Wales Watch: The Welsh wingers are on fire

It was a third goal in four games for Bournemouth winger David Brooks, who scored the second in a 3-0 victory against Fulham. The playmaker has been something of a revelation in recent times for Eddie Howe’s side after a goalless start to the season.

Paul Dummett kept a clean sheet at the back for Newcastle in a 0-0 draw with Southampton, as did Ashley Williams for Stoke as they beat Bristol City 1-0 away from home. Joe Allen assisted the only goal of the game with a headed pass.

There wasn’t much action for Aaron Ramsey, who only came on for the last 15 minutes of Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Wayne Hennessey‘s Crystal Palace. Sam Vokes, who played an hour for Burnley, was part of the team that lost 4-0 at home to Chelsea.

Dan James continued his very impressive form on the left wing for Swansea, grabbing an assist for a second goal to seal a 2-0 win at home. Connor Roberts played in an advanced role on the right, Joe Rodon kept another clean sheet at the back and Declan John came on for the final few minutes in a rare appearance since joining in August.

Tom Lawrence and Harry Wilson played 90 minutes for Derby, but were unable to impact the scoreline of 1-1 with Tony Pulis’ Middlesborough side. Chris Maxwell and Andrew Hughes both played 90 minutes for Preston, as did Chris Mepham for Brentford, but neither could keep a clean sheet.

Ben Woodburn returned to the bench for Sheffield United and didn’t make an appearance, however, Keiron Freeman played 90 minutes in their 4-2 win against Wigan. Another Welsh full-back, Morgan Fox popped up with an assist for his club Sheffield Wednesday, but they lost the game 3-1 against Birmingham.

Wes Burns netted his fourth of the season for Fleetwood, and 24-year-old right-back Liam Shepherd scored his second goal of the week for League Two team Forest Green.

Although coming close to scoring on Sunday, Gareth Bale‘s Real Madrid were beat emphatically in El Clasico at the Nou Camp 5-1. Another Welsh expat, Matt Smith, is having a much better time with FC Twente. The Dutch side won again on Friday, taking them to third place in the league table.

Follow the blog on Twitter to receive the latest news regarding Welsh football.

Read more:
• Doidge opens his account for Bolton
• Match Report: Rep. of Ireland 0-1 Wales 
• Chris Mepham is “loving” his season with Wales and Brentford 

Doidge opens his account for Bolton in the Championship

Christian Doidge was the only notable Welsh player in the top divisions on the scoresheet this week. He signed for Championship side Bolton Wanderers from Forest Green Rovers on deadline day in August and netted his first goal against Rotherham on Saturday, after coming on as a second-half substitute.

26-year-old Doidge was a prolific goal scorer in the lower leagues but has never featured for Wales at any age grade.

It was fantastic news for Cardiff City on Saturday, winning their first Premier League game of the season in a dramatic 4-2 win over Fulham. Jazz Richards was brought on in the last 15 minutes to see out the victory.

Ben Davies was back in action for Spurs and played 90 minutes as they beat West Ham. Other Welsh left-backs, Paul Dummett, Andrew Hughes and Neil Taylor also played 90 minutes for Newcastle, Preston and Aston Villa, respectively.

David Brooks and Sam Vokes once again had Premier League starts and both were subbed around the hour mark. Aaron Ramsey came on for ten minutes in his return to the Arsenal squad.

It was a strange weekend for on-loan Sheffield United player Ben Woodburn as he turned out for Liverpool U23’s instead. Woodburn has not had much game time this season under Chris Wilder and it is thought that there’s a clause in his contract to guarantee a certain amount of games throughout the season.

Despite a solid performance for Liverpool U23’s, it was Welsh U21 international, Isaac Christie Davies who got his name on the scoresheet in the 77th minute.

Swansea gave a debut to youngster Cian Harries on Saturday in a 1-0 loss against Aston Villa. He played alongside regular Joe Rodon in a back three and was replaced by winger Daniel James around the 50 minute mark. Connor Roberts played his usual 90 minutes at right wing-back. James Chester was back to captain the Villa side under new manager Dean Smith.

