“Flat” and “disappointing” Wales prove how far they’ve come in four years.

Coymay

I daresay the name Jakup Emil Hansen doesn’t mean much to you, it didn’t to me until I started doing a bit of research for this piece, but back in the summer of 2011, he was the youngish man who enjoyed his fifteen minutes of fame when he helped heap even more embarrassment on a Welsh footballing fraternity that had become far too familiar with that feeling around that time.

Hansen was studying for a political science Masters degree at the time, but he didn’t have to call on such talents while making a nuisance of himself to Welsh football and the worst thing was he had right on his side.

Hansen was a follower of the Faroe Islands football team and, with the draw for the qualifying stages of the 2014 World Cup due to be made in a months or so’s time, the Faroes found themselves jointly ranked at number 114 in the world with us.

The one consolation was that the islands located about seven hundred and fifty miles north of the coast of Scotland were a tiny fraction below us in terms of the number of points they had in the FIFA rankings, so, while the difference wasn’t enough to place them below us in terms of world ranking, it was enough to ensure that they’d be in pot six in the upcoming draw to our pot five.

However, Hansen’s calculations had it that the Faroes’ 2-0 win over Estonia a couple of months earlier had put them 0,07 of a point in front of us and, after he informed FIFA of his findings, the governing body agreed with him.

So it was, that Wales had the ultimate ignominy of being in the bottom pot along with the Andorra’s and San Marino’s (very interestingly, Iceland were in there as well) of this world when it came to the seedings for the qualifying group stage to see who would be going to Brazil in the summer of 2014.

A good autumn of 2011 which saw Wales end another qualifying campaign (this time for the 2012 Euros) with wins over Montenegro, Switzerland and Bulgaria, as well as a 1-0 loss to England that could have been described as a moral victory for the Welsh, meant that, by the time the qualifiers for 2014 began there were still the usual optimistic expressions that this would be the time we ended that wait since 1958.

A 2-0 home defeat by group favourites Belgium was hardly an ideal start, but Wales still traveled to the Balkans to face an out of form Serbia side with hopes of the top two finish that would secure them a Play Off spot at least still very much alive.

The man responsible for Wales being in the sixth pot at the draw for the qualifying group phase of the 2014 World Cup - Faroe Islands supporter Jakup Emil Hansen.

The man responsible for Wales being in the sixth pot at the draw for the qualifying group phase of the 2014 World Cup – Faroe Islands supporter Jakup Emil Hansen.

Chris Coleman has, hardly surprisingly, described, the 6-1 defeat that followed in Novi Sad as the bleakest moment of his Wales management career. That devastating defeat on 11 September 2012 meant that, for a team, management group, Football Association and fanbase still struggling to come to terms with the tragic and truly shocking loss of Gary Speed some nine months or so earlier, yet another qualifying campaign was over – this time a mere four days after it had started.

Yes, there were still plenty of points to play for and a failure to qualify was not even close to being a mathematical certainty yet, but few were accepting such deluded thinking – we were back in the old routine already whereby our fixtures were all about trying to get sufficient points to avoid more visits to pot five and six when the draw for the next competition was made.

This then is how our previous attempt to make it to the World Cup Finals ended almost before it had began. Two games and less than a week was enough to convince those with the best interests of Welsh football at heart that it would be another four years, at least, until we would get a second chance to pit ourselves against the best football teams on the planet in a competitive environment.

Therefore, when you hear the Welsh manager and many of his players saying that we didn’t play well in drawing 2-2 with Austria in Vienna last night, you get maybe the clearest confirmation yet that the national team has been on the most incredible journey in the past four years. More than that, perhaps the most impressive thing about their climb of over one hundred places in the World rankings since we were tied with the Faroes is that the reaction to what happened in the Ernst Happel Stadion from the Welsh party is one which you would expect from a team seeded number one in their group this time.

For myself, I’m still like a kid in a toy shop when it comes to Wales’ new found identity of being something of a power in the game, there is a sense of wonderment and disbelief and, this time at least, I’m going to keep it and not become like those expressing disappointment at just a draw or those in the media who are using words like “flat” and “disappointing” to describe last night’s performance.

