It’s close to nine months since Lost Boyos was first launched, and in those nine months, one name has come up again and again: John Toshack. First up, we saw how his influence at former club Real Sociedad helped bring about the appointement of fellow Welshman Chris Coleman at the Basque club. Next, we were looking at his record-breaking Real Madrid team, and then most recently we saw how Toshack was one of the stars of Cardiff City’s great European campaigns of the 1960s.
Yet we’ve barely scratched the surface of the exploits of one Wales’ most successful and most well-travelled Lost Boyos. Toshack’s latest foreign adventure, as head coach of the national football team of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, ended prematurely this week.
Toshack’s arrival in the Macedonian post was much the same as his departure from the Wales job. His predecessor Mirsad Jonsuz had been appointed in May 2009 and not too much was expected given how results had gone while he was coach of the nation’s U21 team. Jonsuz ended the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign, which had begun under Srecko Katanec, then began preparations for his own attempt at qualification for a major tournament.
Despite the low expectations, those preparations went well. In the seven friendlies that took place between the end of the World Cup qualifying and the start of Euro 2012 qualifying, Macedonia did not lose a single game (five wins and two draws). Any renewed optimism this created among Macedonian fans was, however, to prove short-lived.
The first four games of the qualification campaign brought just a single victory- against Andorra- as well as a draw against Armenia and defeats to Slovakia and Russia. Hopes of reaching Poland and Ukraine were already very slim, before back-to-back defeats against the Republic of Ireland in 2011 removed any chance of Macedonia progressing to their first major tournament. Jonsuz was fired.
A little earlier on, in the same qualification campaign, a similar fate had befallen John Toshack. Under Toshack, his Wales teams had fallen well short of the qualification mark for both Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010. When, in September 2010, Euro 2012 qualifying also began with a 1-0 defeat to Montenegro, Toshack resigned.
A little under 12 months later, Toshack was appointed as Mirsad Jonusz’s successor as head coach of Macedonia. His first games in charge were qualifiers against Russia and Andorra. Toshack, whose backroom team included his son Cameron, kept faith with many of the personnel and the formation from the previous regime. Of the 17 players used by Jonsuz in the two games against Ireland, ten played in Toshack’s first two games, eight of whom were starters against Russia. Of the other seven, three were debutants; Muhamed Huseini, Muarem Muarem, and Australian-born Daniel Georgievski, who started both games.
Macedonia were unlucky to lose in Toshack’s first game against Russia. Despite controlling portions of the game, Macedonia were unable to find a breakthough, and Igor Semshov’s first half strike was to prove to be the game’s only goal. As well as the result, Toshack also lost several players for his second game through suspension. Nikolce Noveski and Muhamed Demiri both collected their second yellows of the campaign and star-man Goran Pandev collected an injury-time red card.
Despite the missing players, Toshack got his first win in the home game with Andorra. Macedonia made hard work of winning the match- which also had a Welsh referee, Mark Whitby- but eventually got a second-half goal through Mirko Ivanovski. The game ended 1-0.
Macedonia rounded off their Euro 2012 qualification group with games against Armenia and Slovakia. The improving Armenians were still in the hunt for a spot in Poland and Ukraine when Toshack took his team to Yerevan, and they played like a team who still had everything to play for. Macedonia, on the other hand, were poor and were not helped by another red card- this time Velice Sumulikoski. The difference in motivation and performance was reflected in the scoreline with Armenia winning 4-1.
The final game of the campaign was back in Skopje against Slovakia. In a game with nothing at all to play for, Toshack opted for an experimental three-at-the-back arrangement, but this did not prevent Macedonia going behind after a comic defensive mix-up. The Macedonians did eventually equalise through captain Noveski as the game ended 1-1.
With the Euro 2012 campaign out of the way, Toshack was able to prepare his players for this year’s 2014 World Cup qualifiers. The draw, which had been made prior to Toshack’s appointment, put Macedonia in a difficult group with Balkan rivals Croatia and Serbia, Belgium, Scotland, and the country for whom Toshack had played 40 times and managed on 54 occasions, Wales.
The first opportunity Toshack had to turn things around was a November 2011 friendly against Albania. The manager made several changes to personnel and formation, but the game ended a dull 0-0 draw.
Next was what should have been a simple, morale-boosting win over lowly Luxembourg, but instead became the first in the series of events that eventually led to Toshack’s departure. Luxembourg, at the time ranked 133rd in the world (Macedonia were ranked 101st), won the game 2-1 thanks to an injury-time goal from 19 year-old debutant Maurice Deville. One of the rising stars of Macedonian football, Ferhan Hasani, gave Macedonia the lead, but Deville, on as a half-time substitute, equalised ten minutes into his debut. His late winner sealed the embarrassing defeat for Toshack’s men.
Toshack was critical of his players after this defeat, blaming the loss on his players’ lack of discipline. Soon, however, it was the players who were criticising Toshack.
On hearing that he had been left out of end 0f season friendlies against Portugal and Angola, striker Blaze Illioski took to Facebook to voice his disapproval of Toshack’s selection process. He accused Toshack of favouritism for overlooking in-form players in favour of familiar names and raw youngsters, despite the latter groups of players either receiving little playing time at club level or playing for clubs in lesser leagues. Experienced international Vlatko Grozdanoski was similarly critical of Toshack, while Ilcho Naumoski claimed Toshack was more interested in discussing Macedonia’s famous Ohrid trout than football with his players. Toshack countered their claims by saying that their protestations were merely proof that he was right to have left them out.
The games against Portugal and Angola both ended in 0-0 draws. Against a Portugal-side featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, a fairly young Macedonian side defended resolutely and kept out their European Championship-bound hosts. Toshack made five changes in slightly more attack-minded team against Angola, but neither side were again able to break the deadlock.
That game against Angola was to be Toshack’s last in charge of Macedonia. Toshack picked a squad for this month’s friendly with Lithuania, but would not be in the dugout for the game.
With little improvement having been made during Toshack’s year in charge – the Welshman’s record read one win, four draws, and three defeats- and a World Cup qualifying campaign on the horizon, a meeting was held between Toshack and the new head of the Macedonian FA Ilcho Gjorgioski. Among several conditions laid down by the Macedonian FA was for Toshack to take up residence in the Balkan state. Toshack, it appears, was unwilling to do so, preferring to retain his base in Spain.
The outcome of the talks is not in any doubt- Toshack is no longer the manager of Macedonia- but the means to which the decision was reached are slightly less clear. A Google search of ‘Toshack Macedonia’ brings up hundreds of headlines mostly using the vague terms ‘leaves’ or ‘departs.’ Others use more definitive words like ‘sacked,’ ‘fired,’ and ‘loses job,’ while others still suggest Toshack took the decision himself, offering that ‘Toshack quits,” or ‘Toshack resigns.” The Macedonian FA website hints at that modern favourite, ‘mutual consent,’ with both parties with each other the best for the future.
Despite the poor results with Macedonia and in his latter years with Wales, this is unlikely to spell the end for the much-respected Toshack. His role as head coach of Macedonia was the Welshman’s ninth different overseas posting, and we at Lost Boyos certainly hope it’s not his last.
Much of this piece is a summary of the in-depth coverage found at Macedoniafootball.com