It was a bad weekend for Chris Mepham as he was sent off for a second bookable offence for Brentford. Joe Allen and Ashley Williams played 90 minutes in Stoke’s fifth loss of the season, meanwhile, Gareth Bale came on at half-time to try and salvage a win for Real Madrid, but ended with another defeat.

Lee Evans and Harry Wilson played 90 minutes for Wigan and Derby in their sixth league wins of the season. Tom Lawrence was brought on in the 36th-minute for Derby.

Matt Smith started for FC Twente and was brought off after an hour as they went 4-0 up. They ended up winning emphatically away from home; the game finished 6-1.

Follow the blog on Twitter to receive the latest news regarding Welsh football.

Read more:
• Match Report: Rep. of Ireland 0-1 Wales
• Chris Mepham is “loving” his season with Wales and Brentford 
• Giggs and Williams speak ahead of clash with Spain 
• Harry Wilson eager to fulfil childhood dream 
• Everything you need to know about Joe Rodon – the latest Wales call-up 

Match report: Rep. of Ireland 0 – 1 Wales

Wales recorded their second victory in as many months against the Republic of Ireland in Dublin on Tuesday night.

Wales have only won three competitive games without Gareth Bale or Aaron Ramsey in twelve years, however a magnificent free kick from Harry Wilson ensured that Wales’ footballing future is most definitely in good hands.

The first chance of the game fell to Ireland, when Matt Smith slipped on the edge of the 18-yard box, following Giggs’ instruction of passing from the back. Cyrus Christie pounced on Smith’s mistake guided the ball towards Hennessey’s bottom left corner, forcing him into a good save in the opening ten minutes.

Ben Davies and Connor Roberts started to push high in attack, with Matt Smith or Joe Allen dropping into back four in their absence. Despite forcing Ireland to press high, Wales could not force an opening to hurt Ireland.

The first 30 minutes saw both teams cancelling each other out. Wales and Ireland enjoyed spells of possession but struggled to find a way to break each other down.

Ben Davies was booked on 32 minutes for a rash challenge on Harry Arter, meaning he will miss Wales’ final Nations League match against Denmark in November.

David Brooks was by far Wales’ brightest player in the first half; his quick feet and guided movement caused Ireland problems down the right side.

A low ball from Brooks into Tyler Roberts looked dangerous, but the forward couldn’t get enough power in his strike to trouble Darren Randolph.

Matt Smith recovered well from his earlier mistake by throwing his body on the edge of the 18-yard box to block a powerful Irish shot. His passing was excellent and looked comfortable next to Joe Allen in midfield.

The first chance of the second half fell to Wales, when Arter brought down Connor Roberts on the edge of the box.

Harry Wilson, who scored a world-class free kick against Man Utd recently, stepped up and struck it straight into the top left corner, leaving Randolph no chance of a saving it.

Wales looked much brighter after going 1-0 up, but Ireland almost found a reply when Jeff Hendrick edged through the Wales defence and shot straight at Hennessey.

On 73 minutes, Smith started a Welsh counter attack by playing a through ball to Lawrence, and the Derby winger was able to force a corner.

From that same set piece, James Chester almost scored his first goal in a Wales shirt from Wilson’s perfectly drilled cross, but he headed wide.

Wales continued the pressure, this time with Tyler Roberts, who was slightly off balance when he hit the ball wide.

Ireland’s counter attacks were few and far between. A break in the 81st minute only led to a comfortable save for Hennessey, even though Ireland were throwing players forward into the Welsh half.

Giggs enforced a more defensive shape for Wales with three new introductions late in the second half. George Thomas played in an unfamiliar central midfield role, Chris Gunter came on at right-back and Andy King came on to make a three in midfield.

The result looked confirmed as the game headed into the 90th minute, but McClean almost changed that with a powerful strike. Hennessey’s solid performance between the sticks continued when he saved the shot and followed this up by collecting a cross with ease.

