Football: Persuasive Southall throws stetson into the ring

Trevor Haylett observes that Wales at least rediscovered their famed passion

FIRST IMPRESSIONS demanded a second take. Out of the tunnel and into the spotlight emerged Neville Southall complete with dark suit and black shirt. Such has been the pace of change at the top of the Welsh game that it still seemed odd in this hour before kick-off not to see him in traditional footballing attire, hurling that bulky frame around in the goalmouth or, latterly, working out with his successor Paul Jones. At Anfield on Wednesday Southall was dressed for business and now that business is management.

It was not the only occasion last week that some long held pre-conceptions surrounding the former Everton goalkeeper were subject to revision. It has always been too easy to cast the former bin man as someone whose brains are in his gloves but that assumption was confounded by the eloquence and passion with which Southall voiced his opinions towards the Welsh vacancy. Before the game with Denmark and again afterwards his rallying call was both powerful and impressive.

Whether it was sufficient to persuade the Football Association of Wales that he is the man to shake them out of perpetual non-achievement will not be answered until councillors meet on 24 June. At least he has given himself a head start. Four years ago Bobby Gould clinched his application by flourishing a leek from his breast pocket during the job interview and those taking the bait then can only have been moved by the patriotism behind Southall's rhetoric.

What the FAW Council have to decide is if desire can outweigh inexperience. Before Gould was forced to accept in Bologna last Saturday that his squad no longer wanted to play for him, he had spoken of the difficulties of international management and the need to serve a long apprenticeship. He entered it after 14 years as coach and manager in club football whereas Southall can call on little more than 20 games helping Gould and one game in charge of Wales Under-16s (a 5-0 victory over Stoke Juniors).

Dai Davies, who safeguarded the Everton goal with distinction before the Southall era at Goodison Park and who now provides forthright analysis for BBC Wales, believes that if the Welsh FA have learned from the Gould years they will look beyond Southall and Mark Hughes and to someone, Welsh or otherwise, with a more appropriate cv.

"Neville is very committed to football but I would have thought the best thing for him is to start on the bottom rung and work his way up," said Davies. "The job needs somebody who is well respected and disciplined, who understands inter- national football and who knows how to handle the Welsh FA."

Although Southall was caught out last week by all that the position entails - a small example: he was forced to cancel at short notice a match scheduled for Wednesday afternoon against the press pack when he realised how much still needed to be done to prepare himself and his team - the experience has left him hungry for more and the signs are he will be asked to continue for the remaining two European Championship qualifiers.

"If it's a case of throwing my hat into the ring then here's my stetson," he declared. "I want the job because I like working with great players and we have great players in Wales. And when the next generation comes through you'll realise the debt we owe to Bobby Gould for his work with the youngsters."

Hughes also enjoyed the additional responsibility of assisting Southall but there are complications attached to his wish to keep his boots laced for as long as possible. He still has a year on his contract with Southampton and will decide on his future during the summer. Too much has been made of the passion and commitment displayed by Wales in the 2-0 defeat by Denmark (they should be minimum requirements for an international player and are too often used as cover for other inadequacies) though it cannot have done Southall's prospects any harm. "Neville and Mark are legends in Wales and there is no better motivation for the players to have people of their stature in charge," said the Wimbledon striker John Hartson.

There will be campaigns in support of Terry Venables, Terry Yorath, Kevin Ratcliffe and Brian Flynn while John Toshack's tenuous grip on his post at Real Madrid will be closely watched. Yet if he is given the opportunity to lead his country into the autumn fixtures in Belarus and at home to Switzerland and if he can inspire two decent performances then the FAW will be inclined to hold on to the Southall stetson.

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