Gareth Bale is poised to soon become Wales’ greatest goalscorer – but that is not what impresses Chris Coleman most about his country’s talisman.
Coleman watched Bale score twice in Monday night’s 4-0 win over Moldova that gave Wales a rock solid start to their World Cup qualifying campaign.
But the manager saw far more than the surging run for the Real Madrid star’s first goal, or the calmly slotted penalty for his second.
“Sometimes he does things you know are world class, but I don’t just watch him on the ball, I watch him off it when he drags the opposition round to create space for others,” said Coleman.
It was typical of the way Coleman has of linking praise for the individual with a player’s contribution to the team. In the summer, after Wales had beaten Slovakia in the euphoric opening game at Euro 2016, it was not Bale’s thunderous free-kick for the opening goal that Coleman eulogised about, but his gritty clearing headers and the yardage they found over the touchline.
Bale has now scored 24 goals for his nation – and eased past Ivor Allchurch and Trevor Ford. Only Ian Rush now remains ahead of him but four more goals will put Bale level with the striker who used to shoulder Welsh hopes throughout the 1980s.
“He will break it in this campaign,” added Coleman of Bale’s pursuit of the record mark of 28.
“If you look at Gareth’s record in the last two years there is every chance it will happen.
“Gareth may not even know about it because he comes along and just fits in with the furniture.
“He will not think he has to do it, but there is every chance that can happen in the next nine games.
“It is a nightmare for opposition managers because he can change your life in an instant with one bit of skill.”
Coleman had talked about the need for his players to inhabit a sense of “desperation” if they were to continue their momentum from the finals in France and the qualifying campaign that took them there.
It was evident from the kick-off and although they had to be patient and shake off some early rustiness, Same Vokes’ goal soothed any anxieties and Joe Allen’s first for his country gave them a deserved 2-0 lead at half-time.
Moldova were among the weakest international teams Wales have played in recent years, but Bale’s two second-half goals underlined a side sharpened already to opportunity – in both this match and the campaign as a whole.
The result of Wales’ biggest win for 13 years is that they already top their group before next month’s trip to Austria and visit from Georgia.
“I said before we wouldn’t rest on what we’ve done,’ added Coleman.
“If we didn’t have the same feeling here as I did two years or four years ago, that same hunger and desperation, then I wouldn’t be here.
“It could have been difficult. The last time we were together we were in front of the world in the Euro 2016 semi-final and now we are starting again against a team we are expected to beat.
“It was a different challenge but we came through it and we’re ready for nine more, with the next one always the most important and the biggest and we want it to snowball.
“It will be pressure but we’ve handled it before and we can handle the expectation,’ Coleman said of the trip to Vienna. “We got through this and now next month is huge.
“We can still improve but we got the three points and now we look to the next test.’
Moldova head coach Igor Dobrovolski said: “I am very disappointed because if Wales had played so much better I would have been able to understand it. But they scored four times because of our mistakes.
“Wales are lucky because Gareth Bale comes from your country and he is one of the best three players in the world.
“But you cannot make mistakes on that level and they were childish mistakes. I am sure though that we will ruin the mood for some of the other teams.”