The final Welsh chance of the match fell to youngster, George Thomas. Tyler Roberts played him into a one-on-one with Randolph, but he squandered this golden opportunity to secure the game with a second goal for Wales.

Ireland had one more opportunity and sent Randolph up for a corner in a desperate attempt to equalise. However, this came too late for the Irish and Wales secured their second win over Ireland in a matter of weeks, taking them to first in the group with one game remaining.

Player ratings:
Wayne Hennessey (7), Connor Roberts (6), Ashley Williams (7), James Chester (6), Ben Davies (6), Joe Allen (6), Matt Smith (7), David Brooks (7), Harry Wilson MOTM (7), Tom Lawrence (6), Tyler Roberts (7).

Subs: George Thomas (6), Chris Gunter & Andy King (not enough time on the pitch).

Follow the blog on Twitter to receive the latest news regarding Welsh football.

Read more:
• Chris Mepham is “loving” his season with Wales and Brentford
• Giggs and Williams speak ahead of clash with Spain 
• Harry Wilson eager to fulfil childhood dream 
• Everything you need to know about Joe Rodon – the latest Wales call-up 

Chris Mepham is “loving” his season with Wales and Brentford

In an interview with Chris Mepham this week, he spoke about his Wales & Brentford career so far, the prospect of facing Spain, the players he looks up to most and the help he’s received with his sleeping schedule. 

How Wales is helping him and other youngsters

“You are wrapped around world-class players and get that experience of being in and around the senior team, which is only good for my development.

“Also when you take it back to your club, having that confidence and spring in your step every week is helpful.”

“The style we play with Wales helps with club football because some of the training sessions we do here are similar to what we do back at Brentford.

“Both managers have a similar style in terms of playing attractive football, playing through the thirds and building up from the back. That helps me and feels quite natural to me.”

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Mepham recognises the importance of being surrounded with experience, especially as a central defender. He admits it’s very good to have those older heads mixed with the younger ones for competition.

“Ash [Williams] and James [Chester] help me a lot. When you come away you have to make the most of the people around and speak to them and see how they organise people on the pitch.

“That is one thing that has impressed me with Ash. You see his leadership qualities and Chezzy is the same; you can always learn from people like that and it is only going to help.”

“I like to think it is good competition with the younger players because the manager gives youth a chance to make their own place.

“But also for the senior professionals to have someone underneath competing will only help them and keep them motivated. It is positive for both.”

Personal progress

“It has taken me by surprise, it has been happening so quickly. It is hard to reflect on how fast it has gone because it seems training and games are coming thick and fast without having to think about the last 12 months.

“I am loving it. I am really enjoying it.”

“The physicality of the Championship, that is one area I have struggled with.

“Playing against big strikers every week and ones who use their body really well. I need to get better at that.

“When we play Spain on Thursday it is not going to be as direct, but it is obviously good to experience both sides of it for my development.”

Facing Spain and the Principality Stadium

Mepham pauses to think about the prospect of coming up against Chelsea striker, Alvaro Morata and co.

“It is everyone’s goal to be marking top players every week.

“In the Championship I don’t have the luxury of marking world-class players, so if it does happen [marking Morata] it would be amazing.”

“There’s that bit of pressure I will face, which you wouldn’t necessarily face for Brentford.

“Especially because I’ve not been involved that long, so I have to come in and express myself quickly. I have to show to the manager why I should be in the team.

“Also, we are playing to win every game we play and hopefully do well in the Nations League.”

Mepham admits he’s never been to the Principality Stadium and his training session there on Wednesday morning would have been the first time. He would have been 4-years-old when Wales beat Italy 2-1 in 2002.

“I think Mexico would have been the biggest stadium I’ve played in, but this will be up there if I do play.

“Again it will be another good experience to play in front of that crowd.

“I am not too sure I have ever been the Millennium [Principality] Stadium. It will be a good opportunity to go and play there.”

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Heroes when growing up

“When I was younger it was probably John Terry.

“When I was at Chelsea, Terry was playing at the time and we sometimes went to Stamford Bridge to watch a game. He was always someone I was keeping an eye on.

