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by John Lloyd Jones and Owain Jones
Once again a new season is upon us and Welsh fans will certainly hope for the continuation of good fortunes for the international teams. It will, without doubt, be a very important few months for the senior side as they attempt to consolidate their strong position toward the European championship finals. The U-21 side will also want to continue enjoying some positive results from their matches, giving some valuable experience to players we hope will progress to the senior side in the years ahead. The list below is considered a prelude to the excellent Young Guns Update that Owain will again be providing in a weekly column on the DragonSoccer web site during the season. For anyone unfarmiliar with it, it is a not to be missed read, particularly if you have strong interest in Welsh football.

1)      Robert Earnshaw

Club – Cardiff City

DOB – 06/04/81

Position – Striker

            Although Robert is now considered a regular member of the senior squad, he is still eligible to play at U-21 level, thereby our reason for including him in this list. Without doubt he further enhanced his reputation during a very successful 2002/3 season. Breaking Cardiff’s single season goal scoring record, culminating with the reward of promotion, made him a very valuable member of the team. The new challenge will be to produce a good scoring record at Division 1 level. There has been nothing to indicate that this will not be beyond his capabilities, having already opened his account at full international level.

2)      David Vaughan

Club – Crewe Alexandra

DOB – 18/02/83

Position – Midfield

            Injury caused David to lose a large part of the first half of the season, but this only turned out to be a very temporary setback in his progress. Once fit, he was back as a regular member of the Crewe side making an immediate return to Division 1 next season. For many a player, being involved in team gaining promotion, is regarded a highlight moment. However, three weeks after the season’s end, David played the full ninety minutes when gaining his first senior cap in the match versus USA. Although the injury-depleted side was beaten in a somewhat disappointing display, David was certainly one of the bright spots, playing wing-back rather than his regular midfield position, but still providing a steady and assured display.

3)      Robert Edwards

Club – Aston Villa

DOB – 25/12/82

Position – Central Defender

            The arrival of Robert on the Welsh international scene was a mixture of bad news, good news for Welsh fans. Injury to Mark Delaney gave him the opportunity in the Aston Villa first team, his impressive displays giving rise to much accolade and attention. The discovery of his Welsh parentage led to the overtures of officials requesting a decision to opt for a Wales international future. Soon after giving a positive response, he was in the U-20 side that drew with Korea, was selected for the U-21’s shortly later, but actually made his senior debut instead, when coming on as sub. versus Azerbaijan. Quite a whirlwind season for a player even unknown to most Villa fans before December 2002, and in fact started the season fearing for his future at Villa Park. A late season injury prevented him from having the opportunity to win a second cap in America.

4)      David Pipe

Club – Coventry City

DOB – 05/11/83

Position – Midfield

            After making steady progress through both the Coventry and Welsh youth teams, the 2002/3 season was one where David made a giant step forward. Having caught the eye of Gary MacAllister in pre-season, he found himself in the Coventry first team for the start of the season. Although he found himself squeezed out at times, as MacAllister made a number of loan signings whilst trying to kick-start the Coventry season, he did make a significant number of appearances. He was also an important contributor to the U-21 side, going on to win his first senior cap as a substitute in San Jose. David will certainly be looking forward to the coming season, determined to improve his overall game, probably with an added emphasis on increasing his goal scoring contribution.

5)      Jason Brown

Club – Gillingham

DOB – 18/05/82

Position – Goalkeeper

            The 2002/3 season was certainly a happy one for Jason, as he continued to build toward what may be a very successful career. He consolidated his position as the number one keeper, for both Gillingham and the Wales U-21 side. In what was largely, a successful season for Gillingham, with good results in both league and cup matches, the accolade of player of the season was bestowed on Jason. Maintaining such progress will see him challenging for the senior goalkeeper’s jersey in the years ahead. Although Wales is adequately served for goalkeeping talent at senior level at the moment, they are some of the elder statesmen of the team, so it is comforting to find a young, potential replacement waiting in the wings.

6)      Arron Davies

Club – Southampton

DOB – 22/06/84

Position – Midfield

            Last season saw Arron become a regular and important member of the Southampton reserve side. During his time with the club he has demonstrated his tremendous ability and versatility, performing ably in defence, midfield and attack. Primarily regarded as an attacking midfielder, his ability to adapt will not be lost by the manager. Gordon Strachan, in fact, rewarded his progress with involvement in the first team squad toward the end of the season. Despite being named as substitute a few times, he was not lucky enough to be called upon for a taste of Premier play. Nevertheless, the regard is obviously favourable, as he made the FA Cup final squad. Although he did not make the final sixteen, it had to be a big thrill to be that involved for such a marquee event in his home town of Cardiff. We look for more good news about Arron in future.

7)      Jamie Tolley

Club – Shrewsbury Town

DOB – 12/05/83

Position – Midfield

            In what can only be described as a roller-coaster season for Jamie and his Shrewsbury colleagues, relegation to the conference could not have been envisioned after the defeat of Everton, or even the loss to Chelsea, in their thrilling FA Cup run. Such is the depth of the Football League, consequently giving rise to the thrills of the FA Cup, that one hopes that clubs can survive the tumultuous times of present. Whether Jamie will stay with Shrewsbury as they try to regain league status, or move on, is somewhat in the balance. He will be anxious to move his career forward in whatever way is most appropriate. Already a fixture in the U-21 side, he was named on the standby list for the US trip, showing the regard for his talent by the Welsh management team. An interesting season seems to lie ahead.

