29 February ~ It will be an emotional occasion tonight when Wales play Costa Rica in the Gary Speed memorial match. Speed's untimely death in November hit hard his family, friends and all those connected with football. Costa Rica were chosen as opponents as Speed made his international debut against them as an 18-year-old in 1990. The result is in many ways irrelevant, but the match will hopefully have a cathartic effect for all. New manager Chris Coleman's squad selection was unsurprising, but there has been more interest in his choice of backroom staff.
Prior to his appointment, speculation regarding who would become the new manager was muted, reflecting the respect with which Speed was held and the fact that there was no pressing need for an early appointment.
Raymond Verheijen was a notable exception to the muted mood. The Dutchman, who had been on the coaching staff for Holland, Russia and a number of European clubs, was Speed's assistant manager and has become well known for his voracious use of Twitter. While no Joey Barton, he often seemed to deliver controversial tweets simply to maintain the interest of his followers.
After Speed's death he tweeted that he hoped that the Welsh association would respect Speed's wishes and appoint him and fellow coach Osian Roberts as managers. It was too soon and came across as tasteless. Verheijen received widespread condemnation from former players and fans alike.
Many of the current players had already made it clear they wanted both Verheijen and Roberts to continue. Coleman, though announcing his intention to bring in Kit Symons, was quick to meet with Roberts and reassure him of his future. He later held an apparently positive meeting with Verheijen.
Roberts and Verheijen were to take joint charge of the match against Costa Rica until the Dutchman became embroiled in criticism, again via Twitter, of the FAW regarding their supposed "snub" of Adrian Davies, who had worked with Speed for Wales. Verheijen claimed that Davies had been sacked and not even invited to the Costa Rica game. The association responded by saying he had never been employed directly by them and that he had been given tickets.
This was not enough for Verheijen, who resigned last Saturday claiming he was sick of "political and destructive games". He has, however, since tweeted that he will still attend the game as a guest of Speed's family. Whether there was any merit in this accusation, or whether Verheijen was contriving an argument to allow him to leave his post with Wales is almost immaterial. To do this just a few days before the tribute match to your former friend and work colleague is inexcusable.
Whether the players want him or not, Wales will be much better off without egos such as Raymond Verheijen in the longer run. Paul Ashley-Jones