“Even in the late stages of his career I watched a lot of him and saw how much of a leader he is around the team. He is a good person to watch.”

“Now, John Stones is a player I watch a lot. Most days I look at Stones’ performance clips.

“I would like to aspire to be like him. He has a similar build to me and I would like to think I base myself on being confident on the ball and composed.”

“Our analyst at Brentford has access to Wyscout, which is where all the club matches get uploaded, and then players can get access to it.

“You go on there and you can pull different categories like aerial duels, passing, clearances, heading. I try to watch as many different ones as I can.

“I think with someone like John Stones, a lot of his work is done during build-up play with passing. It is good to watch his movement when he receives the ball. That is what I base parts of my game on.”

Help from a sleeping coach

“I have been very much involved [with the coaching]. I must admit I have had problems sleeping.

“Not really badly, but it is an area as a professional footballer you have to have good sleep every night – especially when you have a game on a Saturday. You need your 8-9 hours sleep.”

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“For a couple weeks I wasn’t getting that proper amount of sleep and it was important for me to speak to someone.

“Luckily, we had someone at the club who was brought in called Anna. She has worked closely with me over the last couple of months.

“She has given me a few tips – reading books and to rest my mind at night. I have tried to take that on board. I couldn’t tell you the name of the book but it is working.”

“I don’t play video games. I do have a phone, but it is hard to stay off your phone!”

“I am feeling the benefits definitely.”

Follow the blog on Twitter to receive the latest news regarding Welsh football.

Read more:
• Giggs and Williams speak ahead of clash with Spain
• Harry Wilson eager to fulfil childhood dream 
• Everything you need to know about Joe Rodon – the latest Wales call-up 
• Ramsey and Brooks hit form at the perfect time 
• Mitchell Clark “surprised” at not being named in the Wales U21 squad 
• Ryan Giggs announces his squad for the fixtures against Spain and Rep. of Ireland 

Giggs and Williams speak ahead of clash with Spain

Ryan Giggs and Ashley Williams spoke to the media this morning ahead of the friendly match against Spain at the Principality Stadium. They speak about Gareth Bale missing out, playing at the Principality Stadium and the younger players keen to make their mark. 

RYAN GIGGS

Gareth Bale missing the game

“Bale is extremely doubtful for tomorrow with muscle fatigue, it’s not serious just monitoring it. There is every chance he will be available for Tuesday against Ireland. It’s 50/50 at the moment we don’t want to take risks.

“If he’s able to play on Tuesday then great, but my mind is just on Spain at the moment and then I will concentrate on Ireland.”

“We are in conversation with Madrid, but it’s nothing serious. It’s what is best for everyone involved.

“The medial team are in constant dialogue with every club, so that’s no different.

“He had a scan a couple of weeks ago. We rescanned him and done everything we could to get as much information. We’re treating it symptom wise as well, he feels good but we have to weigh up the risk.”

“With him playing club football in Spain he wants to be a part of it obviously, but first and foremost we want him to be fit for Ireland.”

“Gareth doesn’t have to be 100% to play, but when they are small injuries it’s difficult because sometimes in a short turnaround. We’ll take no chances, but if he is available on Tuesday then great.”

Other options in the squad

“We have other striking options in Vokes, Lawrence, Roberts – all can play up top. Or we can play two up top.

“We need the options because Gareth won’t always be there, that was something I was aware of and we needed something different to not rely on top players all the time.

“We need a plan B if our best players aren’t available, but even if they are available we want them to be pushed in training for their place.”

“Nothing has changed our plan, we want to win the game tomorrow, but it is a friendly.”

“Three points on Tuesday are to be had against Rep. of Ireland and we have five days in between to prepare, so there’s a bit more leeway.

“We will try and give everyone minutes tomorrow, with a mind on Tuesday as well.”

Younger players

“I think they’ll be fine because they did really well, especially in the first game. From my perspective it’s exciting, a new stage, a new venue.

“Like always, I want them to express themselves. If they’re in the team it’s for a reason, so I will ask the same of them and don’t expect anything different.”