I can understand the thinking of the professionals to a degree, because they tend to be of the mindset that any team that goes away and scores twice should be looking at a win as a reward for doing so – especially when they have been ahead a couple of times. However, the media moans are a bit harder to take and strike me as a reminder of how short some people’s memories can be.

My preamble to this piece was pretty long, but I wanted to get over just how much things have changed in Welsh football in a relatively short space of time. Last night, we were playing at the ground of a team that had won their last nine qualifying games there and they were defending a run of ten consecutive wins in qualifying group matches – Austria have been on a steady ascent up the rankings for a few years now and their only recent disappointing spell came at the worst possible time, in this summer’s Euros.

Apart from that, Austria have been one of the form teams in the world lately and for Wales to go there and draw without Aaron Ramsey (who is now going to miss at least a third of the qualifying campaign because his club manager treated him  differently to all of his other players who made it to the closing stages of the Euros), without Joe Allen for about forty per cent of the game and with Gareth Bale turning in a pretty muted showing is a brilliant result I think.

Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that last night’s showing by Wales was an unusual one that offered the possibility that the character of the team might be changing. Dean Saunders mentioned in the post match discussion during Sky’s coverage that we have now scored sixteen goals in our last eight matches covering the whole of the Euros and our first two qualifying matches.

When I think back to our eleven goals scored in ten games while qualifying for those Euros and how hard we made scoring look in the friendly matches leading up to them, the notion that we could be averaging two goals a game over a fairly substantial number of matches a few months later would have been a very hard one to accept.

It happens so often in football that when a team having goalscoring problems finally rediscovers the knack of putting the ball in the net, there is a corresponding increase in goals conceded as well.

Wales had been able to avoid that happening in the seven matches before we faced Austria, but we were some way short of the standards we have set ourselves defensively last night. The fact is that our two left sided defenders are not getting regular first team football this season and, at times, it showed. On the right, although I’d blame our midfield more for the first Austrian goal because they gave Alaba too much room for a sublime pass which set up Arnautovic, Chris Gunter was caught flat footed somewhat both times when our opponents scored, while any player who is at Aston Villa currently, must find it hard to maintain high standards while playing for such a basket case of a club and James Chester was unusually sloppy at times as well.

In front of the defenders, Joe Allen scored another fine goal for his country to add to the recent ones he’s got for his club, but it was his careless pass which provided the “assist” for his club mate Arnautovic’s second equaliser. “Careless” was the right word to describe some of the things we saw last night from players who have made a habit of not performing in such a manner when representing their country lately, but was it just a one off or a sign of the sort of decline in defending standards when a team becomes more dangerous going forward that I alluded to earlier?

Time will tell I suppose, but it was revealing that, on the fairly rare occasions they could get at the Austrians, the home defence also looked wobbly. I described Bale’s display as “muted” earlier, but he always finds ways to influence matches and, this time, his burst of pace down the left followed by a wicked cross was instrumental in creating the room for Allen to measure his volley from Gunter’s knock back to perfection as he netted from twenty yards.

Chris Coleman made a point about voicing his reservations about Wales'

Chris Coleman made a point about voicing his reservations about Wales’ “unlucky” grey change kit before yesterday’s match – having lost all three of the matches in which they’d worn it, at least Wales (seenhere in traditionally odd team photo line up) were able to end the losing sequence last night in what I believe should be one of only two matches in this group in which they have to wear it.*

Then, with the game going into added time at the end of the first half, Sam Vokes glanced Bale’s long throw into the path of Chester who was denied a first goal for his country by keeper Almer, only for the ball to hit the grounded home defender Wimmer on the leg and roll gently back into the net – lucky perhaps, but good enough for Austria coach Marcel Koller after his mean spirited comment beforehand that Wales only got to the last four of the Euros, while his team went home early after two defeats and a draw in their group games, because of a generous helping of that commodity.

The sixth pot representative in this group is Georgia and, as with Wales four years ago, their qualification hopes look all but over after defeats in their opening two matches. However, a 2-1 home loss to Austria followed by what looked an unfortunate single goal defeat in Dublin last night suggests that Wales are not going to have things all their own way by any means at Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday – especially if Allen is absent after going off with a tight hamstring last night.

