More home points dropped as defensive injuries come back to haunt Wales.

Coymay

With Ireland winning 1-0 in Austria and Georgia following up their good draw in Cardiff with a feeble 1-1 at home to Moldova that makes me think they may not be able to help us out by taking points of our main rivals after all, Wales now find themselves as outsiders to qualify automatically for the 2018 World Cup following another home stalemate, this time against previous group leaders Serbia.

Sadly, the match followed a similar pattern to the previous two whereby we had a lead (twice in Austria), but weren’t good enough to see the match through and I have to say that, in all three cases, a point was the most we deserved.

We have something of a history of drawing very important home matches 1-1 after taking the lead. It happened against Georgia last month, but I’m thinking more of games from more than thirty years ago.

There were almost certainly Serbs in the Yugoslavia team that fell behind to a Robbie James goal at Ninian Park in 1983, but fought back to record a draw that proved crucial in ensuring they qualified for the European Championship the following year, not us. That was followed in the next qualification process with another very costly 1-1 draw on the night Jock Stein passed away when, another, controversial penalty for Scotland saw them make it through to a Play Off for a place in the 1986 World Cup Finals at our expense after Mark Hughes had fired us into an early lead.

There might still be plenty of time left in our group to change the current situation, but last night had the feel of those matches from the past for me and I cannot help believing now that, realistically, we can only qualify for the 2018 finals through a Play Off with another country that finishes in second place in their group.

I say that because Ireland now face four of their next five matches at home after having got seven points points from three away games, whereas we have to travel for four of our next five starting with games in Dublin in March and Serbia in June and it’s hard to see how two more draws draws from them will see us making it into the top two when the group finishes in eleven months time.

I’d say that Wales need three away wins now if we are to extend our campaign to make it to the next World Cup Finals. Victories in Moldova and Georgia were always going to be a prerequisite for qualification I would have thought, but following our draw in Vienna with further points in Ireland and Serbia may well have been enough if it were not for last month’s very damaging one pointer against the Georgians.

After that setback, last night had the feel of a must win match for me, but I wonder whether that led to a situation whereby we felt we had to amend our tactical approach last night?

I say that while thinking that we would have seen Chris Coleman go with our normal back three or five if one of Ben Davies or James Collins had been fit. In their absence through injury, I had expected Newcastle’s Paul Dummett to come in as a centreback or, possibly, at wing back with Chris Gunter moving across into the middle, but, instead, we went with a kind of 4-2-2-2 which saw both Sam Vokes and Hal Robson-Kanu operating up front with Gareth Bale and the fit again Aaron Ramsey operating just behind them as the former featured mainly on the right and the latter on the left.

Now, the general consensus from reports that I’ve read is that this was seen as a bold selection by Coleman which was widely thought to have worked, but I cannot share that opinion – for me, our manager, who has got virtually everything right tactically over the past two years, played into Serbia’s hands last night.

I find it significant that the last time we operated with a back four was when we entertained minnows Andorra in what was, effectively, a dead rubber after qualification for Euro 2016 was ensured.

The success we have enjoyed has been very much based on a certain way of playing and I suppose one of the unforseen consequences of that success is the dilemma as to whether we are now good enough and adaptable enough to alter our tactical approach to best meet the demands of each individual opponent or stick with the tried and trusted system that has served us so well in the past?

My instinct on seeing last night’s line up was one of concern. Now, maybe this was down to a conservatism which is said to find it’s way increasingly into our psyche as we get older (funnily enough, my footballing conservatism at sixty is not yet matched by a swing to the right politically!), but it seemed to me that an enormous workload had been placed on the two Joes, Allen and Ledley, in particular.

Wales’ past triumphs have tended to be based on us playing three centrebacks and one out and out striker with Bale and Ramsey operating in advanced positions in support of one of Robson-Kanu and Vokes.

However with both of those two included this time, Bale and Ramsey did not appear to be given any extra defensive responsibilities to compensate for us going with two out and out strikers and the inevitable consequence of this was that we looked very open throughout the ninety minutes as Allen and Ledley had to assume covering duties for the whole width of the pitch, not just through the middle of it.

It is to the great credit of them both, particularly Ledley, that they made a decent fist of things. However, Neil Taylor was often left isolated on the left as Serbia found it too easy to overload against him – to be fair to the left back, who has had what might politely be described as a mixed 2016/17 so far, I thought he responded with his best Wales performance in some time.

I must say as well that deploying Bale on the right and Ramsey on the left put me in mind of the ongoing Cardiff City debate when about what side of the pitch Craig Noone should play on.

My footballing education, such as it is, is very much rooted in an era which had it that predominantly right footed players were used on that side of the pitch, with left footers on the opposite side.

I know the notion of reversing this so that the players concerned are now more likely to cut inside into a position which enables them to shoot with their stronger foot has become fashionable now and I can accept there is an argument in it’s favour. However, I still don’t see enough evidence of it working well enough to consign what was considered correct before to the dustbin – no, it’s still best to exploit the whole of the pitch by having right footers on the right and left footers on the left for me.

