Toshack's first task is to quell the dissenters

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The Independent Online

It might have been the worst- kept secret in Wales since Shirley Bassey's wig, but up until the last second there was a deep unease in the Principality that its football association was about to be swayed by Philippe Troussier over the people's choice, John Toshack.

It might have been the worst- kept secret in Wales since Shirley Bassey's wig, but up until the last second there was a deep unease in the Principality that its football association was about to be swayed by Philippe Troussier over the people's choice, John Toshack.

It was a rational fear too, because as a leading member of the Football Association of Wales revealed yesterday, Friday's decision to appoint Toshack as Mark Hughes's replacement was not as clear-cut as the overwhelming majority of the Dragonhood hoped it might be.

"A few of the committee made a strong case for Troussier, and one in particular was adamant that Toshack shouldn't get it," he said. "Fortunately we were able to make them see sense, not least because it was felt that if we didn't give Tosh the job, all of us were in danger of being hung from the rafters of the Millennium Stadium."

The principal objection, it seems, was not the little matter of Toshack's previous, aborted sojourn in the role - a 43-day dynasty that made Owain Glyndwr's reign look stable - but his recent criticism of the Welsh team. "They insisted that in the light of everything Toshack's said, he wouldn't have the support of the squad, and that a couple might not even play for him," the FAW member said.

If this is indeed true - and Mark Pembridge fuelled such paranoia with his retirement from international football moments after Toshack was unveiled - then a contributing factor to the players' resistance must be the bitterness that continues to pour forth from Hughes. There is no love lost between the two, and Hughes's reaction to his successor's appointment was hardly a metaphorical bunch of roses.

"I'm a bit surprised," he said. "Obviously he's been highly critical of the efforts of others. But I will have more respect for him because he's put his head on the line and is trying to move Welsh football forward. In the past, he hampered it."

Cue Toshack, who has never knowingly backed away from a fight. "If you look at the situation at the moment I don't think it's the most healthy. I'm taking over a side that hasn't won for 10 competitive matches and started the World Cup campaign with an average age of 30. That is fact, not an opinion."

Not quite the golden legacy Hughes said he was leaving, then? "Maybe somebody needs a reality check here," Toshack added. "After four games of the World Cup qualifying campaign we've got two points, and if it was better then people wouldn't be looking for management changes. That's the way it is."

But it's a way Toshack is determined to change, and as Wales have lost the services of Gary Speed, Andy Melville, Andy Johnson and now Pembridge since last month's losses to England and Poland, he needs to find the next generation of Welshmen in double-quick time for the friendly against Hungary in February before the back-to-back qualifiers against Austria at the end of March.

"I need to see the young players and see them fast, because I've got to get them playing," he said. "We've had so many experienced players calling it a day, something that never happened in my day. Values, attitudes, mentality have changed. You hear them saying it's too much and it's time to retire. But you wonder if we had beaten Poland and got a point at Old Trafford, would they have done the same? I won't be trying to change their minds."

Nevertheless, Toshack will move to ensure there aren't any more defections, if only to guarantee the backing of a Welsh support that has so far ignored all the slurs racked up against their man. "There was a lot of talk about me having walked out 10 years ago, how the players are going to revolt if I get the job, how I'm a tax exile and a non-resident and that I haven't got any qualifications," he said.

"But then I had a look at my passport and my driving licence to see that was all in order. I hadn't killed anybody, and then slowly I could see from the public's point of view that there was an encour-aging and positive response."

It wouldn't be Wales, however, if there wasn't at least a degree of scepticism. "I heard a lad tell his dad down the Vetch the other day that I couldn't be any good because Real Madrid had sacked me twice," Toshack said. "I can't really argue with that."

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