With Serbia recording a 3-0 away win over a Moldova team that, increasingly, are looking like the group’s whipping boys, the “big four” who were expected to contest for a top two finish are all level on four points. So far, the two matches in which the four favourites have faced each other have ended up as 2-2 draws with I’d say Wales and Ireland being the happier because of their away points and so, with us to face Serbia in Cardiff next month to follow the home game with Georgia, the opportunity is there to put ourselves in a powerful position going into the new year when we face a run of four away games out of five.

Anyway, enough about Wales for now, let’s get back to Cardiff City! About five hours before the international kicked off, Neil Warnock faced the media for the first time as City manager and, as you would expect, it proved to be a lively, and revealing, affair.

I say “revealing” because Chairman Mehmet Dalman stated that Warnock had been our first choice pick once before when the manager’s job became vacant. No details were given as to when this was, but, presumably, it must have been either this May before Paul Trollope was appointed or two years ago when Russell Slade took over.

When the matter of Mr Warnock’s contract came up, the man himself was pretty reticent as he questioned the worth of them in the modern game. With Mr Dalman also reluctant to comment, the matter was taken no further, but the possibility has to be that our new manager is working without a formal contract. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but, with him emphasising that his age (he’ll be 68 in December) means he’s not one for long term planning in terms of the manager’s job, the feeling that Neil Warnock is here to do a fire fighting job seemed to gain a little credence – although, intriguingly, he did talk about the possibility of working in a behind the scenes capacity at a club when his managerial days are over.

I was very pleased to hear our manager say that he would not be doing the very thing that I said he would in that piece from 2009 I linked in my post on Wednesday  about Warnock’s appointment. Far from imposing a preferred way of playing on a new club, he said it was more sensible to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the players you inherit and then come up with something which suits them best – this is something which I have always believes sorts the managerial wheat out from the chaff and I look forward to seeing what Mr Warnock has in mind for his new club.

Finally, there was a bit of talk about some possible new signings before we play next, against Bristol City, a week today – in fact within no time at all it was being reported as if we had all but signed winger Junior Hoilett already. As an out of contract player, Hoilett, who was regarded as a potential world beater in his early days at Blackburn and has played for Warnock before at QPR, fits the bill, but it should be pointed out that he played ninety minutes for the Canadian team which beat Mauritania 4-0 yesterday and so I wouldn’t seen that any deal for him is imminent.

The Hoilett rumours were quickly followed by ones linking Sol Bamba, who left Leeds for “personal reasons” (interestingly, he had twice publicly criticised Leeds owner Massimo Cellino during his time at that club) last month, with City. The idea that we would be looking for another centreback would have struck me as daft in the summer when I thought we had a trio as good as most in the division, but, based on what we’ve seen so far this season, it comes as no surprise now – that said, as something a bit left field, I will point out that Bamba, who also played under Warnock at Leeds and has forty four caps for the Ivory Coast, did play in a defensive midfield role for a while during his time at Hibs.

Today there are also stories circulating that Marouane Chamakh, the former Arsenal striker will be teaming up with his former manager at Crystal Palace again. On the face of it, a Chamakh/Lambert striking partner would seem an unlikely one, but a common saying used to be applied to Neil Warnock about ten years ago was that he loves to have a lot of strikers at his clubs.

If I had to predict, it would not surprise me at all if all three of them are Cardiff players by the time the wurzels arrive. I’ve read that Bamba may be coming here on an eighteen month contract, but I’ve not seen anything about the other two, so it could be that they will only be here on short deals. However, I would have thought that the wages involved for all three would be on the high side and so, with salaries for a new Manager, Assistant Manager and First Team coach to find, along with severance payments for the trio who left the club this week, we can expect a few of the current squad who can command a fee to be sold in January to keep the club within the confines of the FFP regulations.

*picture courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/

 

 

 

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6 Responses to “Flat” and “disappointing” Wales prove how far they’ve come in four years.

  1. Lindsay Davies says:

    Paul – amazing research (as ever).
    Lovely story about Jakup Emil Ansen. (With names like that, I’m surprised that Oli hadn’t signed him, to go along with the trio of three-name wonders he did sign!).
    Also, spot on regarding last night’s match, and Wales’s place in the world.
    I suppose the real worry is the obvious – and eternal – one…we only have to miss a key player or two, and we’re well short of our best…true of anybody, I guess, but you know what I mean…another reason why that draw was so laudable.
    By the way, included in Bale’s ‘muted’ performance was that mesmerising run down the right-side channel, when he left two Austrian defenders (including Alaba, if memory serves) looking like fire-fighters arriving late, at the wrong fire…to paraphrase Geoffrey Green on Billy Wright v. Puskas (Dai W will remember).