Coming back to Wales against Serbia, Ramsey and Chris Gunter have a personal and footballing relationship which goes back more than a decade to their days in City’s youth teams, so isn’t that another argument in favour of using them on the same side of the pitch?

If we had to go with a back four, then it would have been preferable to me if we had used Ramsey in the number ten role (where he was so influential during the summer) in a 4-2-3-1 with Robson-Kanu and Bale playing in wider areas – the latter is obviously a special case and would have to be given licence to wander, but there would have been a balance to us that I didn’t think was there last night.

Everything I see about Sam Vokes in a Wales shirt says that he is most effective when he can dominate his opponents aerially, but, to their credit, Serbia coped better with him in that department than I expected them to and it was Robson-Kanu’s selfless running, combined with his power and pace, which inconvenienced them most.

However, even when he was playing club football every week, Robson-Kanu was only ever truly effective in a forward role for his country for three quarters of a game and, invariably, he would be replaced, often by Vokes, for the last twenty minutes or so – with his lack of game time at West Brom this season, he did well to last as well as he did last night.

Even without his assist for Bale’s fine goal (I didn’t share the view that keeper Stojkovic should have saved the shot – it was close to him, but, effectively, he was beaten for pace), Robson-Kanu more than justified his selection and Tom Lawrence was an effective replacement for him in the closing stages. However, my definite feeling was that the experiment of playing with a front two had not paid off – better to have gone with the one striker approach which has worked so often in the past.

Behind them, it has to be admitted that Bale and Ramsey are good enough to make the sort of argument I set out above about what side of the pitch they should play on redundant if it’s their day and the latter did enough in the first half to show that playing on the left was hardly stifling his creativity, but his influence faded in the second half.

Having played so little this season, this shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Beforehand, I had expected Ramsey to only play for an hour or so (particularly when you consider he had been suffering from a virus for the early part of last week) and I found it strange that Coleman kept him on for the full ninety minutes.

In fact, it struck me as downright odd that only two subs were used in a team where many of it’s members seemed to be paying a price in the closing minutes for the huge effort they had put in.

Serbia were hardly carving us open, but the “flow” of the game was theirs for long periods and, with a lead to defend, reverting to a back three for the closing stages by introducing Dummett or, maybe, Adam Matthews must have been an option worth considering because, in Bale and Lawrence, they had players capable of hurting the Serbs on the counter attack.

Would we have beaten Serbia if we had gone with our normal tactical plan? It’s impossible to say, but the goal we did get was one that owed little to us having two strikers on the pitch and, even if we didn’t have three centrebacks from the start, I believe having them there for the closing stages would have denied Serbia the room they always seemed to be getting in advanced areas with our four man defence and under populated central midfield.

I say all this while repeating that my suspicion is that if one of Davies or Collins had been fit, we would have played our normal system – anyway the truth is that, even if this was not the case and Chris Coleman had a complete tactical nightmare, his record in that department lately has earned him the right to have the occasional bad night.

Also, I daresay all of the above questioning of our manager’s approach would not have appeared in this piece if it were not for a freakish minute or so which brought back so many memories of how it seemed for fifty eight years that Wales were, somehow, fated not to qualify for the Finals of major competitions.

I say that because, whereas Bale’s effort in the eighty fifth minute smacked back off an upright and the ball just eluded the oncoming Lawrence who would have had a tap in, Mitrovic’s header in the eighty sixth hit the post and came out in such a manner that Wayne Hennessey (who I thought was blameless in the incident) could only divert the ball into the net – a difference of centimetres either way and it would have ended 2-0 to Wales, rather than 1-1.

The problem with unsurpassed success is that expectation of what can follow rises accordingly and so now no losses after four games is being treated as failure because three of them have been draws. Even if autumn 2016 might be looked at as some sort of failure in the future, the whole of the year still has to be seen as the best, with one possible exception, in the history of the national team and now seems an appropriate time to thank Chris Coleman and his team for a year the like of which I thought I’d never see in my lifetime.

The Wales Under 19 side which lost to Greece on Thursday. Cameron Coxe and Mark Harris are alongside each other in the middle of the front row and it they would both play their parts in the win over England which followed two days later.

The Wales Under 19 side which lost to Greece on Thursday. Cameron Coxe and Mark Harris are alongside each other in the middle of the front row and they would both play their parts in the win over England which followed two days later.

Anyway, all cannot be bad with the world if there is a victory for a Welsh football team over their English counterparts to report on! In my piece yesterday about City’s Under 18s  2-1 win over Colchester yesterday I speculated that Cameron Coxe and Mark Harris missed that game because they would be featuring in the Development team game at Millwall on Monday, but it turned out I was wrong because they are away with Wales Under 19 team playing against Greece, England and Luxembourg in a qualifying group being held at Wrexham and Bangor for the European Championships.

