Bobby Gould's position as manager of Wales has been thrown into further doubt by a racial disagreement with Nathan Blake, which the Bolton Wanderers forward said yesterday was the reason he did not play in last Saturday's World Cup qualifier against Belgium.
Blake said that Gould attempted to apologise to him last week, but he still refused even a place on the substitutes' bench. Blake's absence was put down to "sickness and diarrhoea".
Gould allegedly made a remark to Blake in training before the Belgium defeat. That led to the player vowing never to play for his country again. Gould has strongly denied any offence was meant and said: "Perhaps Nathan Blake has finer feelings than other people. In future I will take that on board."
Following the alleged comment by the manager, a public slanging match ensued and after a long debate, during which Gould denied being a racist, the Cardiff-born striker then claimed he had been racially insulted by Gould once before during his days as a youth player.
Blake then told Gould he would not play for him again and was marked absent at the weekend when many expected him to be on the bench for the Belgian game, which ended in defeat and almost certainly meant Wales will not qualify for France '98.
Yesterday Blake said: "I still want to play for Wales but I don't want to play for him. I have a total lack of respect for him. I went to see Bobby Gould and told him I did not want to be sub. I told him he could say what he liked, I didn't care."
Blake revealed he had been upset by Gould's alleged description of Dutch striker Pierre Van Hooijdonk during a post-match dressing-room discussion in the wake of Wales' 3-1 home defeat against the Netherlands in October, in which Van Hooijdonk scored twice. "I could not believe what I heard," said Blake, who pulled out of the return match against the Netherlands in Eindhoven in November.
Blake was also upset by a training incident revolving around the different colours of training bibs. Neville Southall alerted Gould to Blake's concerns and Gould added: "Neville said: 'I think you need to have a word.' I accepted that and did.
"I had a meeting with all the players and it was brought up. I told all the players that if there were cryptic comments nothing was ever meant."
Blake had a clear-the-air meeting with Gould last week without resolving their dispute. The player said he accepted "jokes and banter", but he told the South Wales Echo: "Racism is a thing of the past. We're in international football. I'm an established striker and I should not have to listen to it from my own people, especially a manager I play for."
Gould's management style has annoyed some other older players, with Ian Rush a notable absentee for almost a year from the squad. Gould said: "There is a thin line and there is no way I have ever been involved with anything regarding this before in my career. I have nothing to hide, but it is a very delicate situation." Gould added that the row would not affect Blake's international career while he was in charge.
Ken Tucker, chairman of the Association of Wales' Committee, rallied to Gould's defence. "While admitting I don't know the full facts, I do know Bobby Gould very well and would not have thought there was any question of racism in his behaviour," he said. "He is just not that type of man and I am very surprised at this allegation."
Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional ers' Association, said: "It's disturbing to learn of such comments in the light of recent incidents which we have been trying to resolve. We do have a strong anti- racism campaign and this is something we are duty-bound to act upon. I will be in touch with both parties to see if we can be of any help."