A disastrous start to international management, twice coming close to the World Cup and getting an earful from Sir Alex Ferguson, Terry Yorath had quite the career as a player and as manager of Wales.
As they prepare to go to this summer’s European Championships, Yorath told BBC Wales Sport what he thinks of Wales’ chances in France.
“The best thing about it is that the kids will have role models to look at. Even if they won’t go to France, they can see it on the television and see Wales compete,” he said.
And after missing out during his playing and managing career, how did he feel when Wales finally qualified for the finals of a major championship?
“I was jealous, not in a bad way, but jealous in a ‘I wish I could have done that’ way, both as player and manager.”
Missed chances as a player
As a player, Yorath was part of the ‘forgotten team’ of the 1970s, who reached the last eight of the 1976 European Championships and came agonisingly close to reaching the 1978 World Cup.
“When people say this is the first team to qualify [since 1958], it’s something that grates on me. We qualified for the last eight [of the European Championships] and it doesn’t get recognised,” Yorath continues.
He was captain when Wales faced Scotland in a World Cup qualifier in 1977 but were undone by a controversial penalty given for a handball. The Scots went on to win 2-0.
“It was definitely (Scotland forward) Joe Jordan that did it. I said to him ‘it was you wasn’t it?’ and he refused to say until one night about four years ago and he had had a few so I said ‘tell me now’. He said ‘yes it was me’,” he suggests.
“We played well that night and people say ‘but it was 2-0 with a penalty’ but it doesn’t matter. I always say if that penalty hadn’t been given, we would have won that game.”
Doing it the Yorath way
After retiring from playing in 1986, Yorath was appointed manager of the Welsh national team in 1988 and was inspired by the management of former boss Mike Smith who he had played under during the seventies.
“Mike changed the training and how we were dressed. He quickly won the players over and that came from his teaching background. I think his organisation was fantastic,” he added.
“My first four games were an absolute disaster. I thought I could be out of the job but I changed the system and the hotels we stayed in. It was going to be my team so I could do it my way.
“When you look at the players, especially the attacking players, you couldn’t wish for better but when we struggled it was defensively. Up front, you’d got a choice of Dean Saunders, Mark Hughes, Ian Rush but I couldn’t fit them all in the way I wanted to play.”
‘Who are you to argue against Alex Ferguson?’
Ryan Giggs was given his first appearance of under Yorath which kick-started a 16-year international career for his country during which he collected 64 caps.
“Ryan was special. We put him on for his first game. We were playing Germany away and we were getting beaten about 4-0 at the time, he accepted the ball, beat one or two people, got a cross in and he looked at home,” Yorath continued.
“After the game, I arrived at Heathrow and straight away my phone went. It was Alex Ferguson. Without using the expletives he used, he questioned me about why I played Ryan, why I made him the youngest player ever to play for Wales and said I had exposed him to the public and press.
“Ryan was never a problem, I knew the score at Manchester United. People sometimes put the blame in the wrong direction. If your manager comes up to you and asks if you want to go then who are you to argue against Alex Ferguson.”
That game against Romania
Wales stood a game away from reaching the 1994 World Cup but lost 2-1 to Romania in their final qualifier, something that Yorath says played a big part in his time as a manager.
“Unfortunately with the way the Romania game worked out, it was just unbelievable. It was the defining moment in my football management career,” he said.
“We played quite well that night, they took the lead but that morning of that game, myself and Peter [Shreeves – assistant manager] went for a walk. I asked him how he thought we would do.
“He looked at me and went we’ve got to play 120% if we’re going to get a chance go getting a result. As it happened, we played okay, we nobody ever remembers that.”