By the time the 2022 World Cup comes around, Gareth Bale will be 32. Even if Wales make it to Qatar in five years time, the nation’s greatest player of the modern era, (yes, even greater than Ryan Giggs) will be past his best. Of course, this is just one player from an entire group that missed the chance to qualify for next summer’s World Cup, but his individual case is reflective of an entire country.
This was Wales’ chance. Sure, the net might be cast wider next time, when 42 teams are handed a place at the 2022 World Cup, but this was Wales’ golden generation. This is the strongest side they have had in a generation and having made the semi-finals of last summer’s European Championships, there was a sense of expectation of them making it to Russia. Alas, defeat to Ireland on Monday ended all hopes and dreams.
Now, Chris Coleman has a decision to make. The former Fulham boss has been in charge of the Welsh national team since 2012, making great strides under his charge. The charm offensive has already been ramped up by those involved in Welsh football, all in an effort to convince the 47-year-old to stay on in his role.
“Everyone in Wales, fans and players, would want to see him stay on, 100%,” explained Chris Gunter when asked about the future of the manager. “He's been a massive part of what we've done and he is the man to hopefully take us forward. If the powers that be can give him a really good contract and make him stay, he can carry on being the greatest Welsh manager of all time.”
But Monday night’s result felt like the end of a cycle, an era even. It’s difficult to envisage how Wales can possibly get stronger from this point on, and so they might have gone as far as they can go under Coleman. In fact, there’s a case to be made that Wales have gone as far as they can as a country.
It’s for this reason that Coleman must look to make the next step in his own career. He more than deserves another shot at the club game, and there would surely be no shortage of teams, maybe even at Premier League level, willing to give him that opportunity. Should he want it, the next Premier League job going could very well be his.
The man himself won’t be drawn on what his future might hold, though. “I'm genuinely not thinking about it,” said Coleman after the defeat to Republic of Ireland. “There’s a dressing room full of devastated players and staff. If you look at the make-up of our squad and the age of the squad - some of the young ones coming through - this is a good group of players, even better for tonight. Defeat hurts but you learn a lot from defeat - you learn about yourself first and foremost. The whole nation will be mourning and disappointed. Again that elusive World Cup has passed us by.”
Wales has been Coleman’s coaching project for the past five years, with the 47-year-old flexing his muscles as a manager over that time. Wales are adaptable and interchangeable, with every player certain of their role within the team. This has been a showcase for Coleman and it might be time for him to use that to move on. If any prospective employer is looking for his C.V, it can be found in the rise of Wales as a footballing force. It matters little that they failed to force their way into the World Cup.