Playing at the Principality Stadium

“The roof is closed and that was our decision. I enjoyed it as a player and it creates a good atmosphere – something different for many of our players.”

“I was excited when we had the chance to play here, I’ve had happy memories here as well as some not so happy ones.

“It’s a great stadium right in the middle of the city, the view, the pitch is magnificent – maybe too good. We want a good football match to test ourselves against a very good team.”

“We’re lucky that we have so many different stadiums to choose from, Cardiff and Swansea in recent times.

“In every game we think about where the best place to play is, we’re lucky but we take it game to game really.”

Facing Spain

“They have a new manager and were very impressive last month against England and Croatia.

“We’re in for a tough game but an exciting one and a chance for our players to play against in the best in the world.”

“In the last international break we played very well and that’s the standard we set. We dropped against Denmark so there’s things we can work on but if we play to the standard last time against Ireland we’ll do well.

“We’re in for a tough game and we have to play like that [Ireland] again.”

ASHLEY WILLIAMS

Gareth Bale missing out

“Yeah obviously it’s a blow, he’s our best player. He’s here in the group but we will miss him on the pitch, but it’s a great chance for someone to step in and show what they’ve got.

“We want him available for as many games as possible, but it’s something we have to deal with.”

“I’m sure he’s frustrated like everyone is when they get injured, but he’s been laughing and joking and seems okay.

“He suffers a lot of injuries but he deals with it fine.”

“He’ll be in the dressing room tomorrow to help the boys as much as possible.”

“The gaffer wanted me in the dressing room to help out when I missed the Denmark game. I was fine with that and we will go with what he says.”

Facing Spain

“It’s a good game against Spain, a few of the lads have played here before. It’s why you play football, it’s a good test and challenge. This is the type of test you’d want.

“The Spain team are in a bit of a transition stage, a lot of the world-class players have moved on and retired.

“It will still be a challenge. They’re a team with quality everywhere like they showed against England and Croatia last month.”

“We will try and implement our game and see what happens. We must make sure we’re not to get frustrated without the ball.

They will have a lot of the possession, so it will be an interesting challenge.”

“Whenever you can get on the field and get more caps and experience it’s great.

“It’s a chance for all of us to play again together, different lads as well. We’ll find out the team tomorrow, whenever you play against quality it’ll be a test.”

Strength in depth

“It’s the strongest squad that I’ve seen since I’ve been involved with Wales.

“You have to be doing well for your club to play. We have a few players ready to step in at anytime.

“It’s probably two elevens that can go out and be very strong; the strength in depth is fantastic.”

“From what we’ve seen already the younger players seem to be a good set of lads, down to earth and always listening.

“Talent wise an unbelievable set of players, we are just trying to fuse together and see what happens.”

On new call-up Joe Rodon: “He’s doing well I know him from Swansea. He’s a nice kid and we made him sing again.

“He sang something, I cant remember what it was but it was rubbish anyway!”

Playing at the Principality Stadium again

“It’s impressive when you go out there, the roof is closed and it has changed a bit since I was here last.

“It’s something different for a lot of the guys, a few of us have played with the roof closed but everyone wants to play some part tomorrow.”

“I played a few games here and as a pro you want to play in the best stadiums in the world and this is definitely one of them.

“We are expecting more fans and they will make a lot of noise and give us that help we need.”

“It won’t be full, so it will be a different atmosphere [to the CCS]. The Cardiff City Stadium feels like home, we are always keen to play matches there.

“It’s a friendly here and I’m sure the fans will come out and make a lot of noise.”

Follow the blog on Twitter to receive the latest news regarding Welsh football.

Read more:
• Harry Wilson eager to fulfil childhood dream
• Everything you need to know about Joe Rodon – the latest Wales call-up 
• Ramsey and Brooks hit form at the perfect time 
• Mitchell Clark “surprised” at not being named in the Wales U21 squad 
• Ryan Giggs announces his squad for the fixtures against Spain and Rep. of Ireland 

Harry Wilson eager to fulfil childhood dream

Harry Wilson spoke to the press this week ahead of the matches against Spain and Rep. of Ireland. He talks about his progress with club and country, playing at the Principality Stadium for the first time, the competition in the squad and his free-kick practice.

