Colemanballs: Foreign Misadventures

Chris Coleman

LOST BOYO IN SAN SEBASTIAN -2007-2008- & LARISSA -2011-2012-

OTHER CLUBS (as manager) – Fulham, Coventry

WALES CAREER (as manager) – Appointed January 19th, 2012

The second tier of Greek football may not be the first place a nation with aspirations of World Cup qualification goes looking for their next manager, but that, as had largely been expected, is exactly where the Football Association of Wales have found their man to carry on Gary Speed’s legacy. Almost two months after the tragedy of Speed’s death, former 32-cap Welsh defender Chris Coleman was confirmed on January 19th as the new national team boss.

After three difficult jobs, the patriotic Coleman, who, despite a playing and managerial career spent outside his homeland, still speaks with a strong Welsh lilt, has clearly landed his dream role. His performance at his unveiling was suitably restrained given the circumstances of his appointment, but Coleman, always forthright with his opinions, did manage a couple of animated responses, particularly when questioned on his ‘chequered’ post-Fulham managerial career in Spain, Coventry, and Greece. ‘Cookie,’ how he has affectionately been known since his playing days at Crystal Palace, admitted he had made mistakes at Coventry, but was much more defensive regarding his time overseas at Real Sociedad and Larissa.

Real Sociedad -May 2007 – Jan 2008

Segunda Division –  PLD 20 W8 D7 L5 GF21 GA19

Copa Del Rey –  1st Round (PLD1 L1 GF0 GA1)

In April 2003, Chris Coleman became the youngest man to take the reins of a Premier League club (a record he still holds) when he was made caretaker manager of Fulham. Given the role on a permanent basis at the end of the 02-03 season, Coleman would lead Fulham to 9th, 13th, and 12th place finshes before being sacked late in the 06-07 season.

Coleman did not, however, have to wait long for his next appointment. On the recommendation of John Toshack, then Wales manager and perhaps the most well-travelled of all Lost Boyos, Coleman was appointed manager at one of Toshack’s old clubs, Real Sociedad.

La Real, twice Primera Division champions in the early-1980s, are a proud club with a large fan-base in and around the picturesque city of San Sebastian on northern Spain’s Basque coastline. However, at the time of Coleman’s arrival, the club had just been relegated from Spain’s top-flight for the first time in 40 years and he was tasked with leading them back to promotion.

Back home, the biggest headlines of Coleman’s stay probably surrounded his late arrival for a press conference following a 1-1 draw at home to Celta. Coleman’s tardiness was down to, so the rumour went, a late-night visit to a local drinking establishment. In his weekly column in the Daily MailColeman’s postcard from San Sebastian, an apologetic Coleman did not deny spending the night before showing visiting friends around town, but he chose to the lay the blame at the hands of a plumber who finally made an appearance after days of waiting.

On the field, things didn’t get off to a successful start with two defeats in the first two home fixtures, although there was a 1-0 away win at Basque rivals Eibar sandwiched in between. From late October until early January , the team went on a nine game unbeaten run (four wins; five draws) that was ended by Salamanca. The next game, a 1-0 home win against another Basque rival, Alaves, was to be Coleman’s last.

Although Coleman would remain at the helm until mid-January, the countdown to his departure began in November when club president Marie de la Pena, who had been integral in appointing Coleman, resigned her position. Local businessman Inaki Badiola was elected as her successor in early January and, according to Coleman, he and Badiola had differing views on the future of the club. Both parties made early noises about continuing with Coleman in charge. “We have a project and we want Coleman to be a part of it, ” said Badiola, while Coleman said he and assistant Steve Kean (the current Blackburn boss) would remain with the club as long as they were needed. A week later, however, Coleman announced his resignation with the team two points away from Sporting Gijon in the final automatic promotion slot.

