James Lawton: A Savage blow for manager power

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The Independent Football

Player power would have been a dangerous principle in the hands of Bertrand Russell and George Bernard Shaw. In those of Robbie Savage and Craig Bellamy, who have elected themselves advisers to the Welsh FA in the pursuit of a successor to Mark Hughes, outright alarm can be the only proper reaction.

Player power would have been a dangerous principle in the hands of Bertrand Russell and George Bernard Shaw. In those of Robbie Savage and Craig Bellamy, who have elected themselves advisers to the Welsh FA in the pursuit of a successor to Mark Hughes, outright alarm can be the only proper reaction.

Wales - and in some some respects England, after this week of all weeks - do not need player power. Wales especially need player proficiency and professionalism and, if authentic talent is in such short supply, passion that lasts a little longer than the next stint in a TV studio.

Such a place should now of course be completely off limits to Savage. It shouldn't be an order but some compassionate counselling. If Gary Lineker and Alan Hansen had patronised him more heavily during last weekend's broadcast of England v Wales, the more sensitive among the audience would surely have dissolved in sheer embarrassment.

That Savage marched on, machine-gunning non-sequiturs into the ether, says much about the inaccurate picture he has of himself. But then we already had a pretty shrewd idea about that particular miscalculation when he claimed that he was a superior player to Graeme Souness. Having made the mistake of crossing Souness, admittedly not the most difficult of chores, he compounded it by that outrageous over-estimation of his own ability. Souness was as brilliant as he was hard and he proved that at every level of the game, not least in the Italian league where he was admired for both his skill and his ruthlessness. In comparison Savage draws his highest rating for nuisance value.

Bellamy might qualify in a higher category if only for his blinding speed. Unfortunately, he is equally quick in the matter of making a fool of himself. Sir Bobby Robson has suggested that Bellamy might have turned the Last Supper into a free-for-all. Other witnesses have been less benign.

However, if Wales have any chance at all of improving their performance in the next few years, they can ill afford to lose Savage's presence, however disordered at times, and Bellamy's ability to get behind a defence. The question facing the Football Association of Wales, an organisation that should really have been forcibly disbanded when they handed the shirt once worn by John Charles to a certain Vinnie Jones, is whether to defer to the wishes of Savage and Bellamy and hand Hughes's job to the dressing room "dream team" of Gary Speed and Brian Flynn.

Whatever the claims of Speed, a fine professional down the years, and the good football man Flynn, they have unfortunately been sabotaged utterly by the public support of the team. Even after assuming Speed would take the huge drop in wages which would be involved in swapping his playing duties with Bolton Wanders for the service of the notoriously parsimonious FAW, his appointment would now be an act of absolute folly.

It would be an offence against the proper running of a football team. Player power is invariably the product of a vacuum in the leadership of a football team. Whoever gets the job has to bring his own authority rather than the approval of the men who he is obliged to whip into some kind of competitive shape. This is something which, for all the excellent work put in against the odds by Hughes in the first phase of his assignment, Wales can certainly not claim for themselves at the moment.

The performance against England at Old Trafford left Hughes numb with disappointment, as well it might have done. Bulgarian folk dancers have shown more spirit at the Llangollen Eisteddfod.

So where do the FAW go? It is hard to look beyond John Toshack, who in a past life spent one match on the Welsh job before walking away in dismay at the shambles of something purporting to be Welsh international football. The knowledge Toshack acquired in Spanish football makes him the outstanding candidate. It is also true that the land of Dylan Thomas can reasonably apply a statute of limitations on his offence of publishing an anthology of doggerel back in the Seventies.

Entitled Gosh It's Tosh, one of its more stirring items provoked one memorable critical reaction. Wrote Ian Wooldridge of the Daily Mail: "Toshack's emotions upon returning to British soil (Speke being an airport somewhere north of London) are, in just four lines, an evocation of joy and reunion so powerful that one gropes vainly for any comparable example in English writing but is drawn inescapably to the painting of LS Lowry, whose pin-head millworkers always preferred an afternoon at the Salford Public Baths to, say, a fortnight on the French Riviera."

You may want to known the inspiration for this vaulting prose:

We're coming in to land at Speke,

My legs are feeling very weak.

We've just returned from Barcelona,

And now I'm going for a sauna.

No, it's not exactly Under Milkwood, but then Wales are not looking for a poet. Toshack, like Souness, would certainly know what to say to Robbie Savage and Craig Bellamy. Two words would do.

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