  2. russell roberts says:

    Jakup Emil Ansen wow do we remember him , honest answer nope , nice research Paul .

    Onto the Warnock years its been a journey already and I for one cant wait for the Brizzie game , not surprised by his free agent signings , nothing to lose but money worth a risk as we have no impetus at the moment.

    I think they club like a lot of fans were unsure about Trollope so didn’t throw too much dosh his way in the vain hope what he did have they could survive with , we have sold a few players now for a few million so the books look a bit brighter, I’m not not sure how it works on wages increasing the budget , however you can always loan out to balance off the effect of these expensive free agents ,which is probably the only reason they are free .

    As for Wales , what can you say , they continue to do the job ,they are no longer the whipping boys of the UK countries , Austria are no mugs and it was a good result .

    I missed the game as I was playing continuous re runs of Warnock’s press conference with its classic N.W. moments, my favorite being the long ball reference , and Notts County defensive abilities ,and the fact I’m not really an international footy fan , way too much happiness for me .

  3. Dai Woosnam says:

    Paul,
    Just like the two previous postings, I too again salute you for your amazing ability to do the hard yards. Even with your own long list of discoveries firmly entrenched in my memory bank though, this latest bit of MAYA esoterica on the Faroe Islands, just took my breath away.
    Wonderful.
    Honest to God, Paul, I am convinced that in a previous life you were a gumshoe of note…and furthermore, a man who wore out your gum-rubber soles in those pre-internet days, by walking down a myriad back-streets following up a host of bum steers, but kept going till you hit pay dirt.
    And boy, didn’t you just make us all splutter into our cornflakes in astonishment at that fabulous Faroe revelation!

    And now a word on Wales. Yes the Allen goal was special indeed, but that Allen back pass was a shocker. Pass FORWARD please, Mr Allen…if only Cookie would insist on NO back passes in your own half !! And that howler of an error made me think…

    Yes, I like most of us, have been seduced by Pep’s revolution at the Etihad. Me…a Charles Hughes devotee all my life !! Becoming a crazy mixed-up kid at 69…I don’t recommend it to younger readers. Why? Because, with my dear wife being a working geriatrician, I am more-than-familiar with the symptoms of early dementia, and questioning my own long-embedded belief in the teachings of “Sir” Charles, just genuinely unsettled me, and made me wonder if I might be losing hold !! But fortunately, Celtic and Spurs recently adopting a high pressure game against Pep, showed me that I should not jump ship from HMS Hughes to HMS Guardiola, as the latter may be fatally holed below the waterline. That said though, I confess to having a dotage man-crush on the guy…not the same kind of man-crush that the newly slimmed-down Gareth Southgate clearly has. My emulating his facial stubble is easy, but emulating his walk and dress and size, less so, to a morbidly obese blue badge holder like me.

    Re the two boys who have just posted…those last six words from Russell R were an example of the kind of delicious dry humour one sometimes finds on MAYA.
    And as for Lindsay D’s reference to the late great Geoffrey Green…ah Lindsay, you are in my good books forever by recalling this literary thoroughbred…well “thoroughbred” by the standards of the often “journeyman” sporting press in this country.

    You are right, Lindsay: I do recall the words on that Hungary game. And I remember them so clearly that I do not need to google* them.

    Green was writing on the finest of all the Hungarian goals, when Billy Wright, racing at speed with his eye on the ball, was suddenly totally bamboozled by Ferenc Puskas drawing the ball back with the sole of his boot and totally changing direction, leaving Wright looking a chump and lumbering past “like a fire engine going to the wrong fire”.

    Fantastic, eh?
    That image ALONE was worthy of the Nobel Prize for Literature !!

