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International Eagles: Coleman's Unlikely Part In England's Recent Success

10 July 2018

Throughout the World Cup we have been looking at how past Palace players have fared on international duty. Here we look back at Chris Coleman's tenure as Wales boss, and how it inspired another ex-Eagle to try and help football come home.

For the second time in two years a former Eagle will manage his nation in the semi-final of a major competition, and in a strange quirk of fate if it wasn’t for Chris Coleman perhaps England wouldn’t be enjoying their recent success.

Having initially turned down the Three Lions’ hotseat after Euro 2016, when Gareth Southgate was handed a second chance following Sam Allardyce’s exit he revealed that his former Palace teammate Coleman’s advice prompted him to take a leap of faith, which has since paid off in spades for himself and his nation.

Speaking earlier this month, Southgate said: “I remember Chris Coleman after the Euros saying you have to go for things in life and don’t be afraid to fail. That resonated with me because I’d probably just ruled myself out of taking the England job.

“From talking to young people, or my own kids, I would be saying exactly those things, yet I wasn’t prepared to live it. If there are opportunities in life you have to go for it. Even as a young player you maybe only get one World Cup. You assume there will be more but you might only get one.”

That was probably Coleman’s thinking after guiding Wales to their first major tournament in 58 years as they qualified for Euro 2016 in France. The qualifying campaign had seen a rejuvenation of Coleman’s managerial career, who had stepped in from the breach following the tragic death of Gary Speed in 2011 and lost all of his first five games.

However, he kept building, remaining faithful to the youngsters he had brought into the fold and developed his tactics, all of which led to Wales reaching France. At the finals Coleman’s team were a revelation, easily achieving their aim of reaching the knockout stages by swatting aside Russia 3-0 to top a group containing England, and then seeing their success snowball.

With Palace stars Wayne Hennessey, Joe Ledley and Jonny Williams in their ranks, Wales knocked out Northern Ireland before producing one of the finest displays ever by a Red Dragons team as they dismantled Belgium 3-1 to reach become the first home nation to reach a major semi-finals in over a quarter of a century, where eventually Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal proved too strong.

However, Coleman returned to his homeland a hero, and watching on and wanting to learn from his former colleague’s experiences was Southgate. Between Coleman’s arrival in SE25 in 1991 and Southgate’s departure four years later, the pair played in the same side over 150 times, and that camaraderie surely sure led Southgate and his thirst for knowledge to seek out his former teammate to learn lessons ahead of this summer, and there is plenty of evidence to back this up.

When you look at the squads of Wales in 2016 and England in 2018, both were filled with young players who had done the hard yards in the Football League, and forged with a rock-solid team spirit. They adopted a relaxed approach to their media duties, helping them to become increasingly likeable as the tournament, and their personalities, developed.

Players and management engaged with supporters before and during the tournament, energetically celebrating their victories with the terraces and creating a bond that helped to encourage each other and whip their countries into a frenzy back home.

Wales and England approached their successful tournaments with low expectations, but quickly restored pride in their respective nations as they reached the final four, and in England’s case potential immortality should they lift the World Cup on Sunday.

It has been a great couple of years to support Wales and England, but there is no argument that the pair’s recent success can be traced back to a small corner of south London back at the start of the 1990s.

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