Tag Archives: Welsh Football

Tyler Roberts – The next big thing in Welsh Football?

‘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!

Lots of Positives for Wales after Slovakia double-header.

Ahead of two friendlies against Slovakia this week, Wales Women’s team manager Jayne Ludlow said as she announced her squad that the games would be another opportunity to develop an identity and style of play that will bring success.

The Welsh won their first fixture on Monday 1-0 thanks to a 55th minute goal from Helen Ward, and were leading 1-0 in the second game on Wednesday but eventually lost 2-1.

Pessimists will say, given that Wales conceded a lead to lose the second game, the style of play needs more work. Looking at each game individually though, I disagree.

Wales fielded a full-strength team in the first game on Monday and, despite what the score suggests, they absolutely decimated Slovakia – particularly in the first half – and could have been 4-0 up at half-time.

The main criticism of Wales in that game is that they didn’t finish their chances as Ward in particular could have had a hat-trick and a few others could have got their names on the score-sheet too.

They created an abundance of chances though, something Ludlow told FAW TV she was very happy about, and with Helen Ward returning from recently having given birth, surely it won’t be long before she is back on top form and building on her record total of 33 goals for Wales.

The former Reading Women’s manager also told FAW TV that, having taken the national team job in November, she thinks her tactical ideas and the identity she is trying to develop, is being taken on board by the players:

‘I’d like to think my messages are coming across to the girls, they’re working extremely hard and we’re testing them in every training session – there’s changes to how they’ve played in the past as a group and as individuals but they’re responding really well and performing really well.’

Wales were as good as Slovakia were poor though; Slovakia’s coach was seen at times striking the dugout to express his anger, such was the lack of quality in his team’s performance.

Wednesday’s game was always going to be a slightly different story, not least because one of the team’s star players – Jess Fishlock – had returned to her club, Seattle Reign, following her appearance in Monday’s game.

Furthermore, Slovakia had clearly learnt a lot of lessons from the manner of defeat in the first game as they pressed Wales vigorously right from the offset – something they hadn’t managed previously.

Wales, whilst still dominant in possession and way clear of their opponents in terms of chance creation, hadn’t learnt their lessons as they didn’t finish off the great chances they had.

That being said, the attacking play was excellent. Natasha Harding and Angharad James stood out in what was an excellent all-round midfield performance by Wales in both games.

The two Slovakia goals were fairly soft though, which will have disappointed the Wales camp.

The first saw Skorvankova pick the ball up in the centre circle before running through the entire Wales defence and slotting past goalkeeper Alice Evans. An excellent run, but a tackle probably should have been made.

The second came from an excellent corner by Feckova, which wasn’t dealt with by Wales’ goalkeeper and eventually met by Klechova who scored a bullet header. A great finish again, but appeared to get away from her marker too easily.

Defeat in the second game obviously didn’t go down well as some players expressed their disappointment on Twitter afterwards but all things considered, I don’t think Wales are too far away from where they want to be.

When Ward finds her best form again, Wales will be a different animal. For all of Slovakia’s improvements in the second game, Wales still had enough chances to win comfortably.

Also, with Fishlock not playing and Helen Bleazard not starting, as well as playing a very demanding formation twice in three days, the level of performance may understandably have dipped a few notches.

FAW President Trefor Lloyd Hughes, however, is a strong supporter of Ludlow, praising her work in his programme notes prior to these fixtures, but told me how he felt Wales missed Fishlock:

‘I think with (Jess) Fishlock missing tonight it makes a hell of a difference to the team, she is a top class player and would have made the difference tonight, I think.

‘Natasha (Harding) played well, and played better when she moved out wide. She’s really improved over the last eight months and understands the game very well – she’s a key player too.

Hughes was also optimistic about Wales’ chances in Euro 2017 qualifying, as the draw for qualification takes place on Monday in Nyon:

‘As long as they realise they have a good chance, they’ll be alright in qualifying. This was a good opportunity for them to test themselves in front of a good crowd. I think they have a good chance.’

All in all, a very impressive couple of performances for Wales over the last few days though. Yes, they could have done a couple of things a bit better but there are a lot of positives that will be taken from these two games, and rightly so as Wales were excellent for the most-part.

The draw for the qualifying rounds of Euro 2017 takes place on Monday the 13th of April in Nyon, Switzerland. Wales are ranked 19th among the 40 entrants – of course, I wish them the best of luck going into qualification!

