeared and I missed what would have been a special moment. On Wednesday I told the players at the finish to get out into the middle and savour the moment. The expressions on their faces will live with me for a very long time."

Behind Italy and Wales come Denmark (World Cup quarter-finalists three months ago), Switzerland and Belarus. Not for a long time have the Welsh made such an assured start to a qualifying campaign and this in a group where there are no obvious small fry. Wales, sinking to 108 in Fifa's discredited world-ranking list, probably filled that particular role themselves but the past eight days when they came from behind to win in Denmark and then recovered from 2-1 down against Belarus have drastically altered opinion.

"The group is wide open", said Gould, "and everyone is capable of taking points off everyone else. I said at the draw that this was the most difficult group but I also said we were capable of giving anyone a bloody nose."

Wales go to Switzerland and Italy in April and June, and in the meantime Gould will resist any approach for a friendly fixture, keen not to interrupt the momentum that has built up. He should have Ryan Giggs and John Hartson fit while Gary Speed will be free of suspension. To overcome Belarus without arguably their three best performers (Mark Hughes' prodigious determination and combative endeavour make it hard to demote him in any Welsh hierarchy) lends more credibility to the achievement and reflects well on those who have come in.

His experiences at Coventry with Jimmy Hill gave Gould an appreciation of the value of youth and it is an inevitability that Craig Bellamy, Norwich's exciting 19-year-old, will soon be a regular starter. Where Gould has also scored is in his recruitment of players without direct international claims and both Andy Johnson and Darren Barnard have made an immediate impact. Barnard, the Barnsley wing-back, set up both goals in Copenhagen and supplied the two corners which helped Chris Coleman and Kit Symons to their winning efforts at Ninian Park.

"At my interview three years ago I asked the councillors what their dream was for their country," Gould added. "Mine is the same as it has been at any of the clubs I have served: to put down sound footings. I did not see the job as just being involved with one team, I wanted to run it as I did all my clubs, to improve the Under-16s and the Under-18s, to give the kids a fast-track to the first team.

"Go and ask Sam Hammam at Wimbledon about the foundations we laid there. In fact it's ironic because it has cost my own son [Jonathan, the Celtic goalkeeper] his first Scotland cap this week because Jim Leighton's place has gone to Neil Sullivan who we took on and developed at Wimbledon."

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