In drafting in experienced Dutch coach Raymond Verheijen as his assistant, Speed has made his intentions for change clear. While Verheijen’s radical techniques and opinionated views may rile some, few can argue that a fresh approach is needed, and Speed clearly believes this is the way forward for Wales.
A new system will take time to embed and Speed has stressed that he sees his role as a long-term project, rather than a quick-fix. While the 2-1 defeat to Australia was ultimately disappointing, looking at the bigger picture, there are greater positives to take from the game.
Firstly, and perhaps most significantly, a full squad reported in Cardiff ahead of the game this week. Even those players who were injured and unable to take part were keen to be involved in the setup; surely a strong testament to what Speed and his team are trying to achieve. With a game just days before the Premiership season is due to kick off, the fact that the Wales manager was able to name a starting line-up consisting of eight Premier League players speaks volumes of the high regard Speed is held in, not only amongst his playing staff, but also within a group of managers, who in different circumstances, may have been reluctant to release their players for a ‘friendly’ international game.
The first half was not pretty. Wales had plenty of possession, but most of it was in their own half, with few balls aimed forward despite the presence of Gareth Bale and Craig Bellamy on the flanks. Australia are a well-organised unit and it was almost inevitable that before too long, they would make the breakthrough. Tim Cahill, the Everton midfielder, scandalously left almost completely unmarked in the box, volleyed home a terrific shot just before half time to put the visitors ahead, and, at that point, Wales looked in danger of capitulating.
The second half, however, offered signs of improvement and hope for the future. Speed admitted in post-match interviews that he was desperately disappointed with the opening 45 minutes, and moved quickly to change things around. Captain Aaron Ramsey, who struggled to find his best form but who was reportedly feeling a calf injury, and Danny Gabbidon, whose lack of regular first-team football was all too apparent, were substituted and replaced by Jack Collison and Darcy Blake.
Collison, returning from a lengthy absence due to injury, was a breath of fresh air in midfield, affording David Vaughan a greater influence and providing more stability through the middle. Blake, while understandably less assured at the back, restored some Welsh pride in the 82nd minute, heading home his first senior goal from Gareth Bale’s corner.
The goal seemed to give Wales a lift and in the final ten minutes they applied significant pressure as they searched for the equaliser. It was too little too late this time, but proved they have the ammunition to attack if the belief is there.
In Gareth Bale and Craig Bellamy, Speed has the tools he needs to create a successful team. It was the first time since taking charge, that he has been able to call on the Tottenham Hotspur midfielder, and his display proved that the Wales manager needs to build his plans around the influential star. Bale, once again, was at the heart of everything positive about Wales and must surely be the catalyst for their rise up the rankings.
Similarly, Craig Bellamy, like him or loathe him, has the requisite passion for his country, whether he is playing in a friendly or a competitive international, that makes him an essential part of Speed’s rebuilding job.
Couple this with the emerging talent coming through the ranks and the future looks surprisingly bright for Wales. With significantly more players now plying their trade in the Premier League and promising youngsters such as Neil Taylor and Joe Allen pushing for a starting role, it’s hard not to be optimistic.
It won’t be an easy ride and there will undoubtedly still be disappointing results along the way, but overall, with a little bit of patience and perseverance, Speed will bring about the change everyone craves.