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'I'm here for a lot of right reasons and I'm here for a lot of wrong reasons'

Chris Coleman’s Welsh side take on Belgium in the quarter-finals of Euro 2016 on Friday night.

Chris Coleman has been the manager of Wales since 2012.
Chris Coleman has been the manager of Wales since 2012.
Image: Thanassis Stavrakis

JUST FOUR YEARS ago, Chris Coleman’s managerial career looked to be heading in the wrong direction and petering out.

But right now he stands on the brink of leading Wales to one of the country’s greatest-ever sporting achievements, with his side just two games away from reaching the final of the European Championships.

However, it has been far from plain sailing for the 46-year-old from Swansea.

The former Crystal Palace defender was, as is often the case in these situations, tipped as one of Britain’s most promising young coaches, when Fulham made him the Premier League’s youngest manager in May 2003, at the age of 32.

That was a consequence of Coleman leading the Cottagers to Premier League safety, following a successful short-term stint in temporary charge at Craven Cottage.

Just a couple of weeks earlier, former manager Jean Tigana was sacked with the club just six points clear of the bottom three, but with another year of Premier League football to look forward to, Coleman was deemed to be the man to take the club forward.

The Welshman, who had been part part of Tigana’s coaching staff at Fulham, was one of the first major signings of the Mohamed Al-Fayed era at Fulham, when under the guidance of Kevin Keegan, he captained the club to the Championship at the turn of the century.

But his playing career came to a premature end after a devastating car crash resulted in the defender having his leg broke in two places as well as ruptured knee ligaments.

Remarkably, Coleman battled for two years to save his career, and even came on as a substitute for Wales in their victory over Germany, but in September 2002, he was advised by doctors never to play football competitively again.

Soccer - FA Carling Premiership - Crystal Palace v Manchester United - Selhurst Park Coleman's playing career ended prematurely, Source: EMPICS Sport

In his first full season in charge of Fulham, the former Wales international led the London-based club to a remarkable ninth place finish – the second-best league finish in the club’s history.

But after three-and-a-half-years in charge, Coleman was sacked as Fulham manager after the club went on a seven-game winless run, and with the side just four points above the relegation places.

His dismissal though still came as a shock to the club’s fans, with the hiring of Northern Ireland manager Lawrie Sanchez as his replacement an even bigger surprise.

When Coleman took over at Fulham he had players such as Edwin Van Der Saar, Luis Boa Morte and Steed Malbranque at his disposal in an attack-minded squad, by the time he left in 2007, only Moritz Volz, Zat Knight and Brian McBride of the core first-team squad remained.

BRITAIN SOCCER Coleman endured mixed fortunes in charge of Fulham. Source: AP/Press Association Images

Although the squad was replenished with players like Jimmy Bullard, Claus Jensen, Clint Dempsey; Coleman failed to replicate the success he had in his first season with the club.

After his first bump on the managerial highway, Coleman was back in the management hot seat just three months later, this time in Spain with Real Sociedad, after he was recommended by their former manager and fellow Welshman, John Toshack.

Coleman faced a huge task with the the Basque club, as Sociedad had just been relegated to the Spanish second tier for the first time in 40 years.

However, his spell in Spain was a brief one.

Despite a slow start with his new club, in which Sociedad lost five of their first 10 league and cup games, Coleman’s side managed to recover to go on a run which saw his side lose just once in 11 games.

Coleman, who won 32 caps for Wales as a player, nonetheless opted to leave Sociedad before the end of the season, with the club just one point outside the automatic promotion places in fifth position.

The former Blackburn Rovers defender couldn’t agree with the new policies being implemented by the club’s new president Inaki Badiola, and by the age of 37, Coleman was looking for his third job in management.

And he was long in waiting for the phone to ring.

Although Coventry doesn’t sound as alluring as Sociedad, the Championship was enticing enough for Coleman to return to work in the UK.

It was during his time with the Sky Blues that Coleman irked the Welsh supporters when he said that he “could not care less about Wales,” when he was asked if Coventry striker Freddy Eastwood was fit enough to play for Wales in their first World Cup Qualifier.

Coleman was quick to backtrack though.