AEL 1964 FC – May 2011 – January 2012

Football League – PLD10 W5 D4 L1 GF15 GA5

Greek Cup – Last 32 (PLD2 W1 L1* GF1 GA0)

“If I wrote a book about my life, there’d be one chapter, 8 pages on all my life before Larissa and everything else would be the last 4 months in Greece.”                                                                                                                                         Chris Coleman, October 2011

Athlitiki Enosi Larissas 1964, or Larissa was Coleman’s second foray into Lost Boyo territory. Struggling in the Greek Super League, Larissa first made an approach for Coleman in late 2010, but he stalled on a decision as he awaited the FAW’s decision on John Toshack’s successor. That job, of course, went to Gary Speed, but Larissa returned 6 months later with another offer.

The Vissini (the Purples) were unable to fight off relegation at the end of the 2010-11 season, so Coleman’s challenge, just as it had been at Real Sociedad, would be to return the club to the top-flight. Although appointed in May 2011, Coleman’s Larissa would not see official action until mid-November due to a match fixing scandal, the result of which was holding up the final make-up of the Greek Super League. Coleman spoke of his own frustration at the season’s delayed kick-off and not knowing what league his team would start the season in, as well as of the mental toll it was taking on his players. Eventually the two clubs involved, Olympiakos Volos and Kavala, were consigned to the Greek fourth tier. Their fate, however, was to offer no redemption for Larissa who would remain in the Football League.

Again, just as the case had been in Spain, Coleman’s path to promotion was being hindered by financial constraints. Larissa had moved into the 16,000 AEL Arena in December 2010, but with the Greek economy on its knees and attendances regularly below half that capacity, there was simply no money to fund a big promotion push.

Accepting his own lack of knowledge on Greek football, Coleman opted not to bring in any of his own people, instead putting his trust in those with a greater understanding of the local market. There was, however, a familiar face to be found among the playing staff with Coleman signing Luis Boa Morte, who he had coached during his time at Fulham.

Just as in San Sebastian, the club’s start under the new Welsh regime was slow and this time Coleman would need to wait until his fourth game in charge before he could finally celebrate his side’s first victory. However, the defeat suffered away at Panserraikos in the season’s second match would be Coleman’s only league defeat in his 10 games in charge.

Coleman again signed off with a 1-0 win, but with the club’s finances showing no sign of improving and, for those of a more cynical mind, the Welsh vacancy needing to be filled, Coleman resigned his position in early January with the team two points from automatic promotion.

*Larissa lost to  Panaitolikos   in a penalty shoot-out

WALES – What does the future hold? 

The Greek odyssey may not end up filling as many pages in his book as Coleman might have expected. What though, if anything, can his time overseas tell about what we can expect from him in his new role?

Well, firstly he’ll be hoping the book doesn’t become a Greek tragedy because most stories on his first day on the job have centred around Larissa seeking compensation from the Welsh FA for a manager they believe is still under contract to them.

Looking further ahead, we here at Lost Boyos believe any overseas experience can only help a player or manager to improve their understanding of the game. In addition, for Coleman, after his Spanish adventure ended prematurely, to then have a second crack at a foreign career speaks volumes about his character.

On the field, it is difficult to take a great deal from less than 40 matches that Coleman spent leading sides in Spain and Greece. At both teams, he started slowly, but as he spent more time with his players, results improved. He ended up winning 43% of his games, but his sides only managed 1.2 goals per game on average. However, in both cases, he managed to take his teams on long unbeaten runs before his departures, and he managed to leave both teams with a decent shot at achieving their main aims: promotion.

Indeed, his exits perhaps offer an insight into how he will handle two of his first big challenges; namely his captain and his right-hand man. Both Aaron Ramsey and Raymond Verheijen have voiced their opinions on the future of the national team in the wake of Speed’s death. Current captain Aaron Ramsey has very publicly called for little to change in the Welsh set-up and criticised the FAW for not including him or other senior players in the recruitment process, while Speed’s often outspoken Dutch assistant Verheijen put his own name forward for the top job while much of the Welsh football public was still grieving Speed’s loss. Coleman left both jobs on his own terms. He is clearly his own man and likes things done on his terms.

Hopefully, all three will be able to see eye-to-eye and the progress made under Speed will be able to continue.

4 thoughts on “Colemanballs: Foreign Misadventures

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