Won Victory Shield for first time in 66 years
26 November ~ These are exciting times for Welsh football. The senior national side have made an unbeaten start in the Euro 2016 qualifiers and the FA of Wales (FAW) last year opened a £5 million, state of the art national football centre in Newport. To cap it all, the Under-16 side recently won the Victory Shield, in which they compete with England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, outright for the first time in 66 years. Even more impressively, they won all three games.
Their campaign got off to the best possible start on a wet and windy evening in Bangor, as Wales overcame England thanks to a solitary Liam Angel goal, just before half time. A few weeks later, they headed to Perth to face Scotland and returned with a 2-1 victory, Swansea City youngster Liam Cullen netting a brace. The title was secured with a comfortable 2-0 win against Northern Ireland, as captain Tyler Roberts headed them in to the lead from a free-kick, before Cullen secured the win late on.
Having beaten France twice ahead of the tournament, this generation are fulfilling the expectations of head coach Osian Roberts, who has previously hailed this team as a “special group of players”. In the aftermath of this historical achievement, Roberts conceded: “I’m very proud. It’s a historical night. It’s been a long time coming, but it shows that Welsh football’s future is in good hands.”
Several key players, including Aaron Ramsey, Jonathan Williams and Emyr Huws, have progressed through to the senior side having impressed in previous tournaments. Liverpool’s Harry Wilson will be the most notable example for the current crop. Capped last year in a World Cup qualifier against Belgium, to keep him out of the clutches of England, Wilson became Wales’ youngest ever senior international at 16.
He is now a regular for the Under-21 side having featured in a Victory Shield campaign two years ago. “One of the messages to the boys is to take the opportunity and grasp it,” outlines Roberts, who is also the FAW technical director. “It can happen very quickly for some of the players and when that’s the case then it’s obviously important that we give them the best possible preparation.”
Talented forward Roberts has been linked with Liverpool, who would only be required to pay West Brom a minimal amount of compensation according to the Premier League’s Elite Player Performance Plan. Wales face a similar struggle, with legislation allowing their best players to switch their allegiance until they are capped in a competitive senior game. They will continue to strike a balance between the needs of the player and the needs of the national side, but with a successful structure in place and excellent facilities, holding on to their best players may prove easier in future. Scott Johnson