After years of waiting for a promising young player to develop, Wales have perhaps discovered that young players, just like buses, often come all at once. Their 3-0 victory over Scotland was ample demonstration of the burgeoning potential of players coming through for the Welsh, and while there is a long way to go, as with any journey, the hope must be that Saturday can be a starting point for something special.
An average of 22, a team full of players who should have their best years in front of them, and a stand out performance from perhaps the best young British central midfielder, this was the sort of performance which will have excited a footballing fraternity starved of success, arguably since the halcyon days of Mark Hughes’ management.
The star of the show was Aaron Ramsey, who few would now doubt is perhaps the finest player Wales have produced since Ryan Giggs. While their styles may differ vastly, the promise is perhaps just as considerable, just ask Giggs’ current team-mate Darren Fletcher.
For it was he who was brushed off was relative ease as Ramsey marched through to score Wales’ second. Yet the goal itself simply rounded off a performance which moved Gary Speed, himself a Welsh midfield stalwart of many campaigns, to declare him “a fantastic footballer.” While his team-mate David Edwards said: “Aaron is not 19 until Christmas, so he’s going to be a great player. He’s going to be one of the best in Europe when he gets into his prime.”
It merely confirmed what many Welsh fans have known, that Wales’ future will very much be built around their precocious midfielder. Just earlier on that very day Ryan Giggs had said: “He is an exciting talent and I hope Wales can build their side around him, he is that sort of central midfield player and is a future Wales captain.”
For all Ramsey’s qualities, he is by no means the only promising young talent the Welsh are developing even if he is the standout one.
As Wales’ results have declined, it has been a testing time for John Toshack, a manager not unused to challenges having worked under the mad-cap Jesus Gil at Atletico Madrid. Yet he deserves credit for persevering with his strategy of blooding young players despite the pressure of results.
Calls for him to resign have been frequent, yet Toshack has always kept to the partyline that playing the young players will be best for the future. In truth you can sympathise with Toshack for sticking with such a strategy.
It is to forget that when he took over the Welsh team he inherited had peaked under Mark Hughes, yet with key protagonists such as Ryan Giggs, Gary Speed, Paul Jones and John Hartson all retiring, Toshack realised early that there would be a short-fall. While the bitter row with Robbie Savage did little to enhance his image or popularity, it spelt out the message he was trying to send.
Now, while the young players have slowly but surely emerged, Toshack must hope that the results must follow. The issues with inconsistency of performance, commonplace among young players is something which Toshack himself has admitted is “frustrating”, the belief in what he is trying to do has grown. Even his arch-nemesis Savage said recently “He’s taking Welsh football in the right direction with the kids and I can see that now.”
These “kids” as Savage calls them, are a bright bunch-not all of whom featured against Scotland. Wayne Hennessey’s performances with Wolves show that he can look forward to a long career as a Premier League goalkeeper, Gareth Bale, despite his problems at Spurs both remain young enough to return the better, while Joe Ledley continues to be one of the best players in Britain currently plying his trade outside the top flight. Plus the likes of Joe Allen and Simon Church are two of the brighter prospects currently being schooled in the rigorous domain of the Championship.
When you consider that the Welsh were missing Jack Collison, whose decision to opt for Wales over England will cause some English fans some regret should he continue his rapid development, along with James Collins, Craig Bellamy, Simon Davies and Chris Gunter-all players with Premier League experience, it points to a pool of talents which is growing fast.
Add in the potential defensive solidity of Ryan Shawcross, the English under 21 player who the Welsh are attempting to entice with the promise of regular international football, and you have a potent mix of Premier League experience and exciting young talent.
Certainly all signs point to a brighter future for the Welsh, which is more than could be said of Scotland on Saturday. Yet it is only 11 years since Scotland last qualified for an international tournament, while for Wales it has been a long 51 years since that 1958 World Cup quarter-final defeat against a Pele-inspired Brazil.
After 51 long years Welsh fans will hope that more days like Saturday are on the horizon.