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Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 August 2007, 08:58 GMT 09:58 UK
Coleman set for Spanish lesson
By Paul Fletcher

Chris Coleman
The language barrier is the biggest source of frustration for Coleman
Chris Coleman was driving to the gym one day in June when he received the phone call that would lead to a new life in the beautiful Basque seaside town of San Sebastian.

The 37-year-old was asked if he would be interested in becoming the new manager of Real Sociedad.

He had been asked a similar question a couple of seasons earlier but was happy at Fulham then and did not want to leave the Premier League.

This time the situation was different.

"It was two years down the line, I was out of a job and keen to test the waters abroad," Coleman told BBC Sport.

Sacked by Fulham in April, Coleman was looking for a return to management after a four-year spell with the Cottagers.

Coleman flew to Spain with his agent, former Crystal Palace manager Alan Smith, for talks.

They were met there by John Toshack, who led Swansea to four successive promotions as their manager in the early 1980s - a time when Coleman could be found watching from the terraces at the Vetch Field as his home-town club ascended to the top flight.

I get frustrated by the language barrier - I know how I want things done but I cannot really do it at the moment

Chris Coleman

Toshack, who is the current manager of the Wales national team, went on to have three spells as boss of Sociedad and still has a house in San Sebastian.

Talks were held and Smith believes the board at Sociedad saw something of a younger version of Toshack in Coleman.

Coleman was impressed by the facilities and admired the honesty of the board. He was offered the job and took it.

On Sunday, Coleman will preside over his first meaningful game in charge of Sociedad as the new season begins with a home fixture against Castellon.

It will be Sociedad's first fixture outside the top tier of Spanish football for 40 years following the team's relegation last season.

A new board took over in the summer and money is tight, with Coleman powerless if a decent offer comes in for one of his good players.

Steve Kean (left) in conversation with Chris Coleman
Kean (left) has been a great source of support for Coleman

New Manchester City boss Sven-Goran Eriksson, for example, wasted little time in buying defender Javier Garrido for 1.5m

"It is a very difficult job," added Coleman.

Expectation, local impatience, the language barrier, a new squad in a new league in a new country - with a pre-season planned by somebody else, which included three games in four days against good quality opposition (with one match on an artificial surface) - the scale of the task facing Coleman cannot be under-estimated.

The first three games of pre-season ended in draws and Coleman started to notice the first rumblings of disquiet.

"One or two local papers quickly got on a few players' backs, suggesting we should do this or do that," observes Coleman.

What he wants more than anything is for people to appreciate the size of the task, to give him and his players a chance to succeed.

The expectation is promotion at the first attempt, yet the local fan base also wants a return to a squad of mainly Basque players. In San Sebastian, Spaniards from outside the Basque country are regarded as foreigners.

"They cannot have it both ways," said the former Wales international.

"People and the media have to get behind the players. We think the Basque players are good enough but it will take time. We will work with local players, improve them and give an identity back to the club."

Not helping Coleman's task is the language barrier.

"I get frustrated by it," said Coleman. "I know how I want things done but I cannot really do it at the moment.

"I have got an interpreter in the dressing room but what I say gets watered down. It has to come from me."

All we can do is concentrate in winning games - nobody wants to hear excuses

Chris Coleman

Coleman was having three Spanish lessons a week but wryly points out that his progress was hampered in early August when his teacher went on holiday for two weeks.

Nonetheless, his main aim is to be able to talk to his players specifically about football - after which "everything else will fall into place".

In the meantime, his assistant Steve Kean, who was with Coleman at Fulham, has been on the wrong end of any frustration.

"I feel sorry for Steve," said Coleman. "I cannot take anything out directly on the players so he has been getting it first hand."

Working on a modest budget at Fulham, Coleman spent a lot of time studying players in the European leagues, including Spain.

When he arrived in San Sebastian he was given DVDs of the players and undertook a steep learning curve of familiarisation.

He likens the standard of football in the Spanish second division to that of the English Championship and is quick to point out further similarities between football in Spain and England.

"You tend to think of Spanish football as being very technical," he stated.

"But outside of the top half-a-dozen teams in the top flight - and especially in the division we are in - there is a lot of hustle and bustle, a lot of long ball.

"We are going to need to adapt. I like to play football but we are going to have to mix it up a little bit."
The Basque town of San Sebastian
Coleman has not had time to enjoy the beach at San Sebastian

Coleman wants to reduce his squad to a core of 18 to 20 players and is determined to change the mentality of a club that won only eight of 38 league games last season.

It all equates to a sizeable task - and one that the cynics might suggest is doomed to end in failure.

But Coleman is no stranger to adversity.

He struggled to adapt at Palace after arriving from Swansea in 1991 before establishing himself at Selhurst Park.

A serious car crash in 2001 led to the his premature retirement as a player and after he was appointed Fulham boss in 2003 as a 34-year-old novice, he confounded expectations by remaining in charge for four years.

And it is the size of the challenge facing him in Spain that has Coleman itching for the new season to start.

"We will be the top scalp in the Spanish second division but I cannot wait to get to grips with the new season," concluded Coleman.

"All we can do is concentrate on winning games - nobody wants to hear excuses."

Coleman appointed Sociedad boss
04 Jul 07 |  Europe
Man City sign left-back Garrido
02 Aug 07 |  Man City
Coleman named Fulham boss
15 May 03 |  Fulham
Coleman hangs up his boots
02 Oct 02 |  Fulham
Coleman injured in car crash
03 Jan 01 |  Wales


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