Chris Coleman is confident Gareth Bale will back up his claim that Wales are more patriotic than England with an impressive display in Thursday’s Group B game, the coach pointing to him previously doing so when stating before the 2014 Champions League final that none of Atlético Madrid’s players would get into the Real Madrid side.
Roy Hodgson, the England manager, reacted angrily to Bale’s comments, describing them as “disrespectful”. Coleman attempted to play down any sense of a row but the Wales coach is clear a player who scored a memorable free-kick in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Slovakia will relish the chance to show it was not empty talk.
Wales take on England in Lens with Hodgson’s side having drawn their opener with Russia on Saturday. “If you look at the Champions League final, Gareth made a comment in that – something about Atlético Madrid,” said Coleman. “Whether he said it, or whether he didn’t, he was reported as having said it. But he went in to the final, played really well and scored a goal.
“I don’t think Bale has got a problem with backing anything up. I think he looks forward to the great challenges, the big spotlight and the pressure. If he didn’t enjoy it, then he wouldn’t be where he is. He will be relishing this challenge on Thursday.”
Of Hodgson’s comment that Bale was being disrespectful, Coleman said: “If you know Gareth, he is the most down-to-earth boy you could wish to meet. He is not a disrespectful kid. I can understand where Roy was coming from but I think Gareth meant it in a way of ‘little old Wales’.
“I have said myself, for a long time, we have always settled for too little. We have settled for too long for: ‘We did really well, we nearly got something.’ Or: ‘We nearly got there.’ And we have settled for that. To go that extra mile, we have got to be a bit different to what has gone before. We have got to want it a bit more. We have got to offer a bit more – because if you want it, you’ve got to give it. Gareth was simply saying, we are a small nation. We are a tight nation. Little things mean more to us than to the bigger nations.
“I understand where Roy is coming from, but Gareth was not being disrespectful.”
Coleman will decide over the coming days whether to retain Bale as a striker against England. “I am tempted,” he said. “There’s an option there or put him back in the normal role he plays for us. But I think that we have got between today and Thursday to work on one or two pieces. I was happy with him at the weekend – more than happy with him. He scored a great free-kick and had a couple of good chances playing in the No9 role.
“We have played him as a No9 before and he never got a kick. We played him against Belgium [in Brussels during qualifying] and we couldn’t get the ball to give to him. So that didn’t work so well. But at the weekend he got his chances and he was effective. So there will be a chat with him and we will look to see if we will keep him there or move him.”
Coleman’s only injury concern is Wayne Hennessey, who is nursing the back problem which ruled the Crystal Palace goalkeeper out of the victory over Slovakia. “He’s improved since Sunday. The next 24 hours will be the important stage whether we can add him to the training group on Wednesday,” Coleman said. “See if he can come through a training session and be able to participate in the game on Thursday.
“The next 24 hours will be absolutely crucial. He’s got a little tweak in his back, he’s had it before and sometimes these things are better than others. We didn’t need him to rush yesterday and today, been relaxed with him. He’s improved and we hope that will be the case that he can join in a session on Wednesday. If he comes through that, then it’s a green light.”