As we count down the days to the Welsh team's participation in Euro2016 in France, everyone needs to firm up their plans. Most of all, the Wales manager Chris Coleman, who has just over a week to finalise the squad that will travel to the pre-tournament friendly in Sweden, and then to the Wales base in Dinard.
The fans eagerly await Coleman's final selection, but need to finalise their own plans too - whether they're going to France to any of the games. For those of you who have managed to get your hands on tickets but haven't sorted out how you're going to get to the match yet, then why not Travel official with the FAW's official partner Gullivers Sports Travel: http://gulliverstravel.co.uk/event/france-2016 ?
Even those not going to France for the Wales games have a bit of planning to do - even if it's only deciding on their preferred venue at home in Wales from which to watch all the action on 11th, 16th and 20th June.
But undeniably the big decisions this week are for Chris Coleman to make: UEFA rules dictate that he must select 23 players by May 31st, three of whom must be goalkeepers. Most of the 23 names can be predicted with a high degree of confidence - players whom most regard as Coleman's preferred eleven and substitutes/understudies. But opinions differ on the last few names on the list, and we take a look at the options.
The three keepers are a foregone conclusion: first choice Wayne Hennessey, understudy Owain Fon Williams and young Liverpool keeper Danny Ward, who finally made his senior international debut in the friendly against Northern Ireland in March.
It seems likely that the manager will select eight recognised defenders, and seven of the names seem fairly obvious: Swansea City pair Ashley Williams and Neil Taylor, Jazz Richards, James Chester, James Collins, Ben Davies and Chris Gunter. Maybe that means there's just one defensive place up for grabs, with the choices being Adam Henley of Blackburn Rovers, Adam Matthews of Sunderland, and Newcastle's Paul Dummett. Most observers think Matthews will get the nod, and the Swansea-born right back has said his desire to be in the Wales squad lay behind his move from Celtic to Sunderland in the Premier League. But has that back-fired, with just one appearance for the Black Cats and a loan spell at Bristol City?
Paul Dummett has the ability to play at centre-back, but lacks international experience, while Adam Henley is the youngest of the trio, but the 21 year old - who could have played for England or the USA - has arguably made the strongest impression in his two friendly appearances and may have given the manager a difficult choice.
If Chris Coleman is also going to select eight midfielders, there are again half a dozen 'definites' and a few possibles vying for the remaining places. We expect Joe Ledley to travel - despite his battle to regain fitness - along with Aaron Ramsey, Andy King, Joe Allen, David Cotterill and Emyr Huws, who has made a good impression in recent games. The other two places may be up for grabs, with several names in the frame, including Andrew Crofts, Jonathan Williams, George Williams, David Edwards, Lloyd Isgrove and Shaun MacDonald. Of these, Jonny Williams is a strong favourite among the fans, with his ability to run at defences, but opinions are divided on who else should make the cut.
David Vaughan has experience on his side, at age 33 and with 41 caps, and has been a firm fixture in Nottingham Forest's team this year. George Williams is the youngest, but has spent much of the last season on loan in non-league football and the step up to international tournament football might be too much to ask. Andrew Crofts of Brighton would add steel to the midfield section and has more senior international experience, so might be the answer here.
If the numbers above are accurate, that means that just four places are left for forwards. Clearly Gareth Bale, Hal Robson-Kanu, Sam Vokes and Simon Church are the manager's preferred strikers, which would mean that there's no room for young challengers Tom Bradshaw and Tom Lawrence.
Of course, Coleman could opt to take one fewer midfielder to include one of these, but have they done enough in the warm-up games to muscle into the squad? Bradshaw is a real prospect who has only come into the reckoning recently, and his 20 goals in 2015-16 must place him ahead of the less prolific Lawrence - but the tournament has probably come just too soon for the Walsall man.
That's our perspective, but on May 31st we'll know how Chris Coleman sees it - and that's what matters. Whoever makes the cut for the final 23, there is no doubt whatever that the whole of Wales will be firmly behind them.
Last Updated on Sunday, 22 May 2016 14:52
Wales star Gareth Bale will have the opportunity to gun down Manchester City once again, with Real Madrid being drawn to face the English Premier League side in the Champions League Semi-Finals. It promises to be an intriguing and enthralling clash between two teams packed with quality, and although reaching this stage of the competition is a new club record for Manuel Pellegrini and his players, they have done so on merit and should not be under-estimated.
Bale, who has enjoyed another strong season in Spain and will play a big role in his country's first ever appearance at a European Championship this summer, remains the most expensive player in world football, having left Tottenham in 2013 for £86 million. He will be no stranger to Manchester City, having caused them numerous problems as his potential and quality became clear for all to see during his six-year spell at White Hart Lane. All eyes may be on Cristiano Ronaldo who could make the all important difference in the eyes of Coral who see Real Madrid as slight favourites to progress to the final, but sixteen goals in just twenty league appearances also makes Bale a player that could take the game away from Manchester City.