Do the hopes of two nations hinge on Haifa clash?

Following tremendous starts that have seen both sides go unbeaten in Euro 2016 qualifying so far, Israel welcome Wales to Haifa on Saturday in what is rightly being labelled the biggest game of the group to date.

Wales manager Chris Coleman labelled this game as Wales’ biggest since their Euro 2004 playoff with Russia, which the Welsh lost 1-0 on aggregate over two legs.

At the squad announcement last week, Coleman said: ‘This next game will be the biggest game in Welsh football for years, since Russia. It is an absolutely huge game for us.

‘Top against second! The next two games are going to dictate whether we finish in the top two or whether we’re fighting for third.’

The History

Anyone who knows the history of the Welsh national side knows not to get ahead of themselves too much because, like against Russia, or against Romania or Scotland in years gone by, it can all go so wrong so quickly.

Confidence in Welsh football right now is at it’s highest since that 2004 campaign and some have argued that there are striking similarities between now and then.

On both occasions, Wales went undefeated in the opening four games as well as securing perhaps unlikely results both home and away in both campaigns, in this campaign’s case perhaps the two 0-0 draws and in 2004’s case the Italy/Finland wins.

Perhaps what is fuelling Wales’ fans pessimism, or will at least be at the back of their minds, is what happened after the opening four games of Euro 2004 qualifying (Wales didn’t win another game in that campaign).

Old habits die hard

Two problems Wales have had over the years, both interlinked in previous campaigns, are an abundance of injuries and a lack of commitment.

For the first time this campaign, Wales have a (more or less) full strength squad to choose from as they go into this international clash against Israel.

Earlier in the campaign, Wales were rocked by over a dozen injuries as they faced Bosnia and Cyprus in a double header at the Cardiff City Stadium.

This time there is just a handful of injuries to worry about, something that leaves Chris Coleman with a nice selection headache for once in midfield.

Despite the fact that Jonny Williams is still out, Chris Coleman has to decide if he plays all three of Aaron Ramsey, Joe Ledley and Joe Allen in midfield, and in what system if so.

Wales have played a 3-5-2 and a 4-2-3-1 this campaign. No-one is expecting to see the former again as that was a system catered for Bosnia so if the three are to play in a 4-2-3-1 do we see Ramsey at number 10 with the other two sitting deep, and if so can he fulfil that role?

I think he can. Former FAW Head of Youth Development Chris Whitley described Ramsey to me as someone who ‘wants to take the corners and head them in’ so his commitment is beyond question.

He has the creativity to play in that role and, whilst some have said his performances for Wales recently haven’t been up to scratch, shifting him to 10 could change that.

On the commitment front, Ashley Williams is the perfect example of why those issues are now a thing firmly in Welsh national football’s past.

He will earn his fiftieth cap on Saturday, in only the 57th Wales fixture since his debut, so an amazing show of commitment from the Swansea City skipper.

Joe Allen, who knows the centre-back very well from their time playing alongside each other at Swansea City, said that Williams’ commitment is his most impressive trait:

‘Ash has been a fantastic influence on me, at club and international level. I think the commitment and the drive he has to succeed is brilliant and rubs off on the entire squad.’

James Chester won’t partner him at the back as Coleman left him out of the squad due to Chester’s longstanding shoulder injury but a Williams-Collins combination is a good alternative.

Coleman said: ‘Shoulder injuries take longer to recover than doctors say – it is a shame because he’s been magnificent for us and has struck a great partnership with Ashley.’

Bale Bother

For all of the criticism being levied at Gareth Bale in Spain at the moment, whether you think it is justified or not, his commitment for Wales cannot be questioned.

Chris Coleman commented in this regard: ‘Gareth comes here, he wants to be involved, he’s incredibly motivated – he is the last person I am worried about honestly.

‘We’re almost half way and we’ve got a really good chance. The pressure is on and he loves that pressure, he can handle that, that environment where everything is on the line.’

Wales left-back Neil Taylor reaffirmed the views of his manager and added that, despite the criticism, Bale isn’t taking any notice of it and is just enjoying his football:

‘I don’t know if playing here is a release for him, you’d have to ask him, but all I know is that he looks like he is enjoying his football.

‘He’s fit and ready, like everyone, he turns up for every trip and always gives his best so you can see how much he wants it as a Welshman.’

