Chris Coleman cornered after failing to build on Gary Speed's Wales revival

Less than a year into the job the Wales manager faces mounting criticism as side goes into reverse

It is 18 months, and yet an eternity, since Gary Speed marched up past the golf trolleys into a Vale of Glamorgan clubhouse and from a press conference seat conveyed the unmistakeable sense that he was taking Wales somewhere new.

Ryan Giggs was about to drop into the team camp, the opera singer Courtenay Hamilton had started teaching the players "Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau" ("Land of My Fathers") and Aaron Ramsey had just become the youngest permanent captain in the nation's football history. It did not even matter that Wales were singularly unimpressive in the game against England, 48 hours later. "We don't want to sit here in five years, saying 'remember England,'" Speed had said before the game, an observation which is so haunting to read back now.

There was certainly a lot more to remember when Speed's life was cut so terribly short, eight months later, with the 4-1 thumping of Norway in Cardiff, perhaps the best evidence from his four wins in five that Wales were progressing. Speed was dead within 15 days of that win and his successor Chris Coleman – who has no wins from four, which excludes the game staged in his predecessor's memory – has never seemed less than weighed down by the size and nature of his formidable inheritance.

When he set out, in January, Coleman could only embrace the passing style of football Speed had bestowed. He gave a very good impression of a man who had undergone a Damascene conversion from the direct game he brought to Coventry City when, with the nation's First Minister Carwyn Jones in attendance, he helped launched a Football Association of Wales blueprint for the future, in his first week as manager. "Gorau Chwarae Cyd Chwarae" ("Best Play is Team Play") was its motto.

Then the PR gloss faded, results were Coleman's judge and even before the 6-1 annihilation in Serbia 29 days ago which left him broken and not far from tears in the Novi Sad press conference room, the survivor's instinct led him to begin casting off Speed's creed and doing things his own way. The long ball returned, Coleman's talk turned to "getting stuck into them" and, after Wales' worst defeat in 16 years had left his immediate future hinging on a result against Craig Levein's Scotland in Cardiff on Friday night or else in Croatia next Tuesday, he removed Speed's young captain, too.

It was no judgement on Ramsey that Wales need the more "natural" leadership qualities of Swansea City's Ashley Williams, Coleman said. But removing the 21-year-old was a deeply controversial decision.

It felt like a heavy-handed one, too, from a man to whom the Wales players and nation have not warmed terribly much, as they still grow accustomed to the idea that the optimism and adventure of the brief Speed era were an insubstantial pageant.

The respect Speed commanded without trying was perhaps learned from his old friend Sir Bobby Robson – of whom he once said: "He didn't know he was doing it; he was such a natural leader" – and it dragged some wonderful performances from Craig Bellamy, who mourned him deeply.

It is less elementary for Coleman, who is desperate for Bellamy's contribution but tired already of the uncertainty surrounding his availability. "We need to know from Craig, 'Are you coming and joining us or are you staying?' And if he's not, we've got to move forward and move on," Coleman said last week. Bellamy finally withdrew from the current squad on Monday, citing a knee injury, and at 33 may play no more for Wales.

Coleman has pointed out personnel problems which rarely seemed to exist for Speed. "Ten pull-outs [in the defeat to Belgium] and people don't care about that. Seven missing against Serbia – no one has interest in that. What about the result? You lost. You got smashed up in Serbia – six. That's what people talk about," he said after the Novi Sad debacle, though that's not the full story. Joe Allen, who played while recovering from a virus and when just 60 per cent fit, was overrun in Serbia, while in his desperation to make things happen Ramsey lost his discipline and Coleman looked unsure how best to fix things. Neither is he in possession of that inestimable quality of inculcating confidence, which Speed always had in spades.

"I was told this is the golden generation. Well let's see it," he said after Serbia. "If it's me and my method I take responsibility but we haven't changed our game plan, so why the difference in performance?" Hardly words to ease the battered spirits of a young side in need of something to feed off.

On Monday night, Speed's father Roger called for the Welsh nation to throw its support behind his son's successor. "They were mates," he said. "I've known Chris since Gary and Chris were playing together. I wouldn't like the job he's got to do, to take over after Gary, because I think Gary was doing an absolutely tremendous job. I really, really feel for Chris because some supporters can be a little bit fickle. So because things are going down, it's no good sacking of him. Get behind him. Get behind Chris for me and Gary."

And then Mr Speed went on to say that his family were still struggling dreadfully to come terms with their loss. The same goes for the rest of Wales. Coleman knows that.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before