His superbly-taken goal against Getafe at the weekend took Bale's league tally for the season to sixteen, breaking his previous best of fifteen back in his first year in Spain in 2013/2014. Bale has also recently become the highest scoring British player in La Liga's history, having surpassed the record set by Gary Lineker during his time at Barcelona in the 1980s; adding goals to his game has made the 26-year-old more dangerous than ever before, with his considerable pace and wand of a left foot being utilised to great effect for both club and country. He may have been unable to find the back of the net during Real Madrid's quarter final clash against Wolfsburg, but while it is hotly debated whether their comeback from a 2-0 first-leg deficit to win 3-0 at the Bernabeu should be considered among the greatest in competition history, the latest Champions League odds with Coral would suggest that the Spanish giants have a great chance of reaching the final in Milan.
Chris Coleman and ardent Wales fans will all be watching the two-legged clash with Manchester City in the hope that Bale comes through unscathed and remains in prime condition ahead of Euro 2016. It will be a memorable summer across Wales as the national football team travel to France to compete in a major tournament, but Bale and his team-mates will not be going to make up the numbers; there is every chance that Wales can progress from a group which includes England, Russia and Slovakia, and if Bale continues the level of performances that he has put in for Real Madrid in recent weeks, then there is no reason why the Cardiff-born star add the achievement of reaching the latter stages with his country at Euro 2016 with another Champions League winners medal.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 April 2016 11:08
With The New Saints coasting towards the point where they are mathematically certain to retain their Dafabet Welsh Premier League title, many have wondered when - or indeed if - anyone will be able to dislodge the Oswestry club from their dominant position in domestic Welsh football. TNS will be the first club ever to win five consecutive titles, but as the club itself has said, nothing would please them more than if rival clubs could reach their levels of professionalism and pose a genuine challenge.
So what would it take for another Welsh Premier club to match TNS? One thing is certain, the league is a different place from its early days, when even well-run village clubs like Caersws, Ton Pentre and TNS's predecessors Llansantffraid could compete for top honours.
Some of the league's more successful clubs over its 23 year history have been bankrolled by businessmen (think of Cwmbran Town, Barry Town, Llanelli and Neath) but as these cases illustrate, this model is rarely sustainable long-term.
Look at the league table this season, and it's striking that four of the top five clubs in the Premier have forged strong business partnerships with companies in a range of modern industries - TNS in hi-tech, Airbus UK in aerospace manufacturing and now Gap Connah's Quay in and MBi Llandudno in service industries.
So it's interesting to learn of (unconfirmed) rumours which claim that one of our leading teams is in the final stages of a deal signing with a binary options broker named Binary Uno. No further details have been disclosed so far regarding the nature of the deal, but it seems to give further weight to the theory that astute business partnerships are the way to go for ambitious clubs in Wales.
Sustainability must be the goal, and here it's interesting to look at how the strongest clubs today are starting to build diverse revenue sources, to avoid the fates that befell the Welsh Premier champions of the past. Now gate receipts will never be very significant in domestic Welsh football, and clubs must look to sponsorship, stadium naming rights, and income generated by 3G facilities - and if that can build a budget sufficient to win league honours on a regular basis, then there will be further funds flowing in from the UEFA prize money pot. It's instructive to look at the UEFA Champions League prize monies enjoyed by TNS in recent years, and how that in turn helps to keep the Saints a step ahead of their rivals.
The Holy Grail for Welsh clubs would of course be to reach the group stages of the Champions League or Europa League, and unlock the associated revenues - not just a bigger share of prize funds but TV and sponsorship opportunities too. Last summer's Welsh performances in Europe raised hopes that this may not be impossible - TNS were unfortunate to go out in the Second Qualifying Round of the Champions League in extra time - but it's equally possible that the landscape of European club football will change in some way in the next few years. Welsh teams won't be involved in a 'super league', of course, but any change may bring new, unspecified opportunities. Only those clubs who have built strong foundations and positioned themselves at the pinnacle of the Welsh game will be in a position to seize those opportunities when they come.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 March 2016 15:04
The Euro 2016 finals are getting closer, and ever more real. We're into 2016, and the initial euphoria of just qualifying is past. Wales fans are now moving onto the next stage - actually anticipating and planning for the tournament.
As Gareth Davies discusses in our issue 187, there's the whole new experience for Wales supporters of collecting our own Panini stickers; and the tortuous experience of applying for tickets and making travel arrangements; there is also the question of who Chris Coleman will take to France - which means watching nervously as star players try to negotiate the remaining months without injury, and monitoring the fringe and forgotten Welsh players' form.
The Wales supporters themselves are of course assessing their heroes' prospects of qualifying from our group, of beating Russia, England and Slovakia in each of the group games, and of going further into the knock-out phase of the tournament. For many, it's about the football, though some will have a bet if only in the hope it might help cover the costs of the trip.
But the opportunity to bet on Welsh prospects in the finals tournament is by no means confined to Welsh fans. There is a bewildering range Euro 2016 odds, not just outright odds on winning the tournament, but individual games, top scorers, combination bets etc. Wales may be 50/1 or more outsiders to finish as tournament winners, but Coleman's men do seem to be emerging as favourites to qualify from the group along with England - the relatively forgiving format means first, second and most third-placed teams progress. How far can we go? Well, if the professionals are to be believed, we've a good chance of reaching the quarter-finals and a fair (8/1) chance of reaching the semi-finals.
Heady stuff for supporters of a nation that for so many decades has only dreamed of one day just being at a major tournament. And, whatever the odds available, for many of the travelling Welsh army, seeing that become a reality is what they still wake up every day and remember, even while they make their preparations for the actual experience in June.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 January 2016 08:18