He ranks as football royalty and will surely go down as one of the finest figures in the history of the game to have emerged from Wales. Having started his career with Cardiff City, John Toshack was part of Liverpool’s golden era of the 1970s and remarkably guided Swansea City from the bottom tier to the top-flight.
He was a title winner during one of his two stints managing Real Madrid, and oversaw the blooding of a nucleus of Wales internationals who would lead the Dragons to the semi-finals of Euro 2016. His legacy is assured, so who better for RedHanded to discuss the state of Welsh football with in the wake of World Cup heartache?
RedHanded: Hi John, before we discuss recent events, how do you reflect on your career as the 40th anniversary of your managerial bow approaches?
John Toshack: It’s been over 40 years since I was first involved in the game with Cardiff and the changes over that time period have been terrific. I would not say I am envious of players today, it is just different and the level of scrutiny is different.
I had a great time when I played and had some great times over my career. I am 68 now and I find it incredible to think where the last 40 years have gone, it seems to have all happened so quickly. But I am not retired just yet, there have been one or two things but I don’t have any real plans to go back into it at the moment. Bill Shankly said to me that you don’t retire, that gets taken care of when they’re nailing down the lid on your box!
RH: As a proud Welshman how have you seen the World Cup qualification campaign on the back of that amazing summer in France?
JT: There is a saying that you don’t pay for the meal until you have had your dessert, because it is not finished until then and, in football, it is only after the last game that you can really analyse how things have gone.
Things changed quickly in the group as time went on, there were games where Wales dropped points when they had been leading and it left them with a lot to do.
It complicated things for them, particularly the home games against
Georgia and Serbia. You can draw four games and be unbeaten, but in
terms of points you would be better off winning two and losing two and
it meant they were peddling uphill for most of the campaign.
They have been without key players for key games, like Gareth Bale
and Joe Allen, and that makes life all the more difficult when you don’t
have as deep a pool of players. I wish them all the best going forward,
not just as a Welshman but as someone who has known most of those
players since they were kids. Brian Flynn found a lot of them and a lot
of them made their senior debuts under us.
There is no shame in maybe not quite being at the level they were in
France, it is not easy to maintain performances like that and they can
get back to those levels.
RH: What do you think of Chris Coleman’s position? He had stated he would step down at the end of the campaign but has appeared to waver?
JT: International management is very much about timing. When you go in you cannot buy players to improve your squad, it is not an option. You cannot
sell anyone either, and there were some players I would have sold if I could have! You have what you have got.
Chris and his staff have made the most of the talent at their disposal and what he and they have achieved, particularly at the Euros last summer, has been absolutely fantastic.
I have known Chris since he was a kid, and I helped him to get some overseas experience with Real Sociedad when he was looking to try something different.
What happens at the end of a campaign is down to Chris and the Football Association of Wales, I know he had said he would step down because he wanted to go back to club management. You go a long time between games as an international manager and that can be very frustrating and he has done the job for a number of years now.
Wales have had tremendous success under Chris. His stock is high and I am sure he would have offers but it will come down to what both sides want and whether they feel it is time for a change. If that is going to be the case they would be best to act quickly to give the next man in as much time as possible to prepare for the next tournament which will be Euro 2020.
RH: A certain youngster at your old club made a big impression. What do you make of Ben Woodburn?
JT: Liverpool used to produce a great number of firstteam players through their academy, that has not been the case so much in recent years but he is one of the current crop who look like they could make an impact.
Ben Woodburn has a lot of talent, his is a name that has been mentioned around Liverpool for a few years now and we have started to see why in recent months. He has had his chance with Wales and has shown what he can do, he has had chances at Liverpool and he has done well when given the chance. I have not seen as much of him as some people will have as I spend a lot of my time abroad now, but the next challenge for any young player is to make sure they get regular first-team football.
He is a very young man, but he is in that picture now where he will be under consideration for his club and country and he will need to make that breakthrough. But he is an exciting player, there’s no question about that.”
RH: You started your career with Cardiff City, have you been pleased to see them on the up under Neil Warnock?
JT: It is great to see them doing well, they have an experienced manager in Neil Warnock who knows exactly what it takes to win promotion and it is nice to see them on the up after a difficult number of years.
Cardiff was where it all started for me as a youngster, playing alongside wonderful players such as Brian Clark and it is a proud club with a proud history, just like Swansea.
Getting back to the Premier League will be hard for them, but things look more positive right now.
RH: Finally, your son Cameron is proving to be a chip off the old block at Swansea City. Under his guidance their under-23s won their league and cup last season, you must be proud of him?
JT: I am pleased to see him and (co-coach) Gary Richards doing well. Gary played for me in his Swansea days, and they are a real good pair working together. I am not sure if he listens to me for advice now, I think it goes in one ear and out the other sometimes!
I can see how the job is so different from how it used to be, the level of statistics they use and things like that. I can sit down and talk to him for 10 minutes about it but then I feel like I want to get up and leave because at the end of the day it is about scoring at least one more goal than the opposition.
But I am very proud of him and the success he has achieved. It has not always been easy for him but he has had a real appetite and desire to improve and get better.