Loan spells with Derby and Hull and a return to the Wales setup:

“It has been a really good start to the season overall. This year with Derby has been great and being a regular pick for the Wales squads too, I’m delighted.

“It was frustrating for me that I picked up an injury last month and missed four or five games, but now I’ve come back and I’m playing well and feeling fit and strong.”

“Lampard has been great. I spoke to him on the phone before I went there and the way he spoke and what he told me about how he wanted his team to play made me realise it was the right club for me.

“Since I’ve been there I’ve learned a lot and his coaches help me too. The way we’ve played in the last month or so has shown how we’ve progressed as a team.”

Wilson stresses that going out on loan was vital for his progress and experience as a footballer. He mentions the wonderful loan spell he had at Hull for five months in 2018.

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“Earlier in the year, I was desperate to get out on loan and get some senior appearances in. When Hull came calling I thought it would be a great move for me.

“I managed to score some goals and get some assists [for Hull], got my call-up to the Wales squad and my full debut, as well as my first international goal.”

“Being a regular selection for Wales squads now is great and I want to stay here.”

Making Wales debut and the hot competition

Wilson is smiling as he’s chatting and is clearly enjoying his lifestyle at the moment. He recognises that patience is key when you’re a young footballer and understands the frustrations Ben Woodburn is currently having at Sheffield United, as he experienced a similar spell at Crewe.

“I made my Wales debut at a very young age. Chris Coleman showed his faith in me by putting me in at 16.

“I didn’t get an appearance for Wales for a few years after that, but I think when you’re that young you’ve got to be patient and learn your trade on the football ladder.”

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“We all know the quality that Ben [Woodburn] has. He’s not playing regularly at the minute, which I suppose he wants like every player does.

“He will come out of the other side as a stronger player. When he gets his chance I’m sure he’ll perform.”

Competition in every position is key to a successful team and Wilson’s strongest position as a wide attacker is filled with mouthwatering options – Bale, Brooks, Woodburn, Lawrence, not to mention being coached by one of the world’s best left-midfielders ever.

“I think it’s a good competition to have, as we all know the qualities each other have. We’re all a similar age as well, so we’re learning these experiences together.”

“To have the manager that we’ve got, who played in the same position means that we’re learning every day.

“He doesn’t join in too much on the training ground, but when he does you can see his touch, his passing and his vision is still there definitely.”

Free kick specialist

As well as becoming a competent winger, he also demonstrated a superb free kick technique against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup a couple of weeks ago – executing it to perfection, to the level of Bale or Ronaldo’s quality.

“If Gareth isn’t on the pitch for one reason or another I’ll be putting my name forward, and then depending on where the free kick is on the pitch – hopefully I’ll be able to take it.”

“I just think that if the free kick is as far out as what it was [against Manchester United], it’s a bit too far to curl it, so I think it’s important to have a couple of techniques in your locker just in case the free kick is a bit further out.”

“I try and spend a bit of time after training with a couple of the lads trying to get that free kick technique, so to see it come off on the big stage was nice.”

“I think a lot of players try and replicate that technique, but only a couple have perfected it – Gareth [Bale] being one and [Cristiano] Ronaldo the other.”

Playing at the Principality Stadium

“It’s a stadium I’ve always wanted to play at. I was there a couple of times when I was younger as a fan.

“The last game I went to was the England game in 2011. I remember sitting there seeing a full house and one day wishing that would be me. Hopefully, that day will be on Thursday.”

International Football - UEFA Euro 2012 - Qualifying Group G - Wales v England

“The Cardiff City Stadium has done us well. Some of the performances we’ve put in there and the atmosphere that’s been generated there has been great.

“I think the change can be good; more fans can go and get the chance to watch us and we’re hoping to put on a good performance for them.”

