If Gary Speed had failed to realise the tough task he inherited in taking over from former Wales manager John Toshack, the latest FIFA rankings provided a stark reminder.
Ahead of the draw for the 2014 World Cup Qualifying Campaign, Speed saw his side fall to 112th, placing them on a par with Europe’s acknowledged ‘whipping boys’ the Faroe Islands. If this was not insult enough, the minnows were then elevated by means of a 0.07 points coefficient into the pot above Wales for the World Cup draw.
A team’s points score is based on a variety of factors over a four-year period, with the importance of games and the quality of the opposition taken into account, although the average number of points accumulated in the last 12 months takes the greatest precedence. Wales’ record under Toshack makes grim reading and the latest ranking means Speed has no option but to start from the very bottom and work his way up.
In some ways, the optimist might say, this could actually prove to be a positive thing for Wales. Speed, alongside assistant Raymond Verheijen, has already spoken of his desire to change Welsh football from the roots up, and a fresh approach is definitely long overdue.
The World Cup draw was not as cruel to Wales as it could have been. Certainly, they will have to exceed expectations to even dream of qualifying, but for once, it is not completely outside the realm of possibility. Drawn in Group A alongside Macedonia, Scotland, Belgium, Serbia and Croatia, Speed must believe that if he can call on his most experienced players for each match, then his side has an outside chance.
Herein lies the first challenge. Previous Wales managers have been plagued by withdrawals and injuries and this has certainly impacted not only on results, but on morale within the camp. If Wales are ever to succeed in a major tournament, they need their best players available for selection for every game, and that includes the much-derided friendly games.
Verheijen believes the current regime has the balance right and players are enthused about the new approach, stating that all of Gary Speed’s squad arrived in Cardiff on Sunday evening, even those players carrying an injury, such is the desire to be involved.
Speed was extremely positive about his side’s chances after the draw was made. Whilst acknowledging the strength of the top seeds in the group, he also felt the draw had favoured Wales to a degree and admitted to being excited about the campaign.
“I’m very excited about it. It’s tough obviously. If you look at the teams in there, they are all strong teams. There’s no weak team. But we have avoided Spain, Italy and England, so I feel pretty confident about the group.”, he said. “It’s one of those groups that everyone can beat anyone so I think it will be wide open.”
Ironically, it seems John Toshack is still determined to have a say in proceedings, after being formally announced as the new FYR Macedonia boss on Sunday, meaning he will go head-to-head with his former players in the qualifying campaign.
“It will be hard to play against Wales but I can’t think how Welsh fans will react because I am a professional and will do my best to turn things around in Macedonia,” he said.
One thing is for sure- it will undoubtedly bring an added element of spice to the fixtures!