Toshack bitter over Hughes' lack of forward planning

World Cup qualifiers: Wales v Austria
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The Independent Online

It was going to take something special to knock a certain rugby match off the Welsh back pages last week. And perhaps only a combustible meeting of the singularly minded such as that of John Toshack and Robbie Savage would be able to launch the fireworks capable of distracting an entranced nation.

It was going to take something special to knock a certain rugby match off the Welsh back pages last week. And perhaps only a combustible meeting of the singularly minded such as that of John Toshack and Robbie Savage would be able to launch the fireworks capable of distracting an entranced nation.

So Savage has gone, but far from feeling any error on his part in dropping the Blackburn midfielder from Saturday's squad to face Austria in the World Cup qualifier in Cardiff, Toshack is known secretly to feel "job done" as he forced the retirement of a senior player he perceived as a destructive force. "Sometimes you have to do little things to get reactions and find out who is with you and who is against you," said the Welsh manager, more than a trifle pointedly. "And then you get to see exactly where you are with people and where they place you."

Where Savage would place the Wales manager right now does not bear thinking about; suffice to say it is probably in the same vicinity as where Mark Hughes would place the 55-year-old. Many involved in Welsh football view the Savage affair as nothing more than the inevitable fallout from the acrimonious relationship between Hughes and his successor, and the badly disguised bitterness between the pair is set to run a little while yet after Toshack weighed in with some severe criticism of the Blackburn manager's Welsh reign.

"You have to ask the question, how is it that so many people in the Welsh side arrived at retirement age all at the same time?" said Toshack. "We went to Azerbaijan for the start of the World Cup qualifiers last autumn, 10 months after missing out against the Russians with an average age of 30. What had happened in that time? To be honest I feel that we lost a little bit of time there which now needs to be made up as quickly as possible."

Even Ryan Giggs at full pelt would struggle to make up the ground that Wales have lost not only in the race for World Cup qualification - they have two points from four games and need six points from Saturday's match and the return in Vienna four days later to give them even the barest sniff of Germany - but also in the perpetual popularity contest that exists in the Principality between football and rugby. It may be difficult to comprehend now, but only 18 months ago the round ball was quite easily the Welsh weapon of choice. Toshack thinks he knows what effected such a role reversal - forward planning. Or in Hughes's case, a lack of it.

"It is worth seeing if any other countries have had to put up with the kind of situation that I was presented with when I took over, because I don't remember any," Toshack said. "For example, take a look at the Welsh rugby team. The side has been going for the Grand Slam, which is great. But speak to the coach and he'll tell you before he moved into the job there were a lot of problems resolved for him. He's grateful for that, but it hasn't been the case with me."

Indeed, survey the rash of retirements that greeted Toshack's accession and it is hard to disagree. And what beefs Toshack more than anything is that Hughes is still revered in a home country which believes he left Welsh football in pretty good shape. "We have to have a reality check insomuch as it's been two years without a competitive win," Toshack said. "That's not an opinion, that's a fact."

Nevertheless, expectation remains as bafflingly high as ever, as Toshack is only too painfully aware. Promises, however, were not in his manifesto. "I can't and won't tell you that we will start winning games in six months, but what I will tell you is that I will have things as I want them before we play England and Poland in September," he said. "We might lose both of these games against Austria but then we have a four-month break, and by then I will know what I've got to work with, what I've got coming through and who wants to be involved."

He knows already that group doesn't include Savage. Welsh football's future - not to mention that of Toshack - undoubtedly hangs on everyone else pulling together.

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