A potential catalyst to Gareth Bale's China move
Chris Coleman is the surprise new manager of Hebei China Fortune, but is it just a step towards the biggest transfer of the summer?
On Sunday afternoon, Chinese Super League outfit Hebei China Fortune announced their tenth manager in eight years, and it opened the door for one of the biggest transfers in history.
With predecessors from China, Uruguay, Serbia and Chile, the move for Welshman Chris Coleman on his 48th birthday was seen as a left-field appointment, but it could prove to be the perfect match.
Just like his new club, Coleman himself has taken a cosmopolitan approach to his management career, leading clubs in England, Greece and Spain, but it was with the Wales national team that he achieved his greatest success.
Reaching the semi-finals of UEFA EURO 2016 was an achievement that reversed the fortunes of a career that was becoming an increasingly damaged commodity, and restored his stock value.
Although he could not save troubled Sunderland from Championship relegation last season, the damage was largely done before his arrival at the Stadium of Light. However, apart from the relative success experienced during his time with Fulham at the start of his management career, he is still to prove his real worth as a club manager.
In fact, while riding the wave of success with Wales, Coleman admitted having little idea going into that first job as the youngest manager in the Premier League at 32. Now, older and wiser, he heads to the Far East with 16-years experience.
Moving outside Europe for the first time will bring its own cultural challenges, but Coleman will be desperate to make a success of this opportunity, and will embrace his new surroundings.
I have followed Coleman's career closely as a player and manager and I had the privilege of working closely with him at EURO 2016. Understanding what he brings to Hebei China Fortune is crucial to appreciating why he can be a success at the club, and while the facts and stats of his career will form the majority of external analysis, it is his character that will ultimately shape his achievements in the Far East.
Born and raised in the South Wales city of Swansea, Coleman began his playing career with his hometown club. He represented Wales on 32 occasions before his career was cut short through injury, and while he was a popular figure at Crystal Palace, Blackburn Rovers and Fulham, there was always a deep-rooted pride in wearing the respective badges of Swansea and Wales.
Taking over as Wales manager in January 2012 following the death of close friend Gary Speed was always going to be a difficult challenge for Coleman, but while the circumstances of his appointment were tragic, he described managing his country as the best job in the world. Results went against him at the start as his young squad struggled to adapt to losing Speed, but he slowly reversed the tide.
And once the momentum was with Coleman and Wales, there was no stopping them. With an inner-belief and determination throughout the squad, Wales proved their critics wrong as they stormed through the EURO 2016 qualification campaign. Benefiting from the form of players like Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen, as well as the more unsung heroes, this was indeed a golden era.
Wales' golden generation
And leading this charge to France was Coleman himself. As passionate and committed to Wales as any player or any fan, the manager kicked and headed every ball on the touchline throughout the campaign, and the pride in taking Wales to the finals of a major tournament for the first time since 1958 could not have been more apparent than when qualification was assured.
Lifting a squad damaged by human tragedy tested Coleman to the limit, but he rose above criticism and external doubt, and retained his inner-belief that what he was doing was right. His tactics and formations evolved to ensure he was able to get the very best from a largely limited squad, while still allowing the world-class players like Bale the freedom to shine.
Of course, having players like Bale and Ramsey at their peak played a massive part in Wales' qualification and subsequent success at EURO 2016. Both players missed key World Cup qualifiers through injury and suspension, and it is no coincidence that Wales are not in Russia this summer. The tournament should have been the fitting end to Coleman's journey with Wales.
Creating a mentality like he did within that Wales changing room will be difficult to replicate, and it belonged in the moment. There are few other characters in the game who could have taken over Wales at that time and with it have such an impact on the group. Even fewer would have had the character and resolve to see it through during the darker times that would follow before EURO 2016.
The key to Bale's future?
And the strength for Coleman in China will be the culture of his new home. His methods will be respected and his passion for the job will be embraced. Should his players buy into his philosophy and ideology from the start, he will succeed. Open, honest, he is one of the nicest people in the game. Coleman will prove to be a popular figure in the Hebei Province, but he could also be the catalyst to one of the biggest transfers in football history.
Unrest in the Real Madrid camp prior to Zinedine Zidane's departure fuelled rumors of Gareth Bale's future, and while his successor has yet to be appointed, there is a now a clear link for Bale to engineer a move to China. His connection with Coleman was cemented at EURO 2016, and both embraced their success with Wales on a personal level, such is their respective passion for representing their country.
Should Bale decide on a move to China at this stage of his career, it seems Hebei China Fortune will be the perfect fit. A financial package would be agreed between the two parties if Bale chooses to link-up with his former national team manager, and having been burned at the Santiago Bernabeu recently, he would welcome the opportunity to work in an environment created by Coleman once again.