On the prospect of playing against Spain on Thursday, Wilson says he was a massive admirer of the Barcelona team ten years ago. This was a Barcelona side that included the Spanish talents of Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol, to name a few.

“I watched Barcelona a lot when I was growing up, from 2008 onwards I’d say. Watching them on European nights and most league games, they were phenomenal.”

Wilson’s flatmate and Derby teammate, Mason Mount, was called up to the England squad last week and they will face Spain next week, after Wales’ match.

“I’ll message Mason [Mount] after the game and ask him how he’s getting on and I’m sure he’ll do the same with me. If he asks for any secrets about Spain, I’ll tell him no problem.”

Follow the blog on Twitter to receive the latest news regarding Welsh football.

Read more:
• Everything you need to know about Joe Rodon – the latest Wales call-up
• Ramsey and Brooks hit form at the perfect time 
• Mitchell Clark “surprised” at not being named in the Wales U21 squad 
• Ryan Giggs announces his squad for the fixtures against Spain and Rep. of Ireland 
• Wales Watch: Tyler Roberts shines again for Leeds in midweek 

Everything you need to know about Joe Rodon – the latest Wales call-up

Joe Rodon has become a common name on the lips of Welsh football supporters in the past year, but even more so in the past three months, since cementing a first-team place for Swansea at centre-back. He was deservedly called up to the Wales senior squad for the first time for the matches against Spain and Rep. of Ireland this week, replacing Paul Dummett because of injury.

Standing at 6ft4 and great with the ball at his feet, Rodon has the attributes that every top manager wants from a modern-day centre-back. He is not shy of a strong tackle or a hard header and is a very assured passer of the ball – qualities that are in demand for today’s game.

Background

Joe has been surrounded by football from a very young age. Unofficially, he has been amongst Swansea City FC circles from the age of five or six, where his older brother Sam was playing at the time. He was formally signed to the club in 2005, at the age of eight and has been there ever since.

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Joe Rodon (back row, centre), playing for Llangyfelach primary school.

He comes from a footballing family; his grandfather and uncle were both professional footballers. Grandfather Peter Rodon, who passed away when Joe was very young, started his career with Swansea Town in the 1960s. After a fall out with the first team manager, he ended up joining Bradford City and played for them as a centre-forward/inside-left between 1964-1967 in Division 4 (now League Two).

His uncle Chris Rodon started his professional career with Brighton and Hove Albion in the 1982/83 season, the same season Brighton played Manchester United in the 1983 FA Cup Final and lost after two legs. Chris was homesick and told the manager at the time, Jimmy Melia he wanted to return to Wales and ended up joining Cardiff City on loan for six months in 1983.

His brother Sam Rodon (25) currently plays for Penybont in Welsh Division 1 as a centre-back too. He’s also had Welsh Premier League spells with Haverfordwest and Aberystwyth, as well as playing for West End in the year they won the Welsh Division 1 title.

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Sam (left) in action for Aberystwyth

The family grew up in a small village just a few miles north of Swansea called Llangyfelach. He was a Swansea season ticket holder with his dad by default and played for Swansea City through every age grade. Joe often played ahead of his year group and became a regular for Swansea U21s (now 23s) at the age of just 16.

In April 2015 he began training with the Swansea first team when they were a Premier League club with Garry Monk in charge. Welsh internationals, including Ashley Williams & Neil Taylor were at the club and around the same time, he was captaining Wales at U17 and U19 level. His potential has been known quietly for a number of years and is now on full display for everyone to watch.

Playing senior club football

Rodon got his first taste of senior football with League Two club Cheltenham Town at the beginning of 2018 under manager Gary Johnson. If there was one thing Joe’s game lacked before his loan move to Cheltenham, it was the rough-and-ready physicality needed to play men’s football.

In lots of ways, this short six-month spell in League Two became the making of him – he lived away from home for the first time, he learned what three points meant on a Saturday and what it meant to fellow professionals playing at that level. A relegation from League Two could mean playing non-league football, leaving grown men with families and mortgages forced to take huge salary cuts and as a result, struggling to make ends meet.

