Coleman and his heroic underdogs find failure is the greatest motivator

There have been lessons along the way for Wales throughout this history-making Euro 2016 campaign.

Published: 06th July 2016 09:08 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th July 2016 08:40 PM   |  A+A-

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Wales coach Chris Coleman| AP

There have been lessons along the way for Wales throughout this history-making Euro 2016 campaign but nothing as motivationally instructive as a candid admission from their manager, Chris Coleman, on the eve of his nation's first semi-final in a major tournament in which they will face Portugal.

If he had failed with Wales after succeeding Gary Speed in early 2012 - he then oversaw five straight defeats, including a 6-1 loss in Serbia - then his managerial career would have been over. "If you get it wrong, two jobs running getting it wrong, it's hard to get a third one. That's generally the rule," Coleman explained.

And he got it wrong, he admitted. First at Championship club Coventry City, after which he was out of work for a year, and then at the second division Greek club, Larissa, a job he took driven by desperation and some frank advice from Sir Alex Ferguson that if he did not get back in the saddle then he would never do so.

A rising star of management, tipped for the top by Jose Mourinho when he took over at Fulham aged just 32 after his career was ended following a car crash, Coleman's star would have burnt out.

As Coleman spoke, eloquently, passionately, to his right was the Wales captain Ashley Williams. The defender was also rejected - released by West Bromwich Albion. As were fellow defenders Neil Taylor - let go by Manchester City - and James Chester, who was surplus to requirements at Manchester United.

Then there is goalscoring hero Hal Robson-Kanu, who Arsenal did not keep, and Andy King, a Premier League winner who was no longer wanted by Chelsea.

So that is five of the expected starting XI who were not deemed good enough, plus a manager. That is remarkable for a semi-final of the European Championship.

King is due to replace the suspended Aaron Ramsey, whose loss is significant with Coleman declaring him one of the players of this tournament. There are parallels, also, to be drawn between Wales and the Leicester City side the midfielder is part of.

Rejection is a firm motivator and Wales have plugged into it. For every Gareth Bale or Ramsey in the Wales team there is an Ashley Williams or a King, which is a rarity when it comes to this level of football but helps explains the deep bond that Wales developed - together, of course, with the response to the personal tragedy of Speed's death.

It is an uplifting, emotionally-charged story but one that has been achieved through strong minds, skill and organisation. It is the story of the Euros along with Iceland's involvement. Coleman's future is now secure. The 46-year-old will remain as Wales manager or he will go to a level of club - Champions League, probably within Europe - who would not have looked at him before.

So whatever happens now, Wales and Coleman have succeeded. "The worst thing that could have happened is us not getting our game right in the tournament, having done so well in the qualifying campaign. That would have been a step backwards," Coleman said.

Being this close, they can do even greater things and will face Portugal claiming what they are comfortable to claim: that they are the underdogs. "We believe in each other," Coleman said. "We'll go into this game as the underdogs. Portugal have been in seven semi-finals in tournaments. This is our first one. We'll be the underdogs. No problem. It's about Wales, the players, about them walking on to the pitch knowing they're safe in each other's hands."

Given this is their first semi-final and given that it is Portugal's seventh - and fourth in the last five European Championships - then the Welsh are not favourites. They do not have that tournament nous though it has been no hindrance so far. It should also be pointed out that only once have Portugal gone on to reach a final and that was in Euro 2004, when they lost to Greece, of course.

Portugal have also not fired as an attacking force - they are yet to win a game in 90 minutes in these finals - which may, perversely, make them more dangerous in that they might not adopt the role of being the attacking force even with Cristiano Ronaldo. They can grind it out, "the ugly duckling" coach Fernando Santos called them, and play cautiously and try to prevent Wales counter-attacking.

Coleman has rightly been praised for his tactics throughout these finals - a Belgium journalist publicly offered him to take over as coach of his country while an Italian asked if he modelled himself on their approach - and he will be well aware of the way Portugal may go. Tellingly, he also spoke of the need for his team to be "streetwise".

It could be a cagey, low-scoring affair but there is a sense with Wales, and Coleman, of destiny. "Whatever my tactics and formation are, it makes it easier for us to work with them because they don't push back so much. They welcome it and enjoy it," he said. "You need the results with it, too, because it shows them you're going in the right direction. Thankfully it's gone hand in hand." For him and for Wales.


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