The Sad Night The Lights Went Out On Chris Coleman And Wales

Chris Coleman is relaxed about Wales' qualifying record. Pic: Getty Images.

The Sad Night The Lights Went Out On Chris Coleman And Wales

It’s in the small details that the full misery of Chris Coleman’s worst match in charge of Wales becomes evident.

The night was in September 2012 and the opposition were Serbia – the same opponents he faces on Saturday in another World Cup qualifier on Saturday at the Cardiff City Stadium.

The result was a 6-1 defeat in aptly named Novi Sad, but it is the aftermath that Coleman recounts with a faraway look in his eyes as the chilling memories return.

“We had a room upstairs (in the dressing room) with no lights,” the Wales manager recalls.

“I remember sitting in there with Kit Symons and Osian Roberts (his assistants) and I didn’t want to come out and talk. It was dreadful.

“I was shell-shocked. It was the worst I’ve ever felt, the absolute worst.

“Losing as a player or a club manager is one thing, when it’s your country it’s amplified and I was responsible.

“The fans had paid a lot of money and travelled a long way to watch a shambles and that was my fault.

“There’s nothing worse than when you feel like you’ve let your country down – and I did that in a big way.

“It still haunts me, to be honest. But I think that’s quite good for me as well, because you never want to experience that ever again.”

Coleman is a national hero these days, feted wherever he goes and recently handed the freedom of his home town of Swansea.

But he admits it could have been so different after a Wales side including Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen were embarrassed in the Balkans.

“I’m a realist. I was hanging on to my job,” Coleman said.

“Leaving like that in the first campaign would have been drastic for me. I could never get that time back and make it right again, so thankfully I got a chance to do better.

“All I wanted was a crack at another campaign to put things right and people to see me a bit more positively.

“But if anyone says that they expected the next three or four years to go the way they did then they’d be lying.

“Sometimes you need an electric prod and that certainly came from them.”

The defeat was among the heaviest in Welsh history and left Coleman clinging to his job less than a year after his appointment.

Four years on, he can afford a wry smile about his nightmare as Wales eventually ended a 58-year wait to play at a major finals and then made it all the way to the semi-finals of Euro 2016.

“It’s not the success that you learn from and that shapes you, it is the defeats. It’s how you get through those tough times – that’s what hardens and shapes you.

“I have seen the players grow up a hell of a lot. At the level we are playing at, when you are in a 10-game campaign, you are playing for keeps. It’s not like you have a 46-game campaign. Every game you play is for keeps and we have learned a hell of a lot.”

Serbia have rebuilt since a dreadful Euro 2016 qualifying campaign in which they won only twice in eight games to force the early pace in Group D.

They lead the way on seven points from three games, two more than Wales who aim to get back to winning ways after last month’s draws with Austria and Georgia.

“Serbia are very aggressive offensively, they take chances,” Coleman said.

“But we are at our best and we are successful when everything is on it.

“We must have a high level of focus and our energy levels and concentration has to be tip-top.

“It wasn’t for the last couple of games. There were some things we did that we don’t generally do – me included – and we need to be back on it.

“In the Georgia game, when we were 1-0 up, tactically, maybe I should have shut things out. I made it too open and I could have lost us the game.

“They counter-attacked us and we left space because I was trying to go and win it. It could have gone the other way.

“So, for myself and for the players, we have to get back to doing what we do best – and that means our concentration levels have to be absolutely fantastic. They will be against Serbia.”

Defender Ben Davies has been ruled out of Saturday’s game after picking up an ankle injury in Tottenham’s Champions League defeat to Bayer Leverkusen last week.


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