That issue of player availability is obviously a big one. You’ve described it previously as “like winning the lottery and not being able to spend the money”, such is the frustration of not always having your better players available. Is there anything you can do to improve that situation?
We are on a wing and a prayer really. It is always a roulette the weekend before an international break when players are playing domestically. Every phone call, you don’t know if it is going to be good news or bad news and there is nothing we can do. We only ever borrow the players from their respective clubs so there is nothing we can do. We can only hope that we have a bit more luck than last time with injuries, mainly, and also suspensions. Losing key players at key moments last time really, really hurt us and it will be key this time. We are just hoping this time that Lady Luck smiles on us more this time than she did last time in that respect.
How do you assess this current squad? You have Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Ashley Williams: these are top players. How good is this era compared to others?
That’s a hard question to answer. People say it is the strongest, but when I look back at some of the Welsh squads, I see some really good squads. Nowadays people get carried away because there is more media coverage. There is so much publicity surrounding top football – more than there ever has been. And when you have people like Gareth Bale representing you, people say, “Wow, you must be a team”. As we all know he is such a talented, gifted player. You watch him train and it’s something else. Added to that, we have some very good Premier League players. Look at Aaron Ramsey and how he has done this season. So of course it is a very good group. But I played in some very good Welsh teams. They were full of top players. The squad which belonged to Terry Yorath – brilliant. Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Neville Southall, Ryan Giggs, Dean Saunders. Come on. They are real top, top players. People look at this current squad and say, “It is the best.” But hold on, slow down. It has got the potential to do something special and that is qualify. We can’t get carried away though because in the past 10 or 15 or 20 years some of the squads have been very weak and some of them have been very strong and still didn’t qualify. So things need to be kept in perspective.
Needless to say, Gareth Bale is central to everything.
I think if you look at Gareth Bale, he is one of the most recognised football players on the planet. He is a super, super talented boy. It is obvious we won’t be as strong without him in the team. We would be weakened without him, obviously. He is a devastating footballer. What we can’t do is put all our eggs in one basket. We have a squad and we have to use our squad.
Is it much of an advantage for you having Swansea and Cardiff in the Premier League?
I think in terms of Welsh football, it is fantastic to have both teams up there in the top division and competing. It really is fantastic. It is the best and most publicised league in the world. But it doesn’t change a lot for me and the Welsh national team because they don’t have many Welsh players between them.
Two Welsh teams lose their managers in quick succession. What do you make of it all?
I look at it and to be honest nothing surprises me in football anymore. But Malky Mackay did a good job at Cardiff and he is a good manager. As we all know, as managers you are here today and gone tomorrow. There is no sentiment in football. Sometimes decisions are made and everyone is stood around scratching their head, but that is football. It has always been like that and it’s not getting any easier. It’s getting harder, if anything.
On that note, best of luck for the Euros.
RedHanded sat down with Chris Coleman to pick his brains...
RedHanded: You’ve sorted out your new contract and had a bit of time to reflect on the last qualifying campaign for the World Cup, so what are your reflections?
Chris Coleman: It was a tough two years, I have to be honest. I think we went into the campaign under a cloud, under a shadow for obvious reasons [because of the death of Gary Speed], and it was tough for the players. Then we lost key players at key moments. Unless we have our strongest players playing consistently it is always going to be very tough because we don’t have a big pool of players to choose from. It was a tough learning curve and a tough campaign, but from all that we have gained, and I myself have gained, a huge amount of experience that I really think will help us in the next campaign.
Looking at the next campaign, it should, arguably, represent Wales’ best chance for some time to qualify for a major championships. You have some tremendous talent in that squad and, of equal importance, the European Championships has expanded from 16 to 24 teams.
When we have everyone fit and available, I don’t think it matters what group we get. Honestly, I don’t. It would be great if we got a kind group, or certainly better than the last group because that was incredibly tough. But generally I don’t mind what qualifying group we have because with the players we have, if they are available, I am confident we can give anybody a game. I will be going to the draw in February to find out our fate and see who we have drawn, but I am confident in this group of players. The important thing is that we concentrate on ourselves and make sure that our players are available for us more than they were in the last campaign.