A few days ago, one of the stranger managerial moves of recent times took place when it was announced that Chris Coleman had resigned as Wales manager to take over at Sunderland.
This isn’t strange because Coleman decided to leave Wales; sooner or later, that was always going to happen. Despite not having managed in the English leagues for 7 years, Coleman’s stock as a manager has never been higher; but the small budget the Welsh FA has to work with means that he couldn’t earn anywhere near as much with Wales as he could in club football.
What’s strange is that he’s decided to make that leap with Championship club Sunderland. The good work Coleman did with Wales meant that he could have got a Premier League job. Perhaps not with one of the better clubs, but a Premier League job none the less.
For example, West Brom fired Tony Pulis a couple of days after Coleman joined Sunderland. I think West Brom would have been a good fit for Coleman. Similarly, if Marco Silva leaves Watford for Everton, Coleman could’ve stepped in there.
Instead, he’s chosen Sunderland. Unless Coleman is one of those people who like to take on the most difficult challenge they can think of, it’s difficult to see why he’s picked Sunderland.
Okay, Coleman has reportedly quintupled his salary by signing a £1m a year contract with Sunderland, but if money was his motivation, he could have got more than that at a Premier League club.
Sunderland are a big club, but are also one that have been a basket case for years both on and off the pitch. This is a club that went down from the Premier League with barely a whimper, and if anything, have got worse since. Never forget, this was the team that seemingly wanted to keep David Moyes, despite the disaster of a season they had under him.
They are currently bottom of the Championship with only one win all season, and haven’t won in 15 games, which led to them firing Moyes’ replacement Simon Grayson. They are also a team that need to cut costs further, so it’s not as though he can spend a lot of money and start to move up the divisions. Instead, it looks as though Coleman will have to use his own contacts to bring players on loan to improve the squad.
Maybe Coleman’s thinking is that if he can somehow do something with Sunderland he will have proved himself to those who said his success with Wales was solely down to having an exceptional, once-in-a-generation player like Gareth Bale.
Coleman leaves Wales having been a great success as manager. He took over a team that had a world ranking of 112 when he started his first qualifying campaign in 2012, and leaves one that has a ranking of 14.
Coleman got the job in the worst possible set of circumstances following the suicide of his friend, Gary Speed. He got that job amid plenty of opposition from the existing coaching set-up and players, who wanted to see Speed’s legacy continue with the promotion of one of the existing coaches, rather than someone else.
Coleman also came into the job with his own reputation as a manager on the line. After a decent enough beginning to his coaching career as Fulham manager, successive management roles hadn’t worked out.
Initially, results went badly, as Coleman struggled to balance wanting to continue Speed’s way of playing with his own ideas and methods. It was only when he decided to do things completely his own way following a heavy defeat to Serbia in 2012 that Wales started on an upward trajectory.
Coleman made changes to the way Wales trained and prepared for matches. He placed a heavier emphasis on defence and eliminated the stupid set-piece goals Wales used to regularly concede. He saw the potential of Ashley Williams as a leader. He changed the way Wales played in order that they could use their greatest asset, Gareth Bale, to devastating effect.
Despite being the bottom seeds for their qualifying group for EURO 2016, Wales qualified to their first international tournament since 1958. Once there they exceeded all expectations and made it to the semi-finals.
Wales’ qualification campaign for the World Cup was ultimately decided by the five successive draws that put them a long way behind eventual group winners Serbia. But it was a case of what might have been as Wales led in all but 2 of the ten games; the 0-0 draw with Ireland and the final 0-1 defeat to Ireland that prevented Wales from making the playoffs.
It's not that clear now who will replace Coleman as Wales manager. Englishman Mike Smith is the only non-Welsh manager Wales have ever had, and there’s no reason to suggest that they’re not going to want a Welsh manager again.
Wales’ budgetary constraints means that they can’t tempt an established manager away from club football, so it’s highly unlikely that established Premier League managers Mark Hughes and (God forbid) Tony Pulis would be in line.
If Wales want a manager with previous experience, then Vancouver’s Carl Robinson is a possibility as is Portsmouth’s Kenny Jackett. Welsh-born Steve Cooper, the manager of England’s World Cup winning under-17s is a contender too.
If previous experience isn’t a requirement, then the obvious candidate will be Ryan Giggs. Giggs is desperate to kick-start his managerial career, and the Wales job would be a good place for him to begin. The same goes for former Wales players Craig Bellamy and John Hartson, who have both said that they want the job.
Wales could also appoint from within, with under-21’s Manager Robert Page or long-time coach and Technical Director Osian Roberts being a possibility, though I think Wales see Roberts as so vital as a Technical Director that Wales wouldn’t want to lose him, and would see him as the perfect assistant to a less-experienced manager.
Whoever takes over the job will have to deal with the highest level of expectations any Wales manager has faced in a long time. However, they will take over a highly talented group of players, with a core group of the squad being young enough that they will be able to play together for a while longer yet.