Wales versus Paraguay at the Millennium Stadium, March 2006. A warm up match for Wales’ opponents ahead of the World Cup and a match I remember well for typifying John Toshack’s Wales. The performance was satisfactory, Wales didn’t have as many shots as their opponents, but held possession reasonably well. As per the norm there were a number of defensive errors, but on this occasion, Wales were not punished. The flyer for the game had promised that “The Future Starts Now”, but this nil – nil draw had not done much to suggest this was true.
Many Wales fans will regard John Toshack’s second spell in charge as lacklustre, uninspiring and fraught with internal strife. Mark Hughes had left his post as manager of the Welsh national team in 2004 after getting so tantalisingly close to qualifying for a major international competition. You would anticipate that Toshack would be under pressure from the success of the man he had replaced, but it’s not in the Welsh psyche to be too optimistic, so I can only say that he met expectations.
When Toshack resigned his post in 2010, he had a fairly respectable win percentage of forty percent (twenty-one wins in fifty-three games). But his time with Wales will often be remembered for his fraught relationships with some senior players, most notably, Robbie Savage.
Savage was playing under Mark Hughes at Blackburn when he received a call from Toshack informing him of his exclusion from the upcoming squad to face Austria, he never played for Wales again after this call. It would seem that similar calls have taken place between Toshack and a number of Macedonian senior players.
At the age of sixty-one, you’d think Toshack would have his mind set on retirement. But no, the walrus of football (as he’s sometimes referred to, perhaps exclusively by me) couldn’t rest on his laurels and a new challenge was sought, this came in the shape of Macedonia. He took this post in August 2011 and it didn’t take him long to rock the boat, reminiscent of his time with Wales.
Toshack’s recent exclusion of Baže Ilijoski, Vlatko Grozdanoski and Ilčo Naumoski may have come as a surprise to followers of the Macedonian national team and especially so to the players themselves. Ilijoski used the recognised modern medium of Facebook to announce his feelings on his exclusion with comments such as “Shame on you, what are you doing with our national team!!!”. Similarly upset, Grozdanoski was quoted as saying “this is no longer a national team, it looks more to me like a market for selling players.” Toshack responded to these comments by saying “I am not surprised at all by these reactions and comments by a certain group of players, and with their comments and reactions they showed why I did not call them up. At the same time, they clearly showed the public that my decision to exclude them was right.”
But of course, who are we to question the man whose playing career saw him play at three of the biggest Welsh clubs in Swansea, Cardiff and Liverpool, saw him manage some of the biggest teams in Europe, including Real Madrid and win cup competitions in three different countries as a club manager. Toshack has often been credited with developing the younger generations, something which perhaps Wales have seen the benefit of in the last two years, but his ability to upset long established players is second to none.
The comments made by Ilijoski, Grozdanoski and Naumoski will probably see their international careers over for as long as Toshack is manager, but it remains to be seen exactly how long that is.
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