The City pair started against Greece on Thursday as Wales’ campaign got off to a bad start with a 2-0 loss (England beat Luxembourg by the same score in their first match) and Coxe was in from the start when we faced England yesterday.

However, it was Harris, who came on as a first half sub and within minutes had put Wales 2-0 up, who made the biggest impact. From here. England rallied to make it 2-2 before a further Welsh goal clinched  a great win over opponents who were reduced to ten men after a late sending off,

With Greece thrashing Luxembourg 5-0, they have to be heavy favourites to finish group winners, but a win for England against them in their final game opens up the possibility of three sides finishing level on six points if Wales can beat Luxembourg.

So, a Welsh win should see them finish second and there has to be a slight possibility they could win the group if they were to thrash Luxembourg, but, either way, yesterday’s great victory means Wales have a good chance now of reaching the Elite Round which is the last qualifying stage before the Finals.

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

 

 

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24 Responses to More home points dropped as defensive injuries come back to haunt Wales.

  1. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks for a most comprehensive and thoughtful report there, Paul.
    Real mental food for us all therein.
    You are though at variance with me on Cookie.
    I have never really rated him as a tactician, though I concede he understands TEAM SPIRIT par excellence.
    As usual, his shortcomings in team selection came to the surface.
    Let me lay my cards on the table…I do not like Neil Taylor. Either as a player, or what I perceive of him as a chap.
    As for the latter: my view of his character reached its nadir when he refused to shake hands with that very pleasant Italian manager of his at Swansea. So he was taken off after 42,minutes or whatever it was! Big deal. What a horrendous thing to happen to someone…? Come off it !! He should try two weeks in Darfur.
    And even though I have come to love the wit and personality of his ex-manager Dean Saunders, all the regular character references in THE WORLD from him, won’t get me to like Taylor as a bloke.
    And as a defender, I like him even less. Pretty hopeless, I reckon. Should have closed the boy down yesterday for the cross. Was invisible against England in Lens: Walker just ran past him time and time again …seemingly AT WILL. And he was their FULL BACK for godsake…a fellow who Taylor turned into Stanley Matthews..!!
    And what’s all this about “needing protection”. His VERY JOB is to protect the left flank of the field…!!
    It is a sign of how football has gone to hell in a handcart when we think that the protector needs protecting…!!
    Do you think an American Secret Service agent needs a protector?
    Or – if I can lower the tone somewhat -.that a condom needs another condom on top, as protection…?
    But enough on Mr Taylor.

    Let us now move to Mr Hennessey.
    I like him. And I realise that he must follow Cookie’s orders. Thus it is that the man with one of the best boots in football, either infuriatingly rolls it out to players who can barely control a football, or aims his goalkicks towards players standing on the touchline around the halfway line mark, and these kicks several times went into touch, either directly or off the top of a player’s head.
    I noticed their keeper kicked his balls long, and immediately put his team on the attack.
    But hey, methinks I can save my breath to cool my porridge on that issue.

    Now we come to a natural full back who is currently a major weakness as a central defender. I refer to the boy Chester.
    Now, it is not his fault that someone once told him he was a central defender. But good managers with any defensive nous, should know he isn’t.
    But then Cookie hasn’t really got the PARSIMONIOUS DEFENDER anywhere in his DNA.
    Do you remember him as a player?
    Oh yeah…he looked a million dollars. Bestrode the pitch with an elegance that made David Luiz seem like a carthorse.
    But he was even MORE casual (no, strike that word “casual” and insert the word “careless”) than Luiz.
    I still have recurring nightmares about that stupid backpass of his way-back-when against was it Belgium (or The Netherlands?) from a ball rolled-out by Big Nev as I recall. Just did not look for impending danger.
    And a vital goal resulted that lost us the game.
    So, he is not the man with the necessary appreciation of defensive genes.
    Thus it was last summer that he put Chester on Portugal’s best header of a ball, Cristiano Ronaldo…with a disastrous – though predictable – result.
    And Chester was put on Serbia’s (and Chelsea’s) best header of a ball, captain Ivanovic, on all corners yesterday,
    Unbelievable.
    Ivanovic just brushed him aside.
    And lo and behold, when Ivanovic was not in the box at the moment of their vital equaliser, guess who found himself marking their SECOND best header of a ball…?
    Not Ashley Williams, that is for sure !!
    But our dear chap who cannot head the ball for toffee, and cannot jump even if he had a firecracker under him.
    And needless to say, Mitrovic just bullied him and got in the vital header.
    And to be fair, had the Serbs not got a draw, it would have been a travesty.
    All that said, it is nice to see Wales playing with such passion, and a lot of that IS down to Cookie.
    And nice to see Vincent’s Vision full.

    Before signing off…on a Cardiff City front….I was pleased to see Rhys Healey settle the win for The Port yesterday. Carlisle were previously unbeaten this season, yet Healey administered the coup de grace with the coolness of a deadly assassin. A chance not too different from the Gareth Bale effort that hit the post.

