Football: Toshack's split-level confusion: Peter Corrigan talks to the manager under fire for a foreign approach

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The Independent Online
THERE would have been a certain symmetry to John Toshack's first week as a double manager if the group of young girls who chanted 'Go back to Spain' as he left Ninian Park following Wales's defeat by Norway on Wednesday night had been matched by a throng of Spaniards shouting 'Go back to Wales' when Real Sociedad lost 4-1 to Racing Santander three days earlier.

The Spanish fans spared him those jeers although Toshack admits that Real's defeat has been attributed by some over there to the dual pressures he is under. Attempting to run teams in two places 1,000 miles apart may be a unique and courageous challenge but a man could end up with few friends in either. His record in Spain ought to be enough to fend off any fears in San Sebastian but the Welsh end of the twinning arrangement contains a grief potential that could cause uncomfortable commuting as he attempts to steer Wales safely towards the 1996 European Championships.

'If I let those thoughts get at me I might as well pack it in now,' Toshack said before flying back to his other life. 'I knew it was going to be difficult. Maybe you need to take one step back before taking two steps forward - well we've managed the step back.'

Toshack was able to rescue consolation from the 3-1 defeat. He could have been digging his way out of a six- or seven-goal beating had he not replenished his overrun team from the substitutes bench during the second half. The experience also gave him a rapid insight into the qualities of a squad he had not met before and to which Ryan Giggs and a handful of seasoned players have yet to be added.

When you analyse the number of factors queuing up to hamper his first attempt at the job, the prospects of matching the euphoria being stoked up 150 miles due east were never very high. Apart from a weakened squad, playing before a querulous 10,000 at Ninian Park was in itself a downer after the passionate inspiration of an Arms Park packed with 30,000 believers.

It was inevitable, too, that the spectre of Terry Yorath would be standing by to do a few Banquo-style laps if things went wrong. Most Welsh football supporters are still finding it difficult to come to terms with the fact and the manner of Yorath's departure and Toshack appears to have been promoted to chief fall-guy. It is grossly unfair to the new manager but the transformation of the Welsh team into what appears to be a shadow of that which came so close to World Cup glory in its last match doesn't allow for accurate blame-aiming. There was never much chance that Wednesday night would be seen as the completely fresh start it was, the first of only four friendlies before the real stuff starts in September. It wasn't the night for up-boys- and-at-'em especially as the players were trying to absorb a system of patient build-up that was less familiar to most than the Norweigan national anthem.

Toshack defies those who say that controlled passing from the back will never be mastered by the players at his disposal. Alan Hansen, television pundit and a former team-mate of Toshack at Liverpool, haughtily dismissed it as a continental approach for continental players. 'Strange he should say that,' countered Toshack, 'because it was the system he played in at Liverpool and it is what my teams from Swansea to Real Madrid have played ever since. People forget that Liverpool's success was based on defensive partnerships like Hansen and Lawrenson and Hughes and Thompson playing the ball out intelligently. Liverpool are suffering now because they don't have central defenders who are comfortable on the ball. Indeed, I would love to have Hansen playing for Wales because he was great at it - even though I scored a hat-trick against him in my last season for Wales.'

Mindful that he asked too much too soon of players born to the more rapid and direct routes upfield, Toshack was quick to shoulder the entire blame but offered no sign of compromise. 'We were caught trying something different by the team that stopped England going to the World Cup and which finished above Holland in their group. But you have to remember that this is my pre-

season period.'

After what happened last week to Frank Sinatra, it was hardly the time to be singing 'My Way' but Toshack's resolution was unshaken. 'I will not settle for pumping long balls up to our strikers all day. We are looking for a system that will take Wales to its first championship finals for 36 years and I refuse to think that our players aren't capable of playing it.'