Why Wales are much more than Bale ahead of Euro 2016
Holly Thackeray | Updated May 31, 2016
Coleman king of components ahead of summer spectacle
Jubilant Wales fans will be hopeful Real Madrid wideman Gareth Bale is being wrapped up in cotton wool by new boss Zinedine Zidane, with Euro 2016 inching ever closer.
The same can be said of Arsenal attacking midfielder Aaron Ramsey, perhaps unfairly regarded as rather injury-prone, and influential Swansea City skipper Ashley Williams.
But the Dragons have more talent awaiting a summer stage than merely their three most famous and recognisable corner stones. Never mind disproving the label of a one man team, the Welsh have combined to highlight their value even aside from that top trio.
And, the performances of the players picked by coach Chris Coleman so far, means the former defender has few dilemmas ahead of choosing his final France roster, injuries allowing.
“If I am honest, most of my squad, I know who will be going,” Coleman told press, leaving Coral writers to contemplate why Wales have so far been much more than the sum of their parts, prospering in teamplay where England, for example, have often faltered.
“We are all excited and all looking forward to what is coming,” continued Coleman.
“Preparations are going brilliantly and I’ve met with [captain] Williams recently who is chomping at the bit. Our strength is our togetherness. Having good players doesn’t win you anything, you need the mentality.”
That focus on mentality over individuality was a stand-out feature in Coleman’s Euro qualifying campaign as, aside from Bale and co’s obvious brilliance, it was sheer determination that dragged the Dragons through.
Coleman deserves credit for getting all his ducks in a row, and deploying key cogs correctly as, unlike many of the France favourites, his puzzle piece seems already complete.
With warm-ups against Ukraine, Northern Ireland and potentially Sweden, those matches will mostly be about ironing out any last creases, an opportune position for the players (an intriguing 11/8 to reach the last 16 with Coral) to be in.
Heroes to be anointed on French fields
For many of Coleman’s canny crew, Euro 2016 will be the biggest stage on which they will ever appear, a last chance saloon of sorts, and the perfect shop window to pose in ahead of the summer transfer market.
With this being Wales’ first major competition in over half a century, there is also no guarantee of a second shot, and thus fans will be expecting no complacency as they face a group containing Home Nation foes the Three Lions and also prickly Russia.
So, as 66/1 rank outsiders to win the lot in France, are the Dragons worth a dabble? Perhaps not, but there are plenty of specials to consider that are far more positive than piling cash on the underdogs to bow out at the pool stage.
Former Liverpool and Manchester City midfielder Dietmar Hamann voiced his own opinion on Coleman and company, stating: “I think Wales will be dark horses come the Euros and I think there’ll be one or two surprised by them. The main thing will be to have your main players fit and ready.”
Though the German only highlighted Coleman’s big three, continuing: “In Williams the captain they’ve got a fantastic centre back and the likes of Ramsey and Bale, who you’ve got to try and keep fit. The others will fit in and and obviously the more football they play, the better.”
So, how about what the ‘others’ have to offer?
Fiery Dragons in focus
Casting an eye over Wales’ squad may not immediately reveal just what each of Coleman’s grafters add but, when on the pitch, they clearly all know their place. There are no passengers here.
At Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp has begun to integrate deep-lying playmaker Joe Allen into his XI, with the midfielder’s buzzing international outings surely doing his case no harm.
Having even worn the Reds armband, a reward for a dramatic goal against Arsenal, a spot-kick clincher and astute showings versus Stoke City, underrated Allen is finally thriving for club as he has for country.
His tidy and technical patrolling of the park brings neat balance to Wales, while the likes of Ramsey and Bale make bursts on the counter and, across the channel, intuitive Allen could prove the most important string-puller.
Increased playing time has been essential in this case, but Coleman laid his cards on the table, telling media regular outings or bench time would not impact all of his decisions.
“One or two need to wait a bit longer and will find out, but some of the lads, like Joe Ledley at Crystal Palace, who isn’t playing, it’s a different situation for him,” said the Wales gaffer.
