COLEMAN WASTING WALES' GOLDEN GENERATION
Despite boasting two of the most dazzling midfielders in European soccer in Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, Wales won just three of its World Cup qualifiers and finished a whopping 16 points behind group winner Belgium.
And now it has been condemned to two more years of below-par performances and a disappointing Euro 2016 qualifying campaign after Chris Coleman was handed a new two-year contract last week.
The Welsh supporters, who have been chanting "Coleman Out" at recent home fixtures, were hoping that Crystal Palace would put them out of their misery - but the Premier League club has avoided a potentially disastrous appointment.
Coleman, 43, was perhaps a little lucky to get the Wales job in the first place, although he did take over in tragic circumstances following the death of Gary Speed. But after his appointment in January 2012, he did a steady job of making sure the team has regressed to the point where it could hardly get any worse.
Wales was playing an attractive breed of confident soccer, with Ramsey as captain and Bale showcasing his virtuoso Tottenham form on the international stage. But it could hardly be more different now.
It is hard to see the Welsh association’s logic in renewing Coleman’s contract unless it has conceded that even this talented group of players - Wales’ own golden generation - will never qualify for a major tournament.
Anyone who has seen Coleman’s attempted television punditry will conclude that you could get more tactical insight from a Sunday League manager. But then, he forced out assistant manager Raymond Verheijen, who had the respect of the players and led coaching sessions during the Speed era as Wales built a soccer identity and the results to go with it.
He stripped Ramsey of the captaincy in favor of Ashley Williams. That’s one way of alienating a star player. Ramsey, incidentally, missed Wales’ 1-1 draw with Finland on Saturday with a hamstring injury. He later tweeted that he "will be fine for next weekend" when Arsenal faces Southampton at the Emirates Stadium.
Coleman has also fallen out over another of his stars, having publicly clashed with Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti over his handling of Gareth Bale.
That did not go down with Bale and his camp. The winger was under enough pressure following his world record 86 million pound move on 300,000-pound-a-week wages. The last thing he needed was a club vs. country row and resentment from his new employers after finally completing his dream move.
And not to forget the lost passport before September’s qualifier against Macedonia. That’s something you might expect from a disorganized student or a scruffy journalist, not an international soccer manager.
Yet Coleman played the game well with the Welsh association, flirting with Palace and making no secret of his entirely unjustified indignation over delays in the new contract as his existing deal approached its expiration.
So what can Wales expect in the next two years? More of the same, unfortunately. Which is bad news for Bale, Ramsey and anyone who wants to see them replicate their club form on the international stage.
MIAMI THE PERFECT PREPARATION FOR BRAZIL
Not until after this week’s playoffs and the draw Dec. 6 will we know how next summer’s World Cup might take shape. But host Brazil is looking ominous already.
It smashed Honduras 5-0 in Miami on Saturday, prompting coach Luiz Felipe Scolari to declare: "There is no pressure for the title. Brazil will be the champions."
Anyone who was in Brazil during the Confederations Cup will attest to the sheer passion of the people for the Selecao and the influence of home advantage for Scolari’s side. In the final against Spain, Brazil used the crowd to its advantage to blow away the reigning world and European champions.
In Scolari, the Selecao have a coach who knows how to win the sport’s greatest prize. In Neymar, they have the poster boy of Brazilian soccer.
Scolari has picked a consistent squad, injuries aside, and the camaraderie between the players was reflected in their celebrations Saturday, as well as various Instagram photos and Twitter updates from Miami last week.
The attitude seems to be one of relaxed confidence. Perfect to channel the intensity of the expectation next summer. They will take some beating.
HART MUST LEARN FROM SZCZESNY
I wrote about Joe Hart’s terrible form and subsequent demotion to the substitutes’ bench in my last column. On Tuesday, he will start for England against Germany, looking to make his first step toward rediscovering his form and confidence.
Even a heroic performance at Wembley, though, is unlikely to have much influence on Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini, with Costel Pantilimon expected to keep his place in the side for Sunday’s match against Tottenham.
But the life of a goalkeeper can change very quickly - for better or for worse. Just ask Wojciech Szczesny. The Arsenal goalkeeper was dropped for Lukasz Fabianski for a five-game spell last season after a string of errors and unconvincing performances.
The Gunners looked at signing a new No. 1 during the summer transfer window, but Szczesny started the season between the posts and is now in the form of his life. After the Pole signed a new long-term deal over the weekend, there is no longer any doubt over his future at the club.
Hart needs to follow Szczesny’s example: Make sure the rest does him good and come back stronger.