    I am interested though in Lindsay’s use of fire FIGHTER for fire-engine. No no no…this is not a criticism of Lindsay. I regard Lindsay as an intellectual heavyweight, so I am loath to question the workings of his subconscious.
    It is just that I note his choice of “fire-fighter” over “fireman”.
    Yes, I realise that women are in the front line of this dangerous job, hence the desire to recognise it in a single gender-free word to cover their profession.
    Plus political correctness is having its effect on the subject. I am told that the word “manpower” has been banned in Australia…and that “manhole” is next.
    And the PC brigade have thrown out the word “actress” and have now embraced the word “actor” for both sexes.
    (Yeah…wonderful. Just try and tell Hollywood actresses that there will no longer be a Best Actress award…!! Sooner you than me. I am a paid-up member of the Cowards’ Club.)
    But its the “fighter” bit that amuses me. Came in about 30 years ago…presumably from America? It is clever stuff.
    It brings with it a clear unspoken repudiation of the allegation that these folk spend half their days playing cards while waiting for a call-out that may never arise**

    What next? Will my wife be called a “sickness-fighter”?
    Answers on a Virtual Postcard please to the “god of Political Correctness”.
    * deliberate lowercase.
    **but when it does of course, it could be to the Twin Towers.

    DW.

  4. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Morning everyone, Dai I’d say Guardiola, absolutely superb managerial record and all, takes the passing game to extremes. Judging goalkeepers on how good they are as footballers is asking for trouble in my book – goalkeeper is a specialist position and Guardiola placing so much emphasis on what they are like with the ball at their feet is just not worth the risks involved in my book. My mind goes back to when Peter Shilton finally hung his boots up – it came when Leyton Orient manager at the time Tommy Taylor picked some, long forgotten nonentity in his place because he could kick the ball further than the one hundred and odd times capped England goalkeeper! Not the same as what Guardiola is doing I know, but the devaluing of the specialist skills involved is the same – it’s like seeing Johnny Bairstow drop numerous catches and miss stumpings for fun while playing for England – yes, his batting while playing as wicketkeeper can be a real bonus at times, but has he really won England more games with his batting than he’s lost with wicketkeeping that is below county championship standard?
    Re, that Puskas goal, I wasn’t even born when it was scored, but I can remember seeing it for the first time and thinking that must have had a tremendous impact at the time, because my guess is that it was something that had not been seen before and it summed up the whole changing of the guard nature of that momentous game at Wembley in a split second – it was a truly memorable moment which merited a memorable turn of phrase to help describe it and didn’t Geoffrey Green (another name I’m familiar with only by reputation) manage that spectacularly!
    Russell, that line about the Notts County defence (right bunch of cloggers as I remember them!) was a good one wasn’t it. I’d spent the week or two before Paul Trollope’s sacking forming an opinion that Vincent Tan could have one of safety in the Championship or FFP regulations compliance, but not both of them and it seems that the decision may have been made to go for the former in the last few days. That said, having Neil Warnock at the club must give Mr Tan a chance of proving me wrong, but I think we’ll have to see a big money departure in January (I’d nominate Manga and Immers as candidates to leave, but wouldn’t be surprised to see a high profile British player go as well to help bring in the sort of money that the first two named probably couldn’t).
    Lindsay, that run in the second half by Bale was a very rare example of a player getting around the outside of his marker(s) on the right hand side, reaching the byeline and crossing with his left foot. It almost worked as well – I wonder if Craig Noone was watching?

  5. Lindsay Davies says:

    Ah, Dai – far too smart for me.
    I did, indeed, initially type ‘fireMAN’; then thought “Oh God, I’d better put ‘fire-FIGHTER’”…and, as you point out, it was ‘fire-ENGINE’ anyway.
    As our new Manager at Cardiff might say “Ah’m politically correct, me…crackin’ player, Pusskuss”.
    Paul – I had a dream last night…that Rambo had arrived in front of the Austrian ‘keeper, and met that dinked little cross from Bale, at the near post.
    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Warnock could get the best out of Noone?

  6. Anthony O'Brien says:

    The best of Orange Coin (sorry, I’m hooked on anagrams after belatedly finding out Neil Warnock’s nom-de-lavatory wall) will not return until he plays in his natural position on the left. I’m amazed that he stuck to his ordained right-side position without throwing any discernible tantrums or failing to give his trademark hundred per cent in every game. I trust “CW” to give him this opportunity.

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