  2. Russell says:

    Thanks Paul an interesting review which covers most points.

    I take only a casual interesting International football, my friends are totally committed, and I refrain from too many negatives as its good to see Welsh footy fans enjoying themselves ,however after the Euro’s it was always going to be tough ,and this group has a few tough scrapers in it , who we find tough to beat , as they close the gaps down .

    Led let worked his socks off to enable the extra front man and to be fair it nearly worked, if only Wales had one more pacy front man as an extra outlet.

    We need a result in Dublin ,no a win , or were out me thinks .

    Tough group .

  3. Russell says:

    Ooops ,apologises for the spelling in my first post Led let should read Ledley ,Port n Brandy took over .

    Would like to add one personal comment, pity the Welsh fans living in CF postcodes rocking up for the Welsh games , can’t find their way to some City games.

  4. Anthony O'Brien says:

    In the years immediately after the First World War my grandfather used to drive nearly all the best Welsh boxers to and from their various matches. Among those he drove was the champion flyweight Jimmy Wilde, “the Ghost with a Hammer in his Hand”. In boxing terms he always “punched above his weight”. If we transfer this accolade to the Welsh team, we can say that Ashley Williams “heads above his height” in that he wins more balls in the air than anyone might expect (as he showed yesterday). But, there is another boxing expression which says that ” a good big one will always beat a good little one”, and that, I think, is one of the main problems with the Welsh central defence. Ashley is, I read, exactly six feet tall, which is rather short for a centre half these days. What Wales need is a kind of someone of six feet plus, whose job would be that of a ruthless stopper, plain and simple. Unfortunately, I can’t think of anyone with Welsh connections who might fit the bill. From this point of view it is a pity that a towering thug like Ryan Shortcross did not choose to play for Wales when the birthplace of one of his grandparents was found to be Welsh. I know that the likely outcome would have been a lot of discontent in the Welsh team, given what happened with Aaron Ramsey, but Shortcoss at (as I read) six foot three brutal and uncompromising inches would surely have shored up the Welsh defence when pressure loomed. No doubt the Welsh management have cast an eye for any similar players, but until someone of that ilk emerges (which, at present, seems unlikely) the Welsh team is going to find defensive problems whenever they play.

    (Incidentally, as a schoolboy I was delighted to get Jimmy Wilde’s autograph at a Cardiff game in the 1960s. Some time later I read in the paper that he had been assaulted on Cardiff station by some thugs because he had once been a champion boxer, all 5 feet two inches of him and aged over seventy. I mentioned it to my grandfather, who said, “If they’d tried that on a few years ago, they’d have ended up in hospital” How I wish that had been the case!.)

  5. Dai Woosnam says:

    Ah Jimmy Wilde! What a name to make us Rhondda boys proud…though I was in my thirties before someone told me that he only moved to Tylorstown when he was nearly about to leave school.
    Re AMO’s comment on height…I think Ginge Collins pulled out injured at the last minute, and I realise at 33, his best days are behind him. But at his best, I would have taken him before Ashley W, James Chester, and Ben D….put together ..!!
    And had he been marking Ronaldo in the summer and Mitrovic last night as those two balls came across, Wales would have never gone behind against Portugal, and would have had three points last night.
    Yet his face has never really fitted with our current boss.
    Sad, because he still has a lot to offer.

  6. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Dai,
    Fair comment. I’ve had James Collins in mind for some time, and I wish he’d been playing yesterday — and regularly in recent games. But even if fit, he would probably not — as you point out — have been in the starting lineup because of personal antipathies. Also, when earlier in an outstanding piece of writing you mentioned how “careless” Chris Coleman used to be as a player (though not in the Hillary class, of course) my immediate reaction was he played as he did because he was keeping one eye open for the prettiest females in the crowd.

  7. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks AMO for your compliment, and your neat joke there re our very own Lothario.
    And a word for me here on Russell, and his very salient point that his allegiance is first and foremost to CLUB rather than country.
    When I was a 13 year old kid, I used to fantasise about winning an impossibly large sum from Littlewoods, like the then truly mind-boggling £152,000 Viv Nicholson had bagged.
    Okay, in that I was no different from every other kid in my street.
    But here’s the thing…
    What marked me out was this…
    Even though me and my dear widowed mother lived alone in a house with no mod cons, there was no question of me using the money to buy a big house on The Parade in Porth (our version of The Bishop’s Avenue**, London’s most prestigious stretch of mini-mansions). No…the money would go to my beloved Bluebirds, to buy four great players.
    Yes, I confess it was pathetic. I was THIRTEEN for godsake! So immature.
    By that age, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart had written some of his best work !
    But there was me …daydreaming.

    And I have never lost the habit, alas. That’s why I have never achieved anything in life.

    As Si Kahn’s most memorable song puts it…

    ‘…
    It’s not the fights you dreamed of
    But those you really fought
    It’s not just what you’re given
    It’s what you DO with what you’ve got
    …’

    And all I did was …DREAM.