Whatever is being said, his talent is undeniable. The criticism and the car-bashing in Spain is too far. Sure he can improve but who can’t? If he scores the winner against Israel but has an awful game otherwise, which of those two facts would people remember more?

Israel’s Monsterous midfield

A bit if research will tell you that, although they aren’t doing it in the English Premier League or in La Liga, Israel’s midfield are more than competent goal-scorers!

Biharis Nacho, Eran Zahavi and Lios Refaelov have all scored tonnes of goals domestically this season – Zahavi has managed to get 25 on his own – and Damari up front is joint-top-scorer with Danny Welbeck in qualifying so far on five goals.

Israeli journalist Raphael Gellar told me of his confidence going into these fixtures: ‘It is a very good time for Israel. I expect us to beat Wales and hopefully get a point from Belgium.

However Gellar was realistic regarding the run Israel have had to get to this point in the group: ‘If we can get 3-4 points from the next two matches, I will be impressed.

‘I am not surprised we are doing well but at the same the only tough team we played is Bosnia (and arguably Cyprus) but Bosnia had several injured players and they didn’t support their manager.’

They’re no slouches on the defensive end either; when Israel played Portugal in the last campaign, they completely shut down Cristiano Ronaldo, so could they do the same with Bale?

What is clear is that this is a huge game for both teams – if Wales lose, does the memory of previous campaigns come back to haunt them? Will it be too big a task to pick the players up for the next game, which is at home to Belgium in June?

For Israel, this game is the first of a double-header that will decide what they’re fighting for in the group. If they lose to Wales, can the manager pick them up for a game three days later against Belgium,  one of the best international teams in football?

So much is on the line in this one for both sides – as a Welshman I will obviously be backing Coleman and the guys but Wales are absolutely going to be up against it in this one.

Bangor City Football Club looking to trial safe standing next season

The Football Supporters Federation and the Safe Standing Roadshow gave an exhibition at Bangor City Football Club today that could shape the future of how spectators watch the game in Wales.

The Citizens welcomed the exhibition to Nantporth Stadium today as supporters, politicians and a number of people from the club’s hierarchy made the trip to see what was on offer to the club.

The focal point of the day was a demonstration of a new innovation called rail seats, which enable football stands to be converted from seating areas to standing areas with the turn of a key.

Rail seats, which are very popular in Germany are more durable and more compact than the plastic seats you’ll find at football grounds across Britain and meet all of the necessary safety regulations.

Safe Standing Roadshow representative Jon Darch demonstrated the product today and was adamant that whichever club used rail seats first would see a massive increase in media attention.

He said: ‘What I feel is that I’m very excited Bangor City seem so keen to be the very first club in the UK to install rail seats. If they are to do that, the media coverage they get will be out of this world,

‘All of these people will be here again but so will Sky, The BBC, ITV, all the papers – everyone will be here – there will be coverage for whoever it is and that coverage will be a huge benefit to any club.’

Bangor City FC Chairman Dilwyn Jones expressed his satisfaction with the exhibition and gave brief details with regards to when Bangor City fans might be able to expect this innovation at Nantporth.

‘Things have been moving very, very quickly since we moved to Nantporth with the 3G pitch finished now, and we’re hoping to have this safe-standing project done over the summer.’ He said.

Jones also outlined how the move to increase Nantporth’s capacity might be necessary sooner or later anyway due to the European footballing body’s regulations with regards to stadium capacities:

“We can hold around 1100 right now but we need 1500 by 2016/17 because at the moment the FAW are getting special dispensation from UEFA to reduce their regulations to 1000 seats,

‘One day UEFA are going to stop being so generous and we’re going to suffer for it if we haven’t sorted it out because we will have been benefiting from that dispensation for a long time.

Mr Jones made it clear that the club’s intentions are to have one stand prepared over the summer, but admitted that the stumbling block of another stand being built the following summer is funding:

‘It’s all down to funding, whether or not we do one side this summer and one side next summer. Grants are a struggle because stands don’t have a community benefit.’

Alun Pugh, former Welsh Assembly Sports Minister and current Welsh Labour candidate for Arfon was pleased but said if he were still Sports Minister he would want to be reassured of its safety.

He said: ‘Naturally, I would want to be convinced on the safety of this, especially since obviously we’re meeting in the week of when the Hillsborough inquest is taking place.

‘The presentation was a very powerful one and certainly the Bundesliga in Germany don’t take risks with the safety of their fans, where this system works, so yes I would like to see this made available.’

