Risky business as Toshack steps in buffer zone

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THE last time a national football association stuck their necks out as far as the Welsh have done was almost exactly eight years ago when the Republic of Ireland appointed Jack Charlton as manager - and look what happened to them.

It is now acknowledged as an act of genius but at the time it carried an enormous risk for the men who made the decision. Not only was Charlton English, he was an out-of-work Englishman, thereby reversing the traditional traffic between the two countries and creating the conditions for an uproar had it all ended in failure.

John Toshack's appointment compares only in the precedent it sets. He has no worries on the Welshness front, he has a steady job and there have been plenty of part-time international managers before. But his job is in Spain and never before has anyone attempted to manage a national team from a club several hundred miles away as the crow flies. The crow won't be the only thing flying if it doesn't work out.

It has been difficult over the past week to examine this intriguing situation in a dispassionate way because the growls over Terry Yorath's treatment still rumble around Wales and Yorath's threat to take the matter to an industrial tribunal should ensure they will echo on for some time.

That the former manager's statement to this effect should preface Wednesday's chaotic press conference to introduce Toshack and his full-time assistant, Mike Smith, added to the Welsh FA's discomfort. More than 50 reporters, photographers and television crews bore down on a Cardiff hotel where a small room containing 19 chairs had been neatly laid out. The tense and sometimes heated exchange of questions and answers had to be staged in the hotel reception area where it was a struggle to fight off the thought that for Welsh football it was out of the frying pan and into the foyer.

Yorath has sworn to get a place on the Welsh FA and instigate reform. Alas, the council chambers of such associations are not for the likes of footballing folk. Access to them is gained only via dark corridors and smoky committee rooms with the occasional glimpse of a football pitch on the way. The journey is so long and wearying they are usually clapped out by the time they arrive and once there it usually takes the Almighty to fetch them out of it.

As we have seen recently, Wales is not the only country where this is the way of things and by no means is football the only sport in which the paths to power were hacked out in Victorian times. It is becoming increasingly worrying that so much of our sporting authority is invested in men who, however genuine and enthusiastic, are far from hand-picked and not obviously equipped to tackle the demands of today with adequate wisdom and vision.

Ironically, they are firmly barnacled to the heart of sport at a time when the voice of the multitude is proving more successful than ever in forcing managers and chairmen out of office and, in the case of athletics, questioning the right of a top professional administrator to keep his job. Cabinet ministers have long been made aware of a lowering of the public sufferance level and even titled heads turn towards the opinion polls these days. But our self-

perpetuating sporting authorities are unbreachable by any democratic device and are even impervious to lynch-mobs.

On these pages on 10 October last year, I quoted Yorath's fears that they were waiting to gun him down. As this was at least five weeks before the ill-fated Romanian game, I put his fears down to pre-match tension. But his gut feeling was right. Having not qualified for the World Cup finals they wanted to trawl for another manager but weren't prepared to unhook Yorath completely until they were sure of getting a bigger fish.

Yorath made an interesting if aggressive point on Friday when he said that Alun Evans and the FAW leaders should resign if the Toshack gamble fails. It doesn't work like that. It'll be Toshack's fault if it doesn't work, a fact he readily acknowledged last week.

He is certainly not doing it for the money. He was annoyed at the stories, which put many Welsh backs up, that he was getting pounds 70,000 while Yorath had been sacked for asking for pounds 60,000. The Welsh FA are renting him from Real Sociedad at about pounds 4,000 a game. In fact, he and Smith will cost Wales about as much as Yorath would have done in the two years or so leading up to the European Championship.

As for the glory, there was the possibility he could have returned to Real Madrid for whom he won the Spanish Championship in 1990. It was to secure him against being tempted away again that Real Sociedad came up with a new contract and readily agreed to honour his wishes to help out Wales.

With Mike Smith, a very successful manager of Wales in the 1970s, to act as his full-time man in the UK, Toshack could well get away with arriving a few days before each European qualifying match. He certainly has the presence to present the philosophy and the tactical approach to his players in that short time. But, as usual, Wales are in a cow of a group with Germany, Bulgaria and Georgia to contend with as well as the unknown, and uncomfortable, quantities of Albania and Moldova.

Fate, and the fickleness of football, has given him the chance to overcome Wales's appalling luck in championships. And if it doesn't work out, those crusty old councillors will no doubt scratch their heads and think of another good idea.

MAY I offer another reminder to England and Scotland that if they are looking for some really competitive preparation for the forthcoming European Championship tests, the old British International Championship could always be revived.

They both killed it in 1984 in order to concentrate on more uplifting opposition than Wales and Northern Ireland could provide. It may well have escaped their memory as they curse their absence from the World Cup this summer that the championship in its last year was won by Northern Ireland.

The present British champions still have the trophy but they have put it in the vault of a Belfast bank because it is such a beautiful piece of work. The Irish FA would love to see the old trophy played for again - even at the risk of losing it.

WIMBLEDON players are reported to have won pounds 4,000 last weekend by backing John Scales at 40-1 to score the first goal in their match against Sunderland. As the Racing Post points out, in Scotland players would be banned for life for such a wager.

It does seem odd that the FA should allow such gambling. Obviously, the higher odds are only available for those least likely to score. So what if the team had a big bet on the big, dopey right- back and the score is 0-0 and they get a penalty in the last minute? Who do you think should take it?