Bryan Flynn, who supervises Welsh football at U17, U19 and U21 level, will leave the post when his contract expires at the end of the month. An extension to his current contract failed to materialise and his departure will signal the end of an era in Welsh football.
In the post that he has held since 2004, the likes of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Wayne Hennessey, Jack Collison, Chris Gunter, Adam Matthews and Joe Allen were blooded and fast-tracked in to the senior side. Once an international laughing stock at youth level, having not won for 24 games, he took the Under-21’s to the brink of qualification for the 2009 UEFA Under-21 European Championships. Despite topping their group, they faced an England side featuring Joe Hart, James Milner, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Glen Johnson in a two-legged play off. They were narrowly defeated 5-4 on aggregate, after two thrilling contests.
A glorious failure, but the manner of the achievement was particularly impressive, the highlight being a 4-2 victory against France in Cardiff. Under previous regimes, separate managers were in charge of the individual age groups and would routinely quibble over who should be in which team. By appointing one person to oversee all three, Flynn was impartial and would select according to ability and necessity. As a result, the players selected at each level tended to be younger than the age range they were representing, so when Bale proved to be good enough for the senior side at 17, he was made available for John Toshack’s senior side. The other advantage being that all three sides were taught to play the same style and system, a modern passing game that pervaded the senior side and became synonymous with Gary Speed’s all too brief reign.
Welsh football was very much in the ascendancy as the senior side recorded a 4-1 friendly win against Norway in November. Following the tragic loss of Speed, assistant Raymond Verheijen, logistics manager Adrian Davies and sports scientist Damien Roden have all since departed, with Flynn the latest. What had the hallmarks of a possible golden era has quickly evaporated, with Chris Coleman, an underwhelming choice with an unenviable task, assigned to pick up the pieces. There were rumblings regarding a difference of opinion between Speed and Flynn that may have resulted in his departure, but his experience and knowledge is being discarded at the worst possible time.
FAW council chiefs were believed to be shocked when the decision was revealed and a replacement is does not appear to be in place, ahead of the U21’s final two qualifying fixtures against Armenia and the Czech Republic. The statement from the Welsh Football Association regarding Flynn’s departure read as follows:
"The Football Association of Wales can confirm that Brian Flynn will not be continuing in his role as the Wales Intermediate manager at the end of his present contract on May 30th, 2012. The Association would like to thank Brian and acknowledge the tremendous work and effort he has undertaken on behalf of Welsh football over the years. He played a huge and important role in the development of the likes of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and Wayne Hennessey. On a couple of occasions his talented squads narrowly failed to qualify for the final stages of tournaments. We wish him every success in the future."
Despite his diminutive size, Flynn has been a huge presence throughout Welsh football throughout four decades. Earning 66 caps between 1975 and 1984, scoring 7 goals from midfield, he became Wrexham manager in 1989 and remained in charge until 2001. During this period, they defeated Arsenal in the third round of the FA Cup in 1992 and made the quarter finals in 1997, with a promotion from division three as runners up in between. A couple of seasons in charge at Swansea were memorable for their final day great escape in 2003, when they avoided relegation to the conference in his first season, he left midway through the following campaign before joining Toshack’s international setup.
Flynn’s achievements warranted an opportunity to take charge of the senior side, but he was either denied the chance or overlooked on a number of occasions over the years. In 1995, he was the favourite to succeed Mike Smith, but his attempt to fulfil the position on a part-time basis, in conjunction with his Wrexham role, was scuppered by his employers. Bobby Gould instead inherited the post and Flynn was interviewed when he eventually departed, but Mark Hughes was installed.
When John Toshack quit after losing the opening game of the qualification campaign for the upcoming European Championships, Flynn finally got the opportunity to stake a claim for the role. Installed on a temporary basis for the next couple of fixtures, Wales lost both, too cautious in a 1-0 home defeat against Bulgaria and to cavalier in a 4-1 loss in Switzerland. He also allowed Craig Bellamy to sit out both games, to protect a longstanding knee problem, but he played for Cardiff a few days later and was perceived to be a soft touch as a result. Speed was subsequently appointed and Flynn returned to the youth ranks.
Bryan Flynn’s international legacy will be defined by near misses, but his achievements have been substantial and the void resulting from his departure will be significant. He may not have inherited the throne, but his hard work and dedication has transformed Welsh football and his successor will certainly benefit from the fruits of his labour. Wales face an uncertain international future, all the more daunting without Flynn, who deserves more gratitude than a handshake and his P45 in the post.