“It’s my own fault, it came out the wrong way,” Coleman said.

“I hope I don’t have to explain myself to anybody in terms of how much I love Wales. I’ve got to get him fit for Coventry first and foremost, that’s my job. I was asked about Freddy’s fitness but don’t get me wrong, I’m employed by Coventry City.”

“When he is fit, I’d drive him down the motorway myself if I had to for him to play for Wales. I’ve played for Wales myself and I preferred playing for my country than any club I’ve played for. Unfortunately, my career was cut short. I can promise you that I love Wales, I’m very patriotic and that will never change.”

Coleman’s time at the Ricoh Arena was blighted by problems on and off the pitch, despite leading the club to survival in his first season, he never managed to stop the club flirting with relegation in his other two years in charge.

He was eventually sacked in 2010 with the Championship season ending with a 4-0 home defeat by Watford and his side in 19th place, two places lower than his first term.

It wasn’t until the following year that Coleman found himself back in work, once again outside of English football, with second-tier Greek side Larissa.

After spending just six months with Sociedad, Coleman’s spell with Larissa lasted just two more months longer than his time in Spain, as financial difficulties dogged his time in Greece.

Again Coleman left a club prematurely, with Larissa just two points off top spot, but perhaps more noteworthy, the Wales manager’s position was now vacant after the untimely death of Gary Speed.

Soccer - Friendly - Wales v Finland Chris Coleman was an international teammate of the late Gary Speed. Source: EMPICS Sport

Coleman was appointed his national team’s manager later that month.

At his unveiling as the new Wales manager, a visibly emotional Coleman paid tribute to his former teammate Gary Speed.

“In an ideal world I wouldn’t be sitting here because this press conference would not be taking place,” he said.

“Wales would be doing very well and one of my best friends would be with us, but that’s not the case. I’m here for a lot of right reasons and I’m here for a lot of wrong reasons, and that doesn’t really sit right with me.”

“But of course I’m extremely proud to be leading my country. It’s my proudest moment.”

Coleman would go on to make the worst start by any Wales manager in their history, by losing his first four matches that included a 6-1 drubbing to Serbia.

The former Fulham manager was struggling to carry on the momentum brought to the nation by the late Speed, during Speed’s time in charge Wales the side jumped from 117th in the rankings up to 45th, which included winning three out of the last four qualifiers for Euro 2012.

Coleman attempted to finish what Speed had started by keeping a similar style of play, same training regimes in familiar surroundings but the death of their former manager understandably still hung over the team.

After that defeat to Serbia, Coleman made what was one of the biggest calls of his regime, when he took the captaincy away from Aaron Ramsey to give it to Ashley Williams with both players seeming to thriving in their new respective roles.

Two victories over neighbours Scotland followed, and there were signs, however modest, that things were about to change, and Coleman was slowly, but surely, starting to get to grips with his new role.

Wales 2014 WCQ

 

Their next target was to qualify for the newly-expanded European Championships, but it started in the worst possible way – a goal down away to Andorra in their opening game.

But with Gareth Bale in the team you’ve always got a chance.

And it was the Real Madrid man that saved Wales that night and who was their vocal point throughout the qualification stages, as he went to score seven of Wales’ 11 goals as his side qualified for their first major tournament in 58 years.  With the highlight of the campaign being their home victory over Belgium.

Soccer Euro 2016 Wales Slovakia Real Madrid's Gareth Bale is an integral part of the Wales side. Source: Hassan Ammar

Yes, Wales have entered this tournament heavily reliant on their talisman Bale, but Wales are a team of strong foundations, in which every single squad member wants to turn up for international duty and represent their country with pride.

And that has a lot to with the environment Coleman has helped to build on, which was started by Speed.

Whether you play for Inverness or Real Madrid, MK Dons or Arsenal, everybody is treated as a valuable part of the squad, but not an irreplaceable part of the team.

Without doubt Coleman has grown into the role, he has now been manager of Wales longer than any of his club sides and when you compare the turmoil facing his English counterparts, it puts his and the achievement of his team into perspective.

Whatever happens between now and the end of the tournament, you can be assured that Coleman will not forget how he got there and why he is in the job in the first place.

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About the author:

Shane Costello

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