By Tom Walker | Head of Sport
After over nine-months since their last match, Wales will reconvene for international football with Nations League fixtures against Finland and Bulgaria. 2020 looked like it was going to be a huge year for Welsh football, with the team set to take place in their second ever European Championships over the summer. But the mass cancellation of sporting events meant the competition has been rescheduled for next summer, meaning another painstaking year of friendlies and Nations League before they can try and repeat the heroics of 2016.
Wales manager Ryan Giggs announced his squad for the two games on August 26, but has since learnt that a number of key figures from that initial squad will not be able to make it.
It was reported on Sunday that Aaron Ramsey, David Brooks and Tyler Roberts were listed injured, whilst Ashley Williams had chosen to withdraw from the squad for “personal reasons”.
These come as huge blows for Giggs. Ramsey with his wealth of experience, and Brooks as a creative spark will be sorely missed by Wales who look to get off to a good start in their Nations League campaign against Finland on Thursday.
Giggs’ reign as Wales manager has not been plain sailing. Wales only just scraped second place in their European Championship qualifying group, and he has come under criticism for the uninspiring performances his sides have put in over those games.
This is going to be a critical period for Giggs as his team has seven games scheduled before December, with a friendly against England lined up before two Nations League matches in October and November.
Injuries and absentees may be something he has to get accustomed too over the next few months, with domestic leagues such as the Premier League reducing the length of their seasons to accommodate the late end to the 2019/20 campaign by playing fixtures more regularly.
“We have good communication with the clubs and make sure we look after the players as much as we can,” Giggs told BBC Sport.
“If there’s any risk we have to take careful consideration in terms of how many games the players have played and what’s their injury record.”
In his most recent squad, the Wales manager gave first time call ups to Liverpool’s Neco Williams, 19, and Swansea City centre-back Ben Cabango, 20.
There were also places for Hal Robson-Kanu, who recently reversed his decision to retire from international football, and Gareth Bale, despite all the uncertainty surrounding his club situation at Real Madrid.
Other key absentees for Wales include Stoke player, Joe Allen, who is ruled out through injury, as well as centre-back Chris Mepham and forward Tom Lawrence who are both recovering from their own recent injuries.
This puts key emphasis on some of Wales’ talented pool of young players. The likes of Ethan Amapdu and Daniel James will undoubtedly get big minutes in the two fixtures as they look to push for places in their own club teams.
Having not played together since a win against Hungry in November 2019, as well as the long list of omissions, it is hard to predict what the line up might look like, or more importantly how they will perform.
But luckily for Giggs he has time on his hands. Like mentioned before, a busy autumn and winter period will give him lots of time to experiment with his team, before narrowing down on his preferred group right around the 2021 Euros. Injuries of course have always been a concern for Wales, with their two stars being more susceptible to it than anyone else. But this new group coming through are exciting and allows for less emphasis to be placed on Bale and Ramsey to perform every game.
The tools are there for Giggs there is no doubt about that, but it is now time to see if he can put them to good use.