    One of my constant dreams was winning £152,000 and using it to buy four top-notch players for the City. (And this is where Russell comes in…)
    Then pitting my new slick City team against Wales in a friendly and us playing Wales off the park.
    So…I have been there. Even though I was there to passionately cheer on the Welsh lads when my third cousin Phil make his debut against Scotland in 58, and be thrilled to be a spectator when Graham Moore got that last minute headed equaliser against England in 59, and be crushed half to death in the 61,000 at the England game at Ninian in 61…it was – like with Russell – always Cardiff City that took first place in my heart.

    Thus it is, that to hear the crowd breaking into My Hen Laid A Haddock***, still seems a bit alien to my ear

    * https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/apr/12/spend-spend-spend-football-pools-winner-viv-nicholson-dies-aged-79

    ** https://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jan/31/inside-london-billionaires-row-derelict-mansions-hampstead

    *** Nigel Jenkins’s immortal opening line of the anthem, is I submit, not as far off reality as some of you might think. Would YOU be happy to go on S4C tonight and recite the words on camera? I certainly would not. I know I would mispronounce more than the odd word. I might even do a Tom Jones and forget a whole line !! Please check him out on YouTube at that Calzaghe world title fight where he forgets the second line completely when brought into the ring in Vegas (or wherever it was, Stateside) to sing our anthem. But God Bless Sir Tom…his wits come to his aid, and he does a Victor Spinetti, and sings it in cod Welsh !!
    Alun Evans, the boy who used to walk to our respective schools with me – and later became Secretary of the FAW – once appeared on TV taking about our Welsh National Anthem which he said was called Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau (sic).
    I wrote him to say that he must in future remember it was not titled that. He had quoted the first five words of the opening line. If he wasn’t careful, The Welsh Language Society would pounce.
    He must remember that the title was just four words…HEN WLAD FY NHADAU.
    To his credit, he dropped me a note of thanks.
    Oh golly, how I would love our anthem in our two languages …like the South African in their three.
    Oh how this Paul Robeson version just moves my soul.
    And it took an immeasurably brave AMERICAN to do it. Not even Bryn Terfel’s fantastic version can better this…
    (Oh and btw, “Mona’s green shore” is – if my memory serves me correct – a reference to the old Roman name for Anglesey.)

    https://youtu.be/ziJoep1cDlY

    [End]

  8. Colin Phillips says:

    Surprised no-one has mentioned the officiating.

    I’m not using it as an excuse for not winning but the referee almost lost control (think I’m being kind there) just before half-time. Just to remind me, referee’s assistants are allowed to flag for other things besides off-side and out-of-play, aren’t they. The one on the Ninian side didn’t seem to think it was within his remit to flag for a foul.

    Surprised to see the team selection and change of system, I also thought that he would play Dummet(t) in a straight swap for Ben Davies. As it was it was left to the two Joe’s to try and control a very useful Serbian attack. Meaning that Allen had no opportunity to develop his newly-found goal-scoring ability and leave Ledley knackered midway through the second-half. Ramsey, probably through lack of gamete, tired badly in the second-half though strangely enough seemed to get a second wind after being laid low by that ball to the particulars.

    As has been said such a fine line between success and comparative failure when Bale’s shot faded (was right behind it) and failed to take the inside of the post.

    Three games where we have failed to hang on to a lead, similar to Cardiff but then again we don’t often take the lead these days.

    I am not optimistic about our chances of qualifying but on the bright side that is much the best result we have had against Serbia for some time.

  9. Colin Phillips says:

    P.S.

    The officials also missed Joe Allen’s handling of the ball inside the box late-on.

  10. The other Bob Wilson says:

    As always, thanks for the replies. Not got much time today, so just a few, very brief, comments.
    1. Colin, I fully intended to mention the ref, but found I had typed so much that I let it go and made a point to mention it in my reply to any comments received – I thought he was dreadful, not just because he tended to favour Serbia, but also because he was inconsistent. Tadic only got that face wound because the ref failed to award Wales an obvious free kick for the sort of raised foot offence that always gets penalised by continental officials a few seconds earlier. You’re also right about Joe Allen’s handball, although I think the offence may have taken place just outside the penalty area.
    2. Regarding James Collins, I can’t say for sure, but my suspicion is that, having picked him in the Semi Final when Ben Davies wasn’t available, Coleman would have used him as one of three centrebacks on Saturday had he been fit. Given the way most international football is played these days, I’m not sure we need someone of Collins’ height at the back in every match, but I thought Saturday was one of those occasions when it would have been beneficial to have done so.
    3. Under different circumstances, Ryan Shawcross could have fifty Wales caps by now if he had opted to play for us. Of course, the Aaron Ramsey situation muddies those waters and I’m afraid I’ve always let that influence my opinion of him as a player too much. However, as someone who has been a good Premier League centreback for getting close to a decade now, Wales would have loved to have someone like that available for them – in fact, I’d say that he might be captain now or at least captain in waiting as Ashley Williams’ career starts to wind down.
    4. Russell, I share your sentiments about the Cardiffians who can make it to Saturday’s game, but will not be there this weekend when we face Huddersfield. Sadly though, the truth is that Cardiff City at first team level has lost it’s “Welshness”. Barely anyone from our country ever plays for us, let alone a local boy – if, as I suspect many do, you go to Wales games to assert your Welshness, then you’d have to think twice about going to a City game because, there is so little that happens in them to make you think about the thing which should make us different from eighty nine of the ninety two clubs which play in the top four divisions.
    5. Dai, regarding tacticians, I’d be interested to hear about who you rate in that department these days.

