His team sink to defeat after defeat yet Bobby Gould soldiers on as Wales manager. Nigel Harris looks at a deeply unpopular figure
Five years ago, Wales, beating the likes of Germany and Brazil, were ranked 27th in the world and heading towards USA 94. Then Paul Bodin missed that penalty. Welsh football has never recovered. Today, Wales are ranked 107, behind Malawi, Vietnam and Mynamar.
The right appointment was vital following the acrimonious departure of Terry Yorath, a one match debacle with John Toshack and further disaster under Mike Smith. Enter Bobby Gould, previously employed as the host of the Sky Sports phone-in. Fans choked at this appointment. Some were also concerned about that one continuous eyebrow across his forehead. Choose any criteria and he fails.
Results? Prior to this month’s games versus Denmark and Belarus, how do six defeats and a draw in seven Euro/World Cup qualifying games sound? There are no easy games in international football, apart from Wales against Holland (who scored seven), Turkey (they got six though Wales scored four), Tunisia (four) or Leyton Orient, who won a friendly.
Tactics? Gould admits wrong formations, tactics and line-ups in past matches. He hasn’t learned. Against Italy last month, Mark Hughes was in midfield, Ryan Giggs played as a striker and Dean Saunders was dropped because, in Gould-speak, Giggs cannot play behind a front two. Morale? When the Euro 2000 draw was made, Gould said Wales will not qualify. Thanks, Bobby.
Then, of course, there are continual clashes with respected Welsh internationals and former managers. The hit list runs into double figures and includes Terry Yorath, John Toshack, Mark Hughes, Ian Rush, Nathan Blake, Gary Speed and now Robbie Savage. More speak to the press anonymously, in fear of retribution. Vinnie says players “can’t wait to go back to clubs”, which is possibly affirmed by the regular withdrawals of established internationals before friendlies, not always through injury.
Vinnie is not international class, but would you drop him for a League of Wales player who, despite trials, was not signed by any League club? Hartson’s club goals and performances are ignored whilst Gould asserts he is overweight and unfit. Nathan Blake refused to play, calling him a racist. This fracas was the consequence of continual jibes and references to Blake’s colour. At best, they were grossly naive and hinted at a man out of touch with modern times. Peace is restored, for now. One Welsh fan that complained was invited by Gould to sound out the views of black players who had worked under him. Gould’s list included the late Laurie Cunningham.
The barrel was firmly scraped before the Italy international last month, when Gould instructed Savage to leave the camp for being disrespectful after he’d playfully he tossed away a Paolo Maldini shirt (Savage also jokingly called Welsh defenders “Third Division” – Italy’s opening goal suggests this was lavish praise).
After the manager met with senior players, Savage was reinstated but relegated to substitute. In defeat, Wales’ performance was credible but Bobby had an encore. Reading teletext in bed later that night, he seethed at a headline, Lacklustre Wales Lose. He woke Ceefax’s editor at home in the early hours to get the headline changed. It was. The following day witnessed one of the most skin-tingling examples of football man man-agement imaginable as Gould again rounded on Savage at a specially arranged press conference. A hardened media watched in stunned silence.
Gould himself put a green Welsh shirt in a dustbin during a new kit launch last June but denied hypocrisy. “Some of us are superstitious,” he said, adding that Wales were “unlucky in green”. It is no surprise that the new reserve strip worn in Tunisia a few days after this launch was green.
Demands for his censure or dismissal are overwhelming. The press comment that he has “lost the plot”, fan letters fill Welsh newspapers, the Football Association of Wales (FAW) email server strangely stopped working shortly after being bombarded by irate supporters and Manic Street Preachers sang “Bobby Gould Must Go” instead of “Everything Must Go” at recent gigs. Gould deserves some credit however: membership of the Welsh FSA doubled in a week.
The FAW remain silent when asked to explain why Gould seemingly has the safest job in world football. In fact, his power is extended. He now oversees younger age groups and designs Welsh shirts. Keith Haynes, author of Come On Cymru, a review of Welsh football, also criticises the FAW for being “haphazard in their thinking and methods, failing to achieve any sort of stability” and allowing “dire management”.
The ordeal and agonies look set to continue. Will Bobby Gould be recalled as one of the most bonkers international managers in football history? Sadly, I’m certain there is more to come.
From WSC 141 November 1998. What was happening this month