‘I think the biggest compliment I could give him is that you wouldn’t have known that he was so young; he fit straight in – a very talented lad.’
Those were the words of captain Ashley Williams following Wales’ unforgettable 1-0 win over Belgium at the Cardiff City Stadium last week. ‘Who was he talking about?’, I hear you ask. West Bromwich Albion’s and Wales’ newest and most exciting strike prospect, Tyler Roberts.
Another thing you might be wondering right now is why I asked about a 16-year-old prospect after one of my country’s most memorable victories in recent times, without a doubt for at least 13 years. Well, that’s how highly I rate this guy.
I’ve not seen him play too often but, to paraphrase Al Pacino in (the abysmal) Ocean’s Thirteen, some people I take very seriously have told me that Tyler Roberts is a very serious football player.
My only live glimpse of Roberts’ talents came on a cold night in Bangor, North Wales (like a cold night in Stoke, but more difficult) late last year when Osian Roberts’ Wales Under-16s got their teeth stuck into what would be their first outright victorious Victory Shield Campaign since the 1948/49 season, beating England 1-0 in their first game of the tournament.
It was obvious almost immediately that this guy was something special – the whole team played well, don’t get me wrong. A real embodiment at times of the ‘Welsh Way’ of playing the game that Gary Speed, Chris Coleman and Osian Roberts had/have worked so hard to implement and develop over the last few years – quick passing and great movement combined with astute defensive work.
But Roberts stood out for me because he just did everything.
Captaining a side at that age, you don’t necessarily expect the kind of hands-on performance that you might see from the likes of Wayne Rooney in the Premier League or whoever when they get involved with everything but ‘TyRo’ did that. He took free-kicks, he dropped off and got involved with the build-up, he worked the goalkeeper and was involved in what would be the winning goal for Wales which was scored by Cardiff City defensive prospect, Liam Angel. A really great performance before being substituted after 73 minutes.
You can always put one great performance down to a fluke of course; I’m sure we’ve all had a game where we’ve felt like Lionel Messi or whoever, but this wasn’t that and Roberts had a great campaign overall, notching two assists and getting a goal himself in the remaining two games against Scotland and Northern Ireland. He’s quick, powerful, tall and looks an intelligent footballer!
Since then, his season has just gone from strength to strength. West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis, proud of his Welsh roots himself, clearly values him and has labelled Roberts a ‘very promising talent for the future’, evidenced by the fact that Roberts made the bench for West Brom’s final game of the season against Arsenal, and also made a trip to Old Trafford earlier on in the season, but was only involved in the warmup, as West Brom won 1-0 against Manchester United.
Invaluable experience for the youngster!
And now, he’s had a great training camp by all accounts with Wales’ senior team and there really should be a place for him in that team in the future. It’s probably the first time in 30 years or so that Wales haven’t had a really top-class number 9. Over the years Wales have had the likes of Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Craig Bellamy, John Toshack, John Hartson and Robert Earnshaw – all very good for Wales in their own right but an argument could be made that the current crop of forwards (not including Gareth Bale and Hal Robson-Kanu who are wingers, sometimes deployed as forwards) aren’t at that level.
It would be foolhardy of course to say that Roberts is at that level yet, because he isn’t, not yet. He could well be though in a few years’ time if he continues his current rate of development! Hopefully for Wales fans, we can see him making his Premier League debut next season.
Everyone and their dog in the Welsh media has been quite quick to enquire, in light of Wales’ recent success, about the Golden Generation – is this current crop the one? If they qualify for Euro 2016 then you’d be hard-pressed to argue against that! The next generation, however, led by the likes of Tyler Roberts could surpass that still!