Mr Darch understood the comparisons with Hillsborough but said that its difficult to compare the two scenarios as where in some ways there may be links, in others there definitely aren’t:

‘It’s a new product – it is the introduction of a brand new form of standing which is a lot safer. I know in many ways Hillsborough and this are linked but in other ways they aren’t linked at all.

‘Clearly Hillsborough was failings of stadium maintenance and crowd management; not the fact that they were going into a standing area. People link the two things but in reality there is really no link.’

For more information on the Football Supporters’ Federation’s Safe Standing Campaign, click here and for more information on Bangor City Football Club you can find that here!

 

Bright future for Conwy despite Cup exit

Bangor City Football Club proved too good for their Welsh Cup opponents Conwy Borough this afternoon as they ran out 3-0 winners at the Nantporth Stadium.

Bangor have been struggling throughout the season and currently sit in the relegation zone of the Welsh Premier League whereas Conwy are faring much better in the division below.

Conwy have been going through a restructuring period this season and the club’s assistant manager and academy director, Chris Whitley said the future looks very bright for the club:

‘This was a really good learning exercise for us – we’re restructuring for next season and Bangor are where we want to be so it was good to face them.

‘Particularly the last week gives us confidence that we’re on the right track. We left all our best players out against Guildsfield in the last game and dominated despite their better league position.’

Positive Season

  • Conwy have found some real consistency at various points this season, frequently going on four-game and six-game undefeated streaks.
  • Whitley’s arrival has seen Conwy develop a new academy set-up, something that is required if they are to gain promotion which speaks to their ambitions going forward.
  • High profile figures in the Welsh game such as Wales Manager Chris Coleman and Technical Director Osian Roberts have visited and been very complimentary of the club and it’s setup

Challenges Ahead

Conwy started very brightly, playing a very attacking system and pegging Bangor back for a lot of the first half and although Whitley acknowledged this, he believes improvements still need to be made:

‘We thought we’d go with an attacking system because it was the best way to negate them but the problem for us then was our fitness levels which weren’t good enough to last the ninety minutes.

‘This game has been a big plus in moving the players on really because they needed this experience. It’s a challenge to pick the players up now though, being the first time they’ve lost two on the trot.’

Bangor face their own challenges too as they have a handful of games left to save their Welsh Premier League status and having watched them in action, Whitley thinks they’ll escape the drop:

‘I spoke to Neville before the game and I think they’ll be ok, the clean sheet today will do them good too. They have very, very good spirit which is very important but they are vulnerable at the back.’

Powell Praise

After a 3-0 win, Bangor City manager Neville Powell expressed his satisfaction towards the result but praised Conwy and said that it wasn’t as straightforward as the score-line may have suggested:

‘We knew Conwy were a useful outfit with a lot of Welsh premier League experience so we had to do a professional job and it was key that we didn’t concede in the first 20 minutes.

‘The timing of the goals on our part was crucial, scoring just before half-time and just after, but they gave us a hell of a tough game and all credit to them for their performance on the day.’

Powel also noted that he could see Conwy, as well as some other clubs from the Huws Gray Alliance making a successful jump to the Welsh Premier League but noted that finances might be a problem:

‘There’s some good sides in that next division, seven or eight of them, and Conwy are definitely one of them. The Welsh Premier League is getting harder every year, financially more than anything.

‘As far as playing style and ability they won’t have a problem but financially it is so difficult to get into our division and stay there with the money it takes to assemble these squads nowadays.’

 

They’ve been Fantastic with me and I’ve really enjoyed it! – Wayne Hennessey on life at Crystal Palace

Just under a year after signing on the dotted line for Crystal Palace, Wales’ goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey spoke very fondly about his experiences at the South-East London club so far.

The former Wolves stopper has been in stunning form for the Welsh national side recently but is struggling to dislodge Julian Speroni from the Palace XI, Hennessey insists though that he is enjoying being back in England’s top division.

“It’s always nice to be back in the Premier League – for myself it’s good because obviously I’ve had my time at Wolves and they were in League One and things weren’t going well with me getting an injury but everyone here has been fantastic with me so yeah I’ve really enjoyed it.

“At the moment obviously I’m not playing but Julian Speroni is doing really well, the team is playing really well – hopefully we can get a few more points on the board and push on now”.

When the Welsh Stopper signed for Crystal Palace back in January he cited the fact that he wanted more playing time as a reason for the move but today noted that he wasn’t frustrated by his lack of playing time.

