Speed admits talks with former players
When Gary Speed took over the reins as Wales manager last month, his primary focus was to re-instill confidence within the squad and develop a system of football in the country that will allow Wales to compete consistently on a world stage. No-one would argue with the sentiment and with a new manager at the helm, hope springs eternal that this time around things will be different, but the reality is Wales are a long way off being serious contenders for any major tournaments and Speed is unlikely to produce miracles overnight.
Certainly he could not have hoped for a better first competitive match, as England make the short journey to the Millennium Stadium in March; if the players can’t raise their game for the bragging rights against their closest geographical rivals, then Speed has a bigger job on his hands than even he will have imagined.
While former manager John Toshack had limited success in terms of results in his six-year tenure, one promising legacy he left behind was a squad full of young talent who have progressed through the ranks at U21 level. The likes of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsay, Jack Collison and David Edwards are establishing themselves as Premiership regulars, with Bale in particular at the top of his game and still only 21 years of age, while Chris Gunter, Andy King and Joe Allen are gaining plaudits for their consistent displays at Championship level.
On paper, the positives are there for all to see as Wales look to build a brighter future and as these players grow and develop together, it can only benefit the national team in the long-term. But recent displays suggest a balance is needed in the interim to stop the rot of disappointing results against opposition Wales are expected to beat.
Raw talent is one thing, but experience counts in highly competitive games and for a variety of reasons, Wales, over the years Toshack was in charge, lost a significant amount of senior players. In their absence, others have upped their game, stepping up to the plate and taking on the mantle of responsibility with aplomb.
Ashley Williams has gone from strength to strength for club and country and his displays have caught the eye of potential Premiership suitors, with many reported to be lining up bids in the January transfer window. His leadership skills have seen him handed the captaincy in Bellamy’s absence and he a strong favourite to retain this honour under Speed’s direction.
Williams, along with James Collins in the heart of defence offer some stability and guidance for the younger players, but Speed has openly admitted he has been in talks with some of Wales’ retired players about a return in some capacity to help bolster the squad and boost morale.
Obvious choices are Fulham midfielder Simon Davies and West Ham defender Danny Gabbidon, with the latter also being gently encouraged by Joe Ledley via Twitter to consider a return to the international fold. Both would undoubtedly bring much-needed stability to the team, although given their decision to retire was based upon the demands of club football in relation to injuries sustained in recent years, it seems likely that Speed’s appeals will be rejected.
With Craig Bellamy also conceding he is unlikely to be available for selection for every game and relinquishing the captaincy as a result, Speed is seemingly in desperate need of some old heads to boost the ranks. Much has been made of Ryan Giggs returning in some capacity, although he is not expected to play, with Speed recently admitting he is still unclear about the Manchester United star’s plans.
Perhaps most contentious however, is the suggestion that Robbie Savage may well be part of Speed’s new agenda. The Derby midfielder was highly critical of Toshack’s time in charge of Wales, but has given his unequivocal backing to his former team-mate and was delighted with his appointment, citing him as the best man for the job to take Wales forward.
Savage is no stranger to controversy, but has made no secret of his desire to be involved in whatever capacity. Opinion amongst the fans is certainly divided, with many seeing it as a backwards move, reintroducing a player who effectively ‘spat out his dummy’ in a dispute with Toshack and called time prematurely on his international career as a result. Others feel he could still offer something to the team, whether in a playing role or as a motivator behind the scenes in the dressing room. With views ranging so wildly, Speed must weigh up all options carefully or risk alienating a section of fans before a ball is even kicked.
Having said that, it’s all about results, and if Wales can produce a win against England, then most will be happy to back his judgement for the time being.