After the best part of a month together Wales players, coaches and backroom staff finally get a break.
A week’s warm-weather training in Portugal followed by five International matches will probably be the longest camp the squad will ever have together outside of an actual tournament. Tired they may be, but the aim was achieved.
So Wales are going to a World Cup. At last.
It’s been a long wait since 1958 with some difficult near-misses in-between which have in the aftermath of qualification perhaps increased the emotional element of Wales’ achievement.
Missing out by a whisker, I’m talking for tournaments in 1978, 1986 and 1994, hurts if it happens just once, but multiple times leaves its mark.
And that is why Wales and its Red Wall support will with fondness and thanks be ever grateful to a cultural change brought about by the late Gary Speed.
Speed became the Wales manager in 2010, he made it his job not just to manage the men’s senior team but to instigate widespread change throughout Welsh football.
At every Wales game, at some point someone in the crowd will start up a song about Gary Speed and warm applause will follow. He is engrained in Wales’ psyche now.
So many supporters, players and former players will hope that somewhere ‘up there’ Speed is able to look down on the green, green grass of home where Wales have been thriving for several years now.
For a nation of barely 3 million people, where football has to compete hard with rugby along with every other modern day distraction to gain and keep participation levels and interest, to qualify for the last two Euros and now the Qatar 2022 World Cup is an achievement to be proud of, but it hasn’t happened by chance.
Yes, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey have formed the centre-piece of Welsh footballing success, but both are talented sportsmen. They could have achieved at any sport or probably any walk of life.
The environment within the Wales set-up changed with Speed’s vision of a ‘Welsh Way’ so players like Bale & Ramsey became even better and helped those around them become better.
The club and family environment underpinned by a professional backroom set-up that is quite something to witness are just some of the other ingredients that have seen Wales succeed.
No country, especially in the crowded and competitive space of European football, can qualify for three out of the last four major international tournaments by chance or just on the coat-tails of Gareth Bale. A long-term vision has borne fruit.
Dr David Adams is the FAW’s Technical Director. It is his firm belief that an uncompromisingly professional set-up – and by that, rather than the players I mean the coaches, analysts, medical and physio staff – working within a ‘family’ atmosphere is Wales’ unique selling point.
The players want to come to work, they want to play for Wales. Also as Wales have a smaller pool of players to choose from compared with England the opportunity to make a player who may have dual-nationality choose Wales has to be maximised and that is where the Wales USP comes in.
The family environment is welcoming, reassuring and makes the ‘office’ a good place to work. It’s also how potential future generations are being educated about what it would be like to play football and who knows one day even play football internationally.
The men’s and women’s senior squads interact, with managers Robert Page and Gemma Grainger regularly inviting each other into their meetings and sessions. That also happens with the younger squads.
A 17-year-old won’t be kept away from Gareth Bale – a word here and there from Bale to a youngster making their way in the game is encouraged.
“We all saw the spirit that has been captured in Wales, which all started with Gary Speed,” Dr David Adams told Sky Sports. “The idea of a really intimate, close-knit environment I feel we’ve done really well to create.
“The night Wales qualified for the World Cup captured the work of the past 10 years that has been put into the player pathway. All the players showed what it means to play for Wales and you saw that in the match and in the celebrations.
“The songs are so important to our Welsh culture and our language and they have all bought into it.
“We launched the high-performance strategy last weekend and one of our big vehicles is to use the legacy of Gary Speed and what he created. All the off-field and on-field principles he implemented we want to capture and utilise as one of our strengths.
“Rob Page, having been involved in that period and helped our young players come through the system, he’s the perfect man to lead us into a World Cup and we’re looking forward to that.”
Adams has multiple roles as technical director, he helps Page and his coaches as required, he instigates policy and he is rightly proud of the FAW coaching system that has provided pro-licences to the likes of Belgium manager Roberto Martinez, Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta, Patrick Vieira of Crystal Palace and Thierry Henry to name just a few.
Adams’ modesty quickly points out that he was been in his role since 2019 and others before him have been part of the Wales football DNA “cultural evolution” – funnily enough one is Osian Roberts, now Vieira’s assistant manager at Palace. Roberts has been the FAW’s technical director as well as Chris Coleman’s right-hand man at Euro 2016.
Wales’ qualification for Qatar 2022 is no fluke or short-term bonus, it is due to a decade of change, re-invention and finding an identity that resonates with players and supporters.
Over the course of the three home matches Wales have played in seven days in June, almost 85,000 people have come to watch Wales.
During a cost of living crisis where due to an anomaly in fixture scheduling three home games have been played on a Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday the Welsh public have decided they would spend hard-earned money to watch Wales play football.
Many supporters have made long journeys, anyone with basic geographical knowledge will know travelling from North Wales to Cardiff isn’t the easiest or cheapest journey, but there is a bond of respect between the Red Wall and the players. The Welsh public want to watch and engage with the football team.
Bale and Ramsey will at some point, I’m sorry to say retire, from football.
Wales may not have ready replacements of their calibre to hand, but thanks to a vision implemented by Speed pathways exist for talent to be spotted and nurtured and Wales – small nation it may be – will have a high level of talent available for its senior squads so that Euro 2016, Euro 2020 and Qatar 2022 are not just brief moments of glorious history.
What’s next for Wales?
Rob Page’s side will resume the Nations League campaign in September when Wales travel to face Belgium on Thursday, September 22 before their final home encounter with Poland on Sunday, September 25; both games kick-off at 7.45pm.
Page will submit a long list of players to FIFA on Friday October 21, but the Wales manager is expected to announce his final World Cup 23-man squad on either November 9-10. The FIFA deadline is Monday, November 14.
Wales will depart for Qatar on Tuesday, November 15 before they face USA in their opening World Cup group game on November 21 at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan.
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