“It’s just part of goalkeeping. There’s only one spot isn’t there so it’s never going to be easy! The important thing is that I’m ready to step in but Speroni isn’t making any mistakes at the moment though so he deservedly keeps the shirt!”

It is clear to see from speaking to the Welshman that he and his Argentinian counterpart have a great relationship “He’s 35 years old but he’s in better shape than me I reckon! He could go for longer than me! He’s a legend, a great guy to know and a top goalkeeper”.

Hennessey has become part of somewhat of a Welsh Revolution at Palace as when he signed for the club Danny Gabbidon and Jonny Williams were playing for The Eagles before Joe Ledley followed Hennessey to sign a deadline day deal.

“Well I spoke to Joe and he was in negotiations with Palace too at the time and obviously I knew Gabbs – have done for years – they’re both just great guys to have around”.

When I was having my medical I was on the phone to Joe and we were saying how much we were looking forward to joining the club – plus it’s always nice to get a few Welshmen in the building!”

Despite being only 27-years-old, the Welsh Number 1 has been making a name for himself in football since he was a teenager at Wolves back in the mid-2000s. Hennessey was keen to express how much he’s enjoyed his career to date:

“I had some fantastic times for Wolves and I am approaching fifty caps for Wales at a very young age so I’m really happy with how everything has gone so far!”

I’ve not set any goals for the future because it’s very difficult to know what is around the corner so I’m just taking it day by day right now and I’m really enjoying it! Especially with Wales – I’m so happy with how we’re doing right now!”

Hennessey travels up north with the Eagles today as he and his teammates take on champions Manchester City in the early kick-off on BT Sport! Follow the side’s progress via the club Twitter feed – @CPFC

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Conwy Academy is great news for Welsh Football

Osian Roberts tonight threw his support behind the new Conwy Borough FC academy set-up led by Chris Whitley and looked forward to the opportunities it would give local youngsters in football.

Presenting a ‘Technical Football Seminar’ at Y Morfa Venue on the 15th of December, Mr Roberts was keen to discuss the importance of the youth football structure developing in the region.

“We have academies at Bangor, Caernarfon and all of the Welsh Premier League clubs and it is important for us that the standard of those academies are the highest possible.

It gives the kids the best experience and the best opportunities so it is great that Conwy, a former Welsh Premier League Club, have got one there now so that the kids in the area have got somewhere to go!”

The Academy is run by Conwy Borough Football Club Head of Youth Development Chris Whitley; Mr Roberts was keen to emphasise the importance of Mr Whitley’s vast experience to the project.

“Chris has got a wealth of experience and has helped in a number of different clubs over the years at that level and can lend that experience to the coaches, club, the players and the kids in general.”

Mr Whitley was buoyant at the prospect of Osian Roberts coming up to give the seminar: “We’re delighted to have Osian come to the club to give a seminar on academy and coaching work and its importance.”

“There’s a lot of people coming too – we’re thrilled to have him – it’s a great experience for the kids and the parents who put so much into the club so it’s a nice way to give something back to them!”

It has been nine months now since Mr Whitley took on the Head of Youth Development role at Conwy Borough Football Club; a role which he says he has been delighted with doing.

“I’ve worked across the leagues, Premier League, Championship and so on as well as a few positions in the Welsh League and I’m really enjoying where I am now.”

“I’ve tried to help foster a successful culture and the players are taking it on board and they’re loving it – I’ve been delighted by their response. I expected it to be a lot harder than this though to be honest!”

The First team are currently on a run of six games undefeated in all competitions, having won five and drawn one of their last six, and welcome Mold Alexandra to Conwy on the weekend.

 

Victory Shield win shows Wales’ Golden Generation Still to Come

The Chair of The Football Association of Wales’ Senior Technical Group, Chris Whitley tonight insisted that Welsh Football’s bright future is soon going to get even brighter.

Speaking to me exclusively after coaching a youth football session in Colwyn Bay, Mr Whitley expressed his immense happiness regarding the Welsh National side’s current success before promising more was to come in the very near future.

‘Chris [Coleman] and all of them speak about this current Welsh National squad being the Golden Generation but I think differently if I’m honest’.

‘The Golden Generation will be the next one. We have half a dozen players at least now waiting to come through to the senior squad that are going to be great players very soon. Make no mistake!’

