It’s Round and It’s White’s resident columnist Rob Latham delivers his first weekly column for the new-look site, by taking a look at the current state of Welsh football.
A demoralising 6-1 defeat to Serbia on Tuesday evening firmly brought down the curtain on a short-lived era of optimism for Welsh football. The nation’s football side had appeared invigorated under the short tenure of their late manager Gary Speed, but the Welsh legend’s shock death last year appears to have pushed the team back several paces.
Under Speed the Welsh team had been performing well, picking up notable victories over Switzerland and Montenegro, going close to upsetting England – which they would have done had it not been for Rob Earnshaw missing a sitter– and an impressive 4-1 rout of Norway two weeks before Speed’s death in November 2011.
But the nation’s fortunes have since taken a dramatic fall from grace with the side losing their next 5 matches, including fixtures against the mighty footballing forces of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mexico and Costa Rica.
Speed’s replacement Chris Coleman clearly has a tough job on his hands, and it remains to be seen whether he can revive Wales from what is an extremely difficult predicament. If he is to do so then he needs his more senior players to step up and lead the way for their country. It’s no longer the case that Wales’ team is reliant on players from the lower tiers of English football. On paper they should have enough quality to at least be in contention to challenge for playoff places for international competitions.
The likes of Gareth Bale, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey play at top Premier League clubs, in the form of Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal respectively, so the onus is firmly on them to take on responsibility at international level. In addition, the Welsh side also now has Premier League experience in the form of James Collins, Ashley Williams, Jack Collison and more.
But these players, who do have significant top level experience, have simply not performed to a sufficient standard in recent matches. Indeed, former Wales international Robbie Savage today launched a scathing attack on the Welsh team in his regular BBC column – labelling the side that took a beating from Serbia “a laughing stock.”
Perhaps the shock of Speed’s death does still hang over the Welsh team, and it’s understandable. Comments from Craig Bellamy this week revealed that he has failed to get over the death of Speed, who he describes as his best friend, and that it has even caused the breakup of his marriage.
But the focus for Wales has to be on their next game, which is a huge six-pointer against their old foes Scotland, who have themselves been hugely underwhelming in the opening two World Cup qualifiers. A defeat for Wales will end their already hugely unlikely World Cup qualification hopes, following opening defeats to Serbia and Belgium.
With that in mind, surely it’s now time for the Welsh team and, more specifically, their top players to step up and restore the pride in the Welsh jersey.