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The pitches in League Two are often poorly maintained due to lack of funds, especially in winter. The training facilities and club operations at Cheltenham are nowhere near to the standard of a Premier League or Championship club.

The quick passing and delicate football he had been playing at U23 level would be a far cry from the long ball games, hard-hitting tackles and smashing headers in League Two. But learning this side of the game has enhanced his overall ability and shown him the tough side of football that young players in the modern game often miss out on.

It was during this season that Rodon made his senior debut for Swansea. He is playing Championship football for Swansea City every week and has formed a strong partnership with Mike van der Hoorn, keeping six clean sheets together at the back so far.

There was a worry at the end of the summer transfer window when Federico Fernández left the club to join Newcastle, leaving Swansea with just one senior centre back until January. However, Rodon stepped up to the mark and his excellent performances have seen him linked with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, drawing a comparison with centre-back John Stones because of his excellent ability with the ball at his feet and natural pace.

Rodon is out of contract in June 2019 and Swansea desperately need to sign him on a long-term deal. He will undoubtedly have Premier League clubs interested in him and he’ll be able to formally talk with clubs from January, should Swansea hold off negotiations for much longer.

Swansea City v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship

His Welsh international career

A captain of Wales at U17, U19, U20 and U21 level, including the Toulon Tournament in 2017, Rodon has shown maturity and leadership as a teenager that is far beyond his years. He has been Rob Page’s U21 captain for the last 18 months, which demonstrates the faith Wales have put in him.

Continued good performances at youth level earned him a preliminary call-up to the Wales squad in May this year, ahead of the Mexico friendly in Los Angeles. It was disappointing that he didn’t make the final cut of players, but he clearly made an impression on Ryan Giggs – enough to get his full call-up when he replaced injured Paul Dummett for the October fixtures against Spain and Rep. of Ireland.

Rodon found out he was being called up to the Wales squad on Friday afternoon, a day before the official announcement. But he actually heard the news from his mother and not from the FAW directly, because they had sent the message to her on WhatsApp by mistake!

Despite first thinking that it might not have been a genuine text, Rodon and his family were elated when Swansea assistant manager Billy Reid called Joe to congratulate him. Obviously bursting with pride, they had to keep things under wraps for 26 hours until it was officially announced by the FAW, following Swansea’s match on Saturday evening.

Whether Rodon gets his first cap in either game remains to be seen, but Giggs has shown that he has huge faith in his youngsters, just like Sir Alex Ferguson demonstrated to him in the 1990’s.

The likes of David Brooks, Tyler Roberts, Chris Mepham, Harry Wilson, Matthew Smith and George Thomas have played for the U21’s in the last 12 months and are now all involved with the senior squad – most are playing frequently at good levels. Joe Rodon is the latest name of the age group to be called up to the seniors.

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Rodon (back row, right), captain of Wales U21 v Liechtenstein in October 2017.

It’s a slight shame in one way that all of these youngsters didn’t play together in the latest U21 EURO 2019 qualification campaign; there is no doubt Wales would have qualified for the first time in history.

But the encouraging format Giggs seems to have adopted in giving young players a chance at senior level is only good news for future Welsh teams. There is potential in every area of the pitch – Tyler Roberts becoming the first choice striker, Mepham and Rodon a future partnership at the back, Brooks, Wilson and Woodburn on the wings; it’s only a possibility at the moment, but the action won’t hopefully be far away.

Rodon could make his debut on Thursday, on the same pitch as his idol Sergio Ramos – a dream debut for many players across the world. If he plays for any length of time in either fixture, his performances for Swansea this season have confirmed he has the quality to succeed and the talent to go to the very top for club and country.

Follow the blog on Twitter to receive the latest news regarding Welsh football.

Read more:
• Ramsey and Brooks hit form at the perfect time
• Mitchell Clark “surprised” at not being named in the Wales U21 squad 
• Ryan Giggs announces his squad for the fixtures against Spain and Rep. of Ireland 
• Wales Watch: Tyler Roberts shines again for Leeds in midweek 

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