Mr Whitley, who is also the Head of Youth Development at Conwy Borough Football Club, has been responsible for pushing through the youth development of a number of Welsh football greats such as Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Gareth Bale, Ryan Giggs, Aaron Ramsey and so on.

However Mr Whitley thinks that the current group of youth players, such as the under-16s who won the Victory Shield recently coached by FAW Technical Director Osian Roberts, could make for Wales’ most talented squad to date when they join the seniors in the near future.

‘When we bolt these youngsters on to the existing lot, who in a few years’ time will still be young enough, we will have an exceptionally talented squad of players without a doubt’.

Whitley spoke of a number of Welsh Youth players who he believed had the potential to go to the top but picked out three in particular as his standout stars for the future.

‘There are so many talented youngsters coming through but Joe Murrell, Harry Wilson and Tyler Roberts really stand out for me’.

‘Tyler is absolutely outstanding in my opinion. I’ve seen so many youth players coming through but Tyler is the best number 9 I have seen in a Wales shirt since Mark Hughes without a doubt’.

Whitley’s career within the FAW has spanned over 40 years but he believes there are a number of key changes that have been made in recent years, most notably during Gary Speed’s tenure, that have put the current senior and youth squads in such a strong position.

‘This all started towards the end of Gary Speed’s era in charge where we said one of our objectives is to make our squads one of the best prepared squads in the world and they are without a doubt!’

Key changes have been made also in the way the FAW recruits its youth talent:

‘Our recruitment and retention of players now compared to years gone by has improved so much! To be honest, 75% of our team now are English-based players’.

‘Years ago we wouldn’t have discovered them because we didn’t go out there and look for them – we used to stumble upon them by accident sometimes’.

The National Coaching Conference took place in Newport at the Welsh Football Trust earlier in the week and, with a record number of coaches in attendance, Whitley believes the Welsh coach development is another key piece in what is currently a very successful Welsh Football structure.

‘The coaching education in Wales is first class, absolutely first class. We had a record number of coaches at our recent national conference – 350 coaches! Unbelievable!’

‘Our coach education programme is second to none. The Welsh Football Trust is doing a tremendous job in terms of coaching education and player development’.

Welsh football is currently going through a tremendous period of success and, having spoken to Mr Whitley about his experiences within the side and where we are making changes and trying to develop, I for one fully believe that the future for football in our country is very bright indeed and I hope we can continue to be rewarded for the amazing support that we fans have always given!

“So Much More To Come” – Chris Coleman on Wales’ Progress.

Chris Coleman last night fired a warning shot to Wales’ Euro 2016 qualification rivals by insisting that there is so much more to come from his young, high-flying national side.

Following an event at Conwy Borough Football Club which saw the Welsh Men’s National Side manager open a new clubhouse, Coleman was happy to speak to me briefly about Wales’ progress.

Following on from Wales’ relatively straightforward fixture against Belgium, the ex-Fulham manager is keen to outline how much the side had learnt and benefitted from the adversity they’d faced in previous fixtures.

“In every game so far we’ve had a bit of adversity and we’ve handled it really well, no matter what the conditions have been whether it be the pitch in Andorra or the amount of injuries against Bosnia and Cyprus. We’ve got over every bump in the road really well and that speaks to the character of these players.

It is fine having the ability in football but you have to have the mentality as well and the last few months have proved that these players have both.” He said.

The Welsh National side is a very young one; the starting XI against Belgium had an average age of just over 25-years-old and with youngsters such as George Williams (19), Jonathan Williams (21) and Harry Wilson (17) coming through, the manager believes the future is bright for Wales.

“They’re so young so we have a lot of years left to work with this squad and that’s great because we’re going to have a lot of players who have experienced a lot of adversity together and know how to deal with it and that can only be good for Welsh Football.” He said.

Adversity and character are two words that pop up frequently in our brief conversation as Coleman argues that one leads to another and can only serve to bring the best out of his side.

“There’s a lot more to come from this side. All of the experience they’re getting now coming through the adversity that they’ve come through is great because it shapes them and their character.”

Although he initially struggled to get things right after taking the Wales job in incredibly unfortunate and difficult circumstances, the former Wales defender believes he has found the secret to success.

“The secret to success here is getting players who don’t regularly play together, some who don’t even play at all, outside of the national side to play like a strong cohesive unit for 90 minutes.

