Chris Coleman: Replacing the irreplaceable?When humbly and reluctantly being confirmed as Gary Speed's successor as Wales manager on Wednesday afternoon, Chris Coleman greeted the assembled journalists and cameramen and then admitted "[this is] probably the most difficult press conference I've ever done, or ever had to do I imagine."
Such a sentiment could be extended to the task now facing Coleman, because in many respects, managing Wales in the wake of Speed's tragic suicide represents the impossible job.
On a purely human level, the task of replacing a man as beloved as Speed is surely intimidating. The outpouring of grief that enveloped the sport following the news of his death in November, the gut-wrenching disbelief that hit football fans of all persuasions, was testament to his enduring popularity in a discipline which all too easily generates villains as well as heroes.
Speed was unequivocally one of the latter, as former team-mates and colleagues queued up to testify to in the days following his passing.
As Coleman, who first met Speed in an Under-11 school final in 1981, said in his press conference on Wednesday: "No one wants to be here, least of all me, if I'm honest. On the one hand it's probably the proudest moment of my career to get the opportunity to lead my country. However, to be given that opportunity because of a circumstance no one could have foreseen, makes it bittersweet.
"I'm very proud, but equally sad because of the situation we find ourselves. I have spoken with the FAW members this morning and said 'excuse me if I'm not that excited, I'm subdued because of the circumstances'.
"There's still shock about what happened and I think we're all still grieving. We've just got to let that happen. I think the only way we can put smiles on the people's faces is try to play the best we can, continue to try to win football matches and continue to progress. But I don't kid myself, we'll probably never get over the loss of Gary."
As a mark of respect, Coleman will take a back-seat for Wales' friendly against Costa Rica on February 20, which has been arranged as a memorial match for the country's former manager, who made his international debut against the same opposition in 1990.
When Coleman does finally begin to get his feet under the table at FAW headquarters, he may find that an uneasy experience awaits him, as the former Fulham and Coventry manager has the task of sustaining a project to which Wales' players and coaches were utterly committed, and understandably so.
Under Speed, Wales were the biggest climbers in the FIFA rankings in 2011. Led by new captain Aaron Ramsey, and playing some excellent football, they finished their Euro 2012 qualifying campaign with back-to-back wins over Bulgaria and Switzerland to rise to 45th in the world, their highest ranking since September 1995.
A holistic approach off the field, incorporating great leaps forward in science, saw Speed's Wales embrace the concept of 'Player Wellness' , tailoring training to players' individual needs and creating a culture in which performance analysts, GPS consultants and nutritionists were all employed to fine-tune a playing squad already boasting young, exciting talent.
It is no surprise, then, that those players who so clearly felt the benefit of Speed's revolutionary regime wished to see it prolonged despite his death, and no surprise that the squad reportedly wanted his assistant Raymond Verheijen to carry on Speed's work. Verheijen even publicly stated he wanted the job before the FAW chose Coleman.
Ramsey - the 21-year-old, who more than any other player benefitted from Speed's trust and personified the manager's philosophy - even made his misgivings explicitly clear when expressing disappointment that the FAW had not consulted the players when deciding how best to take the country forward.
Prior to confirmation of Coleman's appointment, the Arsenal midfielder said: "Obviously in the circumstances I thought they would have contacted myself and a few other players to ask for our opinion."
Now a squad and coaching staff fiercely loyal to Speed's philosophy will have to embrace a different approach. While Coleman has said he could envisage working with Verheijen, and does not want to deviate from the path Speed was charting, it is inevitable and understandable that a new manager will make his own mark. Coleman intimated as much yesterday.
"I've spoken with three or four of the senior boys and I understand where some of them are coming from," he said on Wednesday. "At the same time, the tail cannot wag the dog. It has to be the other way around. I've had a brief conversation with Aaron and I'll have a longer one, over a cup of coffee. I'm not going to change everything, but I'm my own man and if something does need to change, then it will be changed."
No one wanted change in the Welsh national side though. After the conclusion of Euro 2012 qualifying there was an unquantifiable yet very tangible feeling that Speed was the man who would take Wales to their first major finals since the 1958 World Cup and, in his own words, "make sure the structure in Welsh football is such that we're consistently competing".
His death meant that specific destiny was denied to Wales, under Speed himself at least, but it still exists, that optimism and hope, in the minds of the public, the press and the players. It is still wrapped up in the memory of a manager, a man, so sorely missed.
It is the task of attempting to protect and respect this legacy, whilst yoking possibly reluctant players and coaches to a new approach, that awaits Coleman now. Though Early Doors wishes Coleman all the best as he ascends to the national job, it doesn't envy him. As Coleman himself said, this is a very "bittersweet" promotion.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Even the owner Tony, I know the influence he'll have had from certain people over the past few weeks. It would have been difficult to resist because people get on the phone and tweet and it's almost like slowly poisoning somebody from outside the club and, no doubt, from within the club as well. It's a dangerous precedent. If you let players talk to the chairman but, you know, you can't stop tweeting." - Neil Warnock pins the blame for his departure from QPR on the twits on Twitter. If only everyone stuck to reciting Smiths lyrics and philosophers' quotes, a la Joey Barton, he might still be in a job.
FOREIGN VIEW: "Violent, with excessive aggression, play-acting and a long way from what the behaviour of a footballer in a high-level match should be." - The fall-out from another stormy clasico continues with Pepe under fire in Spain. The Portugal international was the subject of strong criticism from the normally partisan Madrid-based newspapers for stamping on Lionel Messi's hand during Real Madrid's 2-1 defeat to Barcelona on Wednesday and last night apologised for his behaviour.
COMING UP: We reveal the winner of our goal of the week poll, while Jim White and Paul Parker file their latest columns in anticipation of a big weekend in the Premier League. We will be previewing all the weekend's matches, as well as paying particular attention to Tottenham's visit to Manchester City.
Speaking of which, Spurs legend Steve Perryman joins us for a live webchat at 2pm to discuss all things Tottenham. We also have the final part of our exclusive interview with Steve Coppell, while The Fantasist is dropping by to conduct another fantasy football chat ahead of the weekend?
Anything else? Oh yes, we also finish up our four-part preview of the African Cup of Nations, which gets going this weekend.