  11. Dai Woosnam says:

    Re your question Paul…
    You say you’d be interested to hear.

    I have news for you, my dear brother…
    I’d be just as interested as you …but all I hear from my lips is a deafening…SILENCE.

    Since Brian Clough, nobody has really floated my boat. But a word of caution: just as Paul Simon tells us that the best poets are often to be found writing on the subway walls, maybe the best TACTICIANS are not to be found in the EPL, La Liga and the like, but perhaps be plying their trade in the minor leagues.

    Let us not confuse being a great tactician with being a great manager. The two are not necessarily linked. The latter job calls for the ability to make men BELIEVE in themselves and their comrades. I think Cookie has this quality in SPADES.

  12. Dai Woosnam says:

    I should have added though that it is far easier to say why Coleman is NOT a great tactician.
    And it is simply this…
    Any manager who has defenders who are not Bobby Moore, Bertie Vogts, Roberto Carlos and Franz Beckenbauer, yet insists his goalie rolls the ball out to them in big pressure games, knowing they are almost GUARANTEED to miscontrol the ball, before it crosses the halfway line, shows himself to be a tactical dunce.
    If he compounds this by having a goalie with a Big Bertha of a boot on him, sometimes trying to stroke the ball to pick out players on the touchline, and yet find touch as assuredly as Clive “calon, boys!” Rowlands used to find touch at The Arms Park in the days before the “out on the full” rule was brought in, well …I think I can immediately identify Cookie as a tactical dunce.
    And when one looks for tactical breakthroughs, you can look toward the ex Grimsby Town player who gave the Netherlands “Total Football”…a man now forgotten in Britain, but not in Amsterdam, where his memory is revered. Jack Reynolds.

    But to me in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was Charles Hughes.
    He has never been bettered.
    He knew that most goals result from no more than three passes.
    Simple really. Not a complicated game at all.

    You know something Paul? Something is occurring to me now that is only occurring to me because I am forcing myself to articulate something I am having to dig out of my innermost thoughts. A bit like the critic who was asked what he thought of a movie and said ”How can I know what I think, until I’ve seen what I’ve written?”

    Maybe most tacticians are indeed an irrelevance? Gosh…I might be on to something there.

    So to sum up…it is the venerable Charles Hughes for me. And his disciples.
    Oh …here is one I can think of, as a tactician of my liking…

    A certain Mr Neil Warnock.

  13. Dai Woosnam says:

    Just got up with a sore head to see the pitifully bad posting of mine at 10.40pm last night. True, my eyes were like uncut buttonholes, and my sleep apnoea was wreaking havoc on me, but even allowing for that, such ugly slipshod language (not to mention, THINKING…!!) was inexcusable.
    Just look at the number of times I repeated the word “something”. Dear me. I am letting our friend Geoff Lewis down. He and AMO are about the only two of us who BELIEVE in me …!!
    And talking about other members of the MAYA Band Of Brothers… wouldn’t I just love to be Mr Barry Cole this morning. Wouldn’t you too?
    Russell Slade sacked by Charlton.
    The man who Barry for 2 years insisted was a fraud.
    It would seem that every dog has his day…and today belongs to Barry, alright.
    Will sign off now, Paul.
    Just a final word though on tacticians.
    I guess to most folk, a master tactician is someone who can shift from 3-4-3 to 4-2-2-1-1 (or some other bingo numbers)…and then back again…all in the space of 90 minutes.

    But to me, that is all “emperor’s suit of clothes” stuff.

    Tactics to me today are more about TEAM SELECTION and even more importantly, when to use your substitutes for maximum effect. This is a problem/luxury that managerial greats like Herbert Chapman and Matt Busby never had.

    Anyway Paul, enough of ME on your subject of “who are the best tacticians?”
    I would like to know your top ten. (Reverse order please, a la Miss World. And I will give you a drumroll before you announce your all time fave.)
    It is a safe bet that it won’t be Charles Hughes…or Neil Warnock, come to that …!!
    Over to you, Paul.