“He’s been a great servant, Joe, and he’s been a huge part of us qualifying and on and off the pitch, he’s a good character.”
It looks as though the bearded and jovial Crystal Palace midfielder will not star at Selhurst Park as much this season, but his talents slot seamlessly into the Dragons squad, which is not blessed with depth.
Willing runners and passion for the cause are a crucial requirement in this ensemble cast, though Ledley has provided more than that, often pushing his country on and popping up with the odd goal. He makes the cut despite a hairline fracture that was billed as a broken leg.
Up top with Bale, when Coleman has deployed a 3-5-2 in particular, Reading’s Hal Robson-Kanu has frequently drawn praise for stretching sides and creating space on the counter for his superstar partner. It may be true that Bale bags the goals, but he cannot do so without his peers’ unselfish intent.
Though, Robson-Kanu may find himself a free agent come the end of his club campaign, boarding the flight to France fiercely determined to fend off jostling from more traditional forward foils for Bale in strikers Simon Church and Sam Vokes, with Walsall young-gun Tom Bradshaw unfortunate to miss the final ciut.
Meanwhile, between the Cardiff City Stadium sticks, Palace post protector Wayne Hennessey has been more or less outstanding, playing out of his skin for his nation. Recent slips at Selhurst may see him sit out a few for Alan Pardew, but there is little danger of him losing out with Coleman, for whom he has been an absolute Dragon, ferociously defending his lair, or net.
There is certainly competition in defence, where the Dragons have experimented, and their robustness is not just down to Williams. James Collins and Chester have it all to fight for, though the latter appeared to have an edge before his game time decreased at West Bromwich Albion.
While, competent and accomplished Chris Gunter, Ben Davies, and Neil Taylor have been competing for assorted full back and wing back positions, providing great balance and grit down the flanks between them.
Fledglings to star in channel chance
As for the future of Wales, some could be blooded on the big stage, as Coleman noted: “There are one or two others, great young players like Jonny and George Williams, and they do need some more minutes, same as Tom Lawrence at Blackburn.”
“But it works both ways, because I think sometimes the lads who come with us who haven’t had any game time are fresh and desperate to get on the pitch. And that can work in your favour sometimes,” added the ambitious coach.
If there is something lacking from Coleman’s collection of superstars, wild cards and grafters, it may be the spark that one of these youngsters can provide when Bale or Ramsey are failing to fire.
Bale scored seven in qualifying and, though it is to be stressed how important as a unit Wales are, sometimes the stardust will have to come from elsewhere.
Who then from those three fledglings will be trusted and called to action at the Dragons’ Brittany base? Former Manchester United man Lawrence (aptly given his Premier League debut by Wales icon Ryan Giggs) has taken a risk by leaving Leicester City on loan to Cardiff City. Though, if his Championship move pays off, the tidy passer could really put himself in contention.
Jonny Williams has been bobbing around the Welsh set-up for some time, however, and a late loan move to MK Dons could also enhance his chances. While, his namesake at Fulham, George, is perhaps currently the most highly-rated of this current crop, and most able to provide a moment of magic.
Final Wales squad for Euro 2016
You’ll find below the 23-man Welsh roster for the France finals, plus the thoughts of Coral football ambassador Alan Shearer:
Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace), Danny Ward (Liverpool), Owain Fon Williams (Inverness Caledonian Thistle)
Defenders: James Chester (West Bromwich Albion), James Collins (West Ham United), Ben Davies (Tottenham), Chris Gunter (Reading), Ashley ‘Jazz’ Richards (Fulham), Neil Taylor and Ashley Williams (both Swansea City)
Midfielders: Joe Allen (Liverpool), David Edwards (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Andy King (Leicester City), Joe Ledley and Jonny Williams (both Crystal Palace), Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), David Vaughan (Nottingham Forest), George Williams (Fulham)
Forwards: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), Simon Church (Aberdeen, on loan from MK Dons), David Cotterill (Birmingham City), Hal Robson-Kanu (Reading), Sam Vokes (Burnley).