Wayne Hennessey has been absolutely wonderful – Chris Gunter, Robson-Kanu, Joe Ledley, Joe Allen, George Williams, Dave Cotterill and so on – it is definitely a collective effort.” He said.

Sensing that, after going four games undefeated in qualification and losing only one of the last nine at home, momentum is with his side, Coleman is chomping at the bit for Wales to get going again.

“If I had my way we’d have gone to Israel five days after the Belgium game to keep the momentum going but the fixtures are the way they are and we have to wait until March.

We’re taking everything on a game-by-game basis. My target now is obviously to win against Israel then it’ll be to win the next one and the next one to put ourselves in the best position to get to France in 2016.” The ex-Sociedad manager added.

Whilst coming to the conclusion of the interview, news filters through of Wales’ triumph in the Victory Shield Competition – the first time the Welsh have secured an outright win of the competition since 1948/49 – Coleman is elated that Wales’ focus on their youth is paying off.

“The win is a strong indicator that all of the FAW’s hard work down in the lower levels of Welsh Football is paying off – developing the youth is the name of the game.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re coaching them right, treating them right and making sure they develop correctly.”

One thing is for sure – if the youth follow the example that the senior national side is setting right now then future is very, very bright for Welsh football!

Brussels will show what Bale and Co. are really made of!

The best start to a qualifying campaign for 12 years, undefeated after three games, leading two recent World Cup Finalists at the top of their group – it sounds like it has been a great few months for Welsh Football.

On Sunday though they’ll face their toughest test of the group to date as Chris Coleman and his men head to Belgium to face one of the most complete sides in Europe in their own backyard. Read on to see how we assess Wales’ chances!

The Story so Far:

Despite the numerous plus points mentioned earlier on, Wales’ start hasn’t been without its difficulties – each of the three matches played so far have brought their own problems.

In Andorra the pitch was a talking point, to say the least.

The Welsh were the first team to play on the artificial pitch and it was clear to see that the surface hadn’t had the required attention from Mother Nature that it needed – a splash of rain beforehand would’ve made for a completely different match.

Nonetheless, victories earned through adversity build character.

That character was thoroughly tested throughout the next international window as, with a midfield ravaged by injury, Wales had to switch to 5-3-2 to keep Bosnia honest before an early injury and a sending off made the Cyprus clash much more complicated than it should have been.

The Welsh persisted though and found themselves top of the group on merit.

A new dilemma:

Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Robert Earnshaw, John Hartson, Craig Bellamy – over the last 30 years Wales have had a recognised threat leading the line for them.

Yes, Wales have Bale now but he fills the role that Giggs filled back in his day – both mercurial talents but even they can’t do it all on their own.

Giggs’ list of strike partners has been listed above – who has Bale got?

Simon Church has been the striker of choice so far but for one reason or another hasn’t been able to get going and is set to miss this clash because of an injury – the right man to replace him is Hal Robson-Kanu.

He’s not a striker by trade, as you will know, but certain facets of his game cover one of Wales’ and Bale’s biggest weaknesses – that they don’t press the ball early, nor robustly enough at times.

Bale’s sometimes lacking defensive effort has been well documented and against Bosnia Simon Church was just as guilty – I think it speaks wonders for the last two matches that they both swung Wales’ way when Robson-Kanu led the attack with Bale.

Also, with Robson-Kanu picking up some defensive responsibilities, it means Bale can concentrate more on finding the spaces that will make him so dangerous on the counter-attack.

Robson-Kanu is so dynamic, tireless and really encourages his teammates to press the ball early and vigorously and with Church out with an injury, the stage is set for him to step up to the plate!

A lot to be optimistic about:

Although there are still a few notable absentees, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen return in this fixture and despite the form of their respective clubs, it’ll be a huge boost for Wales to have them back.

Make no mistake – this is a great opportunity for Wales. They’re playing the best football they’ve played for years and will go to Belgium with thousands of supporters behind them.

Factor in that Vincent Kompany is a doubt and that some of Belgium’s better individuals haven’t always been their same mesmerising selves when playing for their country as they are for their clubs and you could forgive the Welsh fans for being quite optimistic going into the game.

Belgium showed in the World Cup that they struggle to get into a rhythm at times and if Wales can continue to work as relentlessly as they have in defence so far in this group, they can do well here.

The Welsh have had issues to contend with so far in this group: bad pitches, injuries, etc. however heading into this game they are in great shape and have as good a chance as ever of making it four games undefeated in the group!