  14. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Re Managers:

    When I was a callow youth, in what Shakespeare called the “salad days” I was invited by Harry Griffiths, then manager of Merthyr Tydfil, to have a trial with his team.. I jumped at the chance, but — as happened elsewhere — I blew the opportunity, partly because I had never played under floodlights, mostly because I wasn’t good enough.. However, that isn’t the point of my story. Harry Griffiths had a brilliant relationship with his players, the groundstaff, and so on, and there was obviously a mutual respect between everyone involved, but what is more relevant here, he spoke about football with enormous enthusiasm and common sense, pointing out certain tactical moves, where to go and when to run, how to use space, and a host of other tricks of the trade. He left a great impression on this callow youth, and I still believe that, even at Welsh League level, he was a master tactician who deserved to manage at the highest level. To me, the best manager is one who gets the best out of his players as a team — as Alex Fergusson did, though I often acknowledged that he was clearly not a great tactician. Given the right opportunity, perhaps Harry Griffiths could have been as famous!

  15. Dai Woosnam says:

    Dear old Harry Griffiths…now AMO…there was a name to conjure with.
    I even remember seeing him play for The Swans.
    Died young, as I recall. Didn’t the young Tosh take over from him as player manager at the Vetch…?
    And the rest was HISTORY …as they say.

    Re the subject at hand, of course you are absolutely right, AMO. The best MANAGER is the man who “gets the best out of his players as a team”. Gee, that’s a great definition you have come up with there.
    Interesting though that you say “Alex Ferguson was clearly not a great tactician”.
    Is that really RIGHT, AMO.
    Not that I am doubting you, exactly…it is just the use of the word “clearly” that made me raise an eyebrow.

    As for Paul’s list…my money is on him rating Rinus Michels as number one?
    Dx

  16. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Dai.
    Would a great tactician need to rely on “Fergie time” so frequently?

  17. The other Bob Wilson says:

    You’ll not get a list from me Dai because, when you sit down and think about it, coming up with a list of ten coaches/managers who succeeded because they were so much better tactically than the competition is nowhere near as easy as it might seem at first.
    Although it’s an oversimplification, it seems to me that those who make a reputation for themselves as tacticians do so because they get results from a group of players who are not as naturally talented as many they face. It could be that these “poorer” teams do well because they are really well motivated (Neil Warnock and Dave Bassett are two that strike me as having a history of getting that bit more out of some pretty ordinary looking squads), but there are also those who prosper because they set their team out and prepare them in a way which others are incapable of matching.
    So, if my theory is correct, then I don’t believe you’ll find many great tacticians at the top clubs. Exceptions to that rule for me are Guardiola (who loses me with his philosophy about what makes a good goalkeeper mind) and Klopp seems to have something about him as well, while. if you are a team that sets out to get a result by, essentially, stopping the opposition playing, then I don’t think you can do better than Mourinho.
    A few names from the past spring to mind. I’m a bit too young to remember the Ipswich side that won the Championship well, but it seems amazing that a team that, on paper, looked pretty limited could do what they did. From what I know of Alf Ramsey, I’ve never really seen him as a great motivator, so I’m assuming he must have been something of a tactician. Similarly, Ramsey was never a very popular international manager and the football his team played was functional rather than inspiring, but no other England manager has come close to achieving what he did.
    Rinus Michels is a good shout that got me trying to remember the name of the Englishman (Buckingham?) who was at Ajax and is credited by some as being the inventor of total football.
    Then there’s the guy at Inter Milan (Herrera?) with Catenaccio and, going right back, Herbert Chapman’s sides played in a way that was different from the competition at the time.
    More recently, I’d say two England managers whose philosophies were quite different were good tacticians – Ron Greenwood was thought of as an innovater and his West Ham team were able to combine a knack of being very watchable while also winning titles for a time. On the other hand, Graham Taylor (who possibly was more of a motivator than a tactician) did great things at Watford while playing the sort of football Dai is a fan of, but he also changed his style slightly when he went back into club management after his ill fated spell in international football.
    As for City, here’s a few names that I feel had something about them tactically – Jimmy Andrews, Richie Morgan, Frank Burrows and Lennie Lawrence, while Alan Cork deserves credit for transforming the fortunes of the squad he took over by switching to a three at the back system and, despite Dai’s misgivings, I also have to include Malky Mackay.
    There you go, after saying I wouldn’t be able to name ten, I think that’s sixteen I’ve mentioned now!

