Farewell to a hero
Wales’ failure to qualify for Russia 2018 has obscured the true managerial quality Chris Coleman possesses. It is the one true blemish on his time in charge and should not dilute his achievements. That such an unwanted mark is there can be attributed to a number of different reasons, though I will not allow my personal feelings – that irresponsible refereeing coupled with regressive football led to Wales’ loss to Ireland – pollute this editorial.
An uninspiring appointment was met with apathy from a nation still mourning the loss of Gary Speed, who had revitalised a Wales’ squad floundering under John Toshack. One of Speed’s closest friends – they shared rooms during Wales camps as players – Coleman had conflicting feelings as he reluctantly took the mantle. Such uncertainty from the manager translated into languid performances and continued despair.
“step out of the shadow of loss”
Wales were directionless, with the potential of the “Golden Generation” presumed to be wasted. It was a harrowing 6-1 defeat away to Serbia in 2014 that, ironically, acted as the catalyst for unprecedented success. Something had to give; it was either his resignation or a commitment to step out of Speed’s shadow and fashion his own, distinct side.
Eyebrows were raised when Wales set up away against minnows Andorra in a 5-3-2 formation; brows frowned when Wales went one nil down; momentary relief was replaced by mounting concern after a Gareth Bale double rescued the Welsh from cataclysmic embarrassment.
Yet this was to be the system that formed the foundation of Wales’ meteoric rise from 112th in the FIFA World Rankings to 9th at the time of Euro 2016. Coleman was loyal to this new-found ideology, and when results started to transpire, there were few critics. It wasn’t just the formation, which provided defensive solidity and enabled Wales’ creative outlets to flourish, that invigorated the Dragons. Coleman had fostered a club-like spirit, reconnected with the fans, strove to involve a whole nation and created himself as a figurehead of the people – he was one of us.
It would be indulgent to describe the unrivalled emotions I experienced at Euro 2016, so I won’t. Rather, I’ll end before an emotional mist descends. Coleman had breathed fire into a sleeping dragon; he made a nation dream; he united. His legacy should not be tainted by Wales’ inability to qualify.
Whoever takes over has one hell of a job to match what Coleman did. Not only for Welsh football, but for a whole nation.
Chiefs defence a peculiar art
Rob Baxter’s men trailed 13-17 at the break, with visitors Harlequins exploiting defensive sloppiness from the Chiefs. It was an uncharacteristically lazy defensive showing from the league’s most intimidating back-line.
Yet in the second half, Baxter orchestrated a shut-out. Onslaught after onslaught, pressure applied consistently and mauls that threatened to break through – though they tried, Harlequins could not find a way through a determined and stoic defence.
“a theatrically pure defensive display”
It was a peculiar art: the manner in which scientific organisation articulated itself in the discipline of the Chief’s defence. Envious levels of concentration, a forensic awareness and a commitment to shield as collective body: this was a theatrically pure performance from the Premiership holders.
With a defence as mean and tenacious as that, the Chiefs were always going to emerge victoriously. They bundled off the pitch having usurped Saracens atop of the table. It will be the Chief’s ability to continue to defend as one entity, one wall of impenetrable material, which may well decide whether they retain their crown.
The role of social media
Daily Mail journalist Adam Crafton found himself engulfed in a torrent of vulgar abuse in the wake of Saturday’s North London Derby. He had previously toyed with Arsenal fans by selecting a “Combined XI” piece between the two sides, only to field a line-up completely of Spurs fans.
The official Twitter account of Arsenal evidently noticed this, the administrator of the account quietly brewing, seething over a harmless piece written in jest. When Arsenal eventually beat Tottenham, thanks to the combined brilliance of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Alexander Lacazette, they responded to Crafton’s original tweet plugging the article.
“the act of confronting an individual and exposing him to millions of followers was reckless”
Said tweet was a GIF – a moving short animation for those digitally reclusive readers – of Ozil. Meant to mock and belittle Crafton. The tweet itself was humorous; there was nothing malicious about it. But the act of confronting an individual and exposing him to Arsenal’s millions of followers was reckless, short-sighted and reeked of ignorance.
Crafton was subjected to anti-Semitic and homophobic abuse as a result of this. Those running Arsenal twitter appeared to miss a glaring aspect of having a following of 12 million users. You possess an immense power – for good and for bad. It is criminally stupid to single out one person and inadvertently create a channel through which egregious individuals feel it is “ok” to abuse someone because their club started it. They set in motion, though it was not their intention, a chain of events which led to the deplorable vulgarity which Crafton was targeted with.
To not realise the influence you hold and the malicious potential you can invite is reckless and dangerous. Arsenal later condemned the actions of its followers, in a sign that they at least acknowledged the storm they had brewed.
Hopefully, this is a lesson learned.