Wales coach Chris Coleman: from tragedy to triumph

Cardiff (United Kingdom) (AFP) – For Wales manager Chris Coleman, who has led his country to a first major tournament since 1958, the greatest triumph of his managerial career sprang from his deepest tragedy.

Coleman, 45, only took up the job following the death of his close friend and former Wales team-mate Gary Speed in an apparent suicide in November 2011.

Coleman described it as the “worst, worst, worst” day of his life and when Wales sealed their place at Euro 2016 last October, his thoughts quickly turned to Speed.

“I will be raising a glass to my good friend Gary Speed, obviously who is no longer with us, but always in my thoughts — our thoughts,” he said.

“Gary Speed played his part and I’m sure he is smiling tonight.”

Born in Swansea, south Wales, on June 10, 1970, Coleman was an avid Liverpool fan as a youngster and joined Manchester City’s youth set-up, only to leave at the age of 17, citing homesickness.

He returned to his hometown with Swansea City and would go on to represent Crystal Palace, Blackburn Rovers and Fulham at centre-back, as well as winning 32 caps for Wales, before a broken leg sustained in a car crash forced him into early retirement in October 2002.

Initially employed as a coach under Jean Tigana at Fulham, he succeeded the Frenchman as manager in April 2003 and confounded expectations by leading the ambitious west London club to a ninth-place finish in his first full season.

But despite establishing Fulham in the top flight, he could not sustain his initial success and was eventually dismissed in April 2007.

– Lost passport –

There followed varied subsequent spells with Spanish side Real Sociedad, Coventry City and Greek club Larissa, before Speed’s untimely passing opened the door for him to take charge of Wales in February 2012.

The gum-chewing, perma-tanned Coleman was not a universally popular appointment and made a slow start, with a 6-1 loss to Serbia in World Cup qualifying in September 2012 prompting him to consider walking away.

There was further embarrassment for Coleman the following September, when he lost his passport prior to a match in Macedonia, causing him to miss a pre-match training session.

But the beginning of qualifying for Euro 2016 was to prove a watershed moment as Coleman’s introduction of a 3-5-1-1 system turned Wales into a formidable defensive unit armed with the break-neck counter-attacking pace of Real Madrid star Gareth Bale.

With Bale contributing seven goals, Wales took Group B by storm, winning four points against much-fancied Belgium and securing a place at a major tournament for the first time since the 1958 World Cup.

Drawn alongside Russia, Slovakia and old rivals England at the Euro, Coleman says that Wales will not be going to France simply to make up the numbers.

“We can’t be going there thinking, ‘It’ll be nice,'” he said. “I think we’ve got the sort of players where we can soak it up and on our day we can hurt anybody.”

Speed would no doubt approve.

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