By Tom Walker | Head of Sport
2020 was set to be another momentous year in the extraordinary recent history of Wales. A second consecutive major tournament was on the cards, a first in the country’s history. Despite the obvious disappointment of the tournament’s cancellation, it has still been a great year for Wales.
Of their eight games this year Wales have won five, drawn two and lost one. The impressive run secured them a place in next season’s Nations League Group A, giving them the chance to test themselves against Europe’s best international sides.
From their six Nations League games, Ryan Giggs’ side won five and drew one, only conceding one goal in the process.
Joe Rodon and Chris Mepham have developed a great understanding at centre half, and the solidarity of the ever-impressive Ethan Ampadu has offered some great protection.
Ampadu in particular has impressed, and my own personal calls for him to be put into midfield were met in the later half of the season (I will be awaiting my check in the post Giggsy). His calming presence on the ball, wide range of passing ability and positioning are all extremely impressive for a player of his age, and despite Sheffield United’s terrible start to the 2020/21, the Welshman has been one of the only glimpses of light.
Joe Rodon has also come on leaps and bounds for club and country this year. After five years at Swansea City, the 23-year-old was bought from the welsh side by Premier League outfit Tottenham Hotspur for £11 million. He has drawn comparisons to the likes of John Stones for his ability to play from the back and receive the ball on the half turn and play forward.
The young duo will give Giggs and co confidence as they have a solid foundation to build the rest of the team on in the future.
A theme of Wales’ past few years has been injuries to key players. Superstar duo Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale have been plagued by injuries their whole career, which is especially damning given how reliant Wales are on those two in the attacking third.
The likes of Kieffer Moore, David Brooks and Wayne Hennessy, usually certain starters have been missing from international action throughout points in the year, making their impressive record even more remarkable.
Luckily for Giggs, he has had output from unlikely sources, most notably from Liverpool youngster Neco Williams. Williams has risen through the ranks of the infamous Liverpool academy, and has featured for Wales at youth level.
His last minute goal against Bulgaria in September, and his assist for Johnny Williams winner against Finland have been his most notable impacts in the Wales shirt so far. The 19-year-old is a big talent and has a great career ahead of him.
If Wales are to leave any sort of imprint of the Euros next summer, they will need to ensure the likes of Bale and Ramsey remain fit as their combined experience at the highest level of European football cannot be understated. This might be harder than it sounds given their injury track record and the already condensed season to deal with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
A year of progress
Things are on the rise for Welsh football. Overall, Giggs, his staff and playing squad will be happy with their year. It was not quite built up to be the historic one it initially was, but huge progress has been made. 2021 should be focused on the continued development of their young talent, the careful management of their veterans and the growth of chemistry within the team.