  18. Dai Woosnam says:

    Golly, Paul…SIXTEEN. Verily I sayeth unto thee, my cup runneth over…!!
    Mind you, Helenio Herrera and Malky Mackay in the same breath, does seem a bit of a stretch…!!
    (I jest of course, Paul.)
    And you are sooo right in suggesting that direct football is “the sort of football Dai is a fan of”. I would go so far as to say that all other football is kinda ANTI FOOTBALL to me. True, though…because I am plagued with self doubt, I have moments where I am convinced I am talking total bolloxio.
    One such came at the start of this season when Man City started to turn on the charm with their crazy possession football. Like you, I too found that this modern day Icarus flew too close to the sun, when he crazily decided that his goalie was gonna be his number one playmaker. Like you I think it BONKERS…and may cost them the title this year.
    Really though, I think that like “Pep” Southgate, I am in love with Pep Guardiola, the MAN. The way he carries himself vis-vis the charmless Jose Mourinho. And as someone who more and more resembles the Octomom in the last stages of her pregnancy, I was hugely envious of his flat belly. And in love with his “one man semaphore” act on the touchline.
    But in truth, his football remains alien stuff to me.
    Indeed, anything that veers away from The Gospel According To Charles (Hughes), is to my mind, absolute HERESY.
    The best move in the Serbia game was pure Charles Hughes. Ramsey starts to take the ball into the Serbian half, and then checks back because he wants to find Bale on the left with a pass…which he does sublimely. Bale then matches that with his own perfect cross…which, had John Toshack, Wyn Davies or Ron Davies (let alone King John) been at the far post, would have assuredly have been …BURIED.
    Three passes …and a goal.
    A final word re Vic Buckingham. I have been at this too long to google now, as I have to go out. So treat what I now say with a pinch of salt …nay, a BAG of salt.
    But did he not do an Isaac Newton and stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before him?
    And the real giant here was ex Grimsby player Jack Reynolds…who is the man who started “total football” in The Netherlands…but Buckingham and Michels are the names we remember.
    I am also remembering two names very similar. Jimmy Hogan and Jimmy Hagan. I think they were both Jimmy, but I may have that wrong. The latter was about a quarter of a century behind. Indeed, I recall getting Jimmy Hagan’s cigarette card photo with my sweet cigarettes, I used to “smoke” as a boy of about 6 or 7. He was resplendent in his Blades shirt and shorts.
    And he was responsible for starting a type of total football in Portugal in the late 1950s to mid 1960s.
    Hogan by contrast, was the man who sowed the seeds for the astonishing Hungarian Mighty Magyars. And he is remembered as a footballing saint in that country.
    How times have changed eh?
    We gave football to the world, and some of our top coaches too, but now the roles are reversed, and it is getting harder and harder for a Brit to get a job with the top 10 teams in the EPL.
    And to add insult to injury, our greatest tactician of the lot, is a prophet without honour in his own land. A forgotten man, now soon to start his tenth decade.
    But you are not forgotten in my heart, Mr Hughes.
    ARISE, SIR CHARLES. PLEASE JOIN SIR VINCENT.
    Both Knights of the Order of Dai Woosnam…!!

  19. Dai Woosnam says:

    Oh…I missed AMO’s witty comment re Fergie Time…(just spotted).
    You know what….
    …I have always reckoned that major watch brands like ROLEX, missed a trick when they failed to ask Fergie to be their International Ambassador.
    You can see the slogan in their ads now, can’t you…
    ‘…
    ROLEX MAKES TIME EXPAND FOR YOU
    …’

  20. Lindsay Davies says:

    All wonderful stuff from the MAYA Bros. I love Dai W’s dedication to – indeed, passion for – ‘Sir’ Charles Hughes…but, somewhere between Hughes and, say, Guardiola, lie those cerebral PLAYERS, Puskas/Hidegkuti, Di Stefano, Beckenbauer, Cruyff (my main man), without whom…etc., etc. Where would Herrera have been without the great and good Facchetti? (Ah, Facchetti – so much for today’s peacocks/Lotharios…now there was a handsome geezer, right up to his much-mourned death in his 60s; the Mastroianni of the playing-fields).
    As I see it, Sir Charles will always have his day – Mourinho fades, even Guardiola isn’t always nailed-on…and so, suddenly, three passes are just the thing; then maybe, reversion again to more complicated ideas; but you need that gorgeous blend of brains and sublime gifts in order for it all to come to pass no pun intended).

  21. Dai Woosnam says:

    Lindsay,
    I recall Facchetti distinctly. A fine cultured full back…like a Stuart Pearce who had been to Sandhurst, so that he tackled like a sophisticated lieutenant, rather than a gloriously passionate NCO.
    I particularly recall one game when I was crushed almost to death at Stamford Bridge, and he was the star turn in – I think – a goalless draw.

  22. Lindsay Davies says:

    Ah yes, Dai. Unaccustomed as I am to ’social media’, I now realise that one ‘thread’ can lead to another. The only time I thought I might die at a football match was in a crush at Stamford Bridge, at a midweek F.A.Cup replay against Southampton, in the 70s. There were some mighty appealing ‘names’ playing at The Bridge in those days, so people turned up in droves.

  23. Lindsay Davies says:

    Here’s a worthwhile (for MAYA) P.S. – it was January 1977, when we, and in particular Peter Sayer, beat Spurs!

  24. Dai Woosnam says:

    I remember it well, and his goal at the Canton end.
    But strangely, I had gone to that game almost EXPECTING City to win. That Spurs side were a poor copy of the wonderful Double side of season 60-61.
    Now, they really were a team to remember…!!
    And what a GAME to remember, back in March 61.
    The best quality and most thrilling game I ever saw at Ninian Park.

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