8 February ~ Three consecutive defeats mean Wales' Euro 2012 campaign is almost over already, John Toshack having resigned after the first against Montenegro with caretaker Brian Flynn overseeing two further defeats. Currently ranked 112th in the FIFA world rankings and public apathy for the national side lower than ever before, it's fair to say that new Wales manager Gary Speed has a difficult job ahead. So can Speed, who makes his debut in Dublin tonight, transform Welsh fortunes?
With a successful playing career and 85 caps for Wales, 44 as captain, he clearly has the credibility and already seems more at home with the media than his predecessor ever was. Toshack's often downbeat manner was designed to keep a lid on expectations but the fine line between being realistic and being negative was crossed regularly during his tenure. It led to a culture of apathy epitomised in last summer‘s friendly in Croatia, when 15 potential players were unavailable for a match seen as crucial in Welsh preparations for the Euro 2012 opener in Montenegro. Toshack was visibly deflated and the defeat in Montenegro saw him concede he could take them no further.
Speed was a surprise appointment only because he didn't formally apply for the post. Once the usual "Giggs for manager" bandwagon had run its course, the FAW shortlisted four candidates in Chris Coleman, John Hartson, Brian Flynn and Swede Lars Lagerback. Though the latter had the proven track record the FAW wanted a Welshman and as Flynn had not impressed while temporary manager there was no obvious favourite. Chief executive Jonathan Ford, who was appointed in January 2010, played a key role in Speed's appointment. Ford has a marketing background and was tasked with revamping the image and fortunes of the FAW but the only tangible result to date has been a redesign of the national team badge. Ford probably needed to make his mark. Giggs was his first target but once the Man Utd player rebuffed Wales, Speed, with his success for club and county, was the next obvious choice.
Like any manager, Speed will be judged by results and he has quality players such as Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey to build a side around. As captain of Wales, playing in front of 70,000-capacity crowds when they just missed out on qualification for Euro 2004 under Mark Hughes, he knows the potential is there if he can inspire fans and players alike. He has an ideal opportunity with his first competitive match being against England in March and any sort of good performance, let alone the unlikely chance of a result, could be the catalyst needed. However, his first priority will be to appoint his backroom team and he and Ford must ensure that they keep the services of a bitterly disappointed Flynn to continue his successful role with the various youth-level teams. Paul Ashley-Jones