World Soccer: What does it mean to lead this team at Euro 2016?
Chris Coleman: It’s my biggest achievement and biggest honour, and my most enjoyable achievement in football. I was lucky enough to play for Wales and even more privileged to manage them, and to achieve what we did was icing on the cake. Wherever I go afterwards, whatever I do in football, I don’t think I’ll ever beat that feeling after walking off the pitch in Bosnia when we realised what we’d done.
Inevitably there is huge excitement about Wales v England. Is it justified?
I didn’t really want them in our group, not because we’re afraid of matching up against them on the pitch, but because of all the hoo-hah that goes with England. It is like going to France to play a derby, and I am sure the hype will dominate the build-up. But we have them and we have to deal with it. We’re not thinking about them now, though. We are only thinking about Slovakia. It’s all about getting out of the group and into the last 16, and then dealing with that challenge.
Presumably the fans would love to win the England game above all other?
It’s pointless beating England if we don’t get through – it won’t mean anything. There is a sort of circus with that game, all the hype surrounding England, and we don’t want to get involved in that.
I know Roy Hodgson very well and he’s someoneI respect a lot. They won 10 out of 10 in qualifying and they are always going to be tough. But whoever you play, you know it will be difficult because there are no easy games at this level. We’re certainly not easy to play against either, and won’t be sitting ducks.
How important is Gareth Bale to Wales?
He’s integral to us, really, both on and off the pitch. He stands out on the pitch because he’s “noisy”; not in what he says but his actions. As an attacker he is incredibly aggressive and very demanding of himself. His standards set the bar for everybody else to aspire to. People use the word “great” lightly, but he is genuinely a great player, one of the best in the world, and he plays for us. Off the pitch he’s quiet, a family man but hugely passionate about his country. He’s easy to work with and brings out the best in all of us. We recognise what we have in him and we have to utilise him the best we can.
Who are favourites to win in France?
Football is an amazing sport, always full of surprises, and that is the beauty of the game. Greece won it in 2004, Denmark won it in 1992 when they came in through the back door, having hardly trained for
it. Teams going into a tournament in form might not hit the right notes, while others who are not fancied can get it together during the tournament and hit all the right notes. That’s the great thing – it gives everybody a chance. I’m really excited but I couldn’t tell you who’ll win. People talk about Germany, France, England as favourites, but you never know what’s going to happen – and we may just be one of those “you-never-know” teams!
Is there a sense you are making history?
My father talked about the great Welsh players of the past, going back to 1958: John Charles, Cliff Jones and Ivor Allchurch were all incredible players. It has been a long time since then, and there has been a big psychological barrier, with the pressure on every time there was a tournament we failed to reach, even when we had a good squad, like the one we have now. We’ve broken down those barriers now and this group will be remembered in the history of Welsh football – and rightly so.
You have said before that you want this to be just a start for Welsh football…
This was all about qualifying, but I said to the FA of Wales that it is not just about qualifying once, it is making sure we can do it again and again, putting in place a structure that will allow us to do that. We’ve improved a lot of things on and off the pitch, and we need to keep improving in those areas.
Interview by Gerry Cox