8)      Michael Brough

Club – Notts County

DOB – 01/08/81

Position – Midfield

            The Notts County midfielder found his way into the Welsh U-21 team via the parentage rule. He proved to be a very welcomed addition to the side, along with consolidating his hold on one of the midfield positions at his club. Another who will be striving to further enhance his career at both club and country level, building on to what was a very satisfactory past season. A hard working player who will no doubt be doing his utmost to keep Notts County up at the successful end of the Division 2 table, rather than repeat their occasional struggles of 2002/3.

9)      Adam Birchall

Club – Arsenal

DOB – 02/12/84

Position – Striker

            Having developed through the England schoolboy and youth system, Adam was finally persuaded to throw his international future lot with Wales. Upon doing so, he was immediately thrust into the U-21 team, even though still eligible for the youth team. He continued his well chronicled scoring exploits at that level, helping instill confidence into an improving side. A foot injury ended his season at the half-way point, as surgery was deemed necessary. One certainly hopes that he can make a full recovery and soon be back on the goalscoring trail.

10)  Craig Morgan

Club – Wrexham

DOB – 18/05/85

Position – Central Defender

            Although Craig did not make quite as many appearances in the Wrexham first team as may have been anticipated, he is still considered as one of the bright spots of the Wales international future. He seemed to lose his way a little in the early season, but with the astute guidance of manager Dennis Smith, he recovered to eventually play a small part in the promotion success. Although still young, the coming season will be important for him to develop into regular first team material, if he is to go on to the heights of a top class career. There is little doubt that Smith can give him an insight into what it takes to get to, and stay at, the top level of league competition, so giving him a perfect mentor if he has the determination to succeed.

             The following players are added without being placed in a specific chronological order. Many of them will consider the 2002/3 season as somewhat of a disappointment as they failed to maintain the progress they likely expected. They all deserve a mention, with the hope they will exhibit the resolve necessary to overcome adversities, which are not uncommon in many a player’s career.

            Rhys Day – Having become the defensive stalwart for the U-21 side, Rhys was rewarded with the recognition of being drafted as a standby player, and eventually called up, for the recent senior squad. Although a regular member of the Manchester City reserve team over the past couple of seasons, he was allowed to leave and join Mansfield Town. One hopes that regular first team football will enhance his experience, leading to a return to higher division appearances in future.

            Steven Rowland – Injuries robbed Steven of an opportunity to gain U-21 honours both times he was selected for the squad. Having seemingly established himself as a regular member of the Port Vale team, the injuries possibly took their toll, as in the latter part of the season, he appeared more times as substitute, rather than the starting eleven.

            Darren Moss – In what was obviously an amazing season for Shrewsbury, Darren was a regular member of the side, along with being in the U-21 side. Having come to prominence as a teenager with Chester City, gaining the interest of some Premier clubs, Darren lost his way slightly, and it was good to see him performing well for Shrewsbury. Once again he finds himself in a situation where he has to rebound.

            Matthew Somner – His Welsh qualification through the patronage rule has yet to be recognized with selection for the U-21 squad. He has however made a significant number of appearances in the Brentford side over the past couple of seasons and will surely be looking to further elevate his game in the coming season.

            Shaun Pejic – To some degree Shaun found himself squeezed out by the numbers at times last season, as Dennis Smith tried various combinations to improve an inconsistent Wrexham defence. As the team finally gelled toward a successful promotion push, he often found himself out of the starting eleven. No doubt he will be anxious to regain a starting position in the side as they take on Division 2 opposition.

            Matthew Rees – Without doubt the highlight of Matthew’s season was the late call up to the senior squad for the USA match. Some strong performances in the Millwall reserve side led to being named in the first team squad for some late season games. He will almost surely be looking forward to the season ahead, determined to build on this success with an eye on becoming a regular first team member at The New Den.

            James Collins – Another who found himself in somewhat of a numbers situation, this by being involved in a large and strong Cardiff squad. Added to this, the fact of his versatility in being equally adept as both a central defender and attacker making him a selection for both positions rather than concentrating on one. Although this will be a boost for both club and country if he fully develops his potential, he will need to improve substantially on a disappointing 2002/3 season to do so. Expected to make a contribution to the Cardiff cause last season, he very much found himself on the outside looking in on the promotion success, his season coming to a premature end with a broken arm. The coming season could well be extremely important in deciding his future football fate.

            Lee Fowler – Injuries certainly greatly disrupted what was anticipated to be a breakthrough season for Lee. After a frustrating few months, his undoubted ability shone brightly in Coventry’s FA Cup-tie against Cardiff. This was unfortunately his only first team appearance, as he appeared to lose his way, eventually being loaned to Cardiff. Injuries again kept his chance to impress very limited. Assuming he can overcome the injuries, regaining full fitness, the future will be as much a test of mental character as well as football ability. Lee will need to have a focused determination if Wales are to benefit by having him improve his game to international standard.

            Richard Evans – Richard sprung on the scene with his selection as an injury replacement for the U-21 squad last season. No doubt his name was put forward by Mark Bowen, whom he must have impressed in reserve team appearances for Birmingham. After a loan spell at Moor Green, where he again impressed, he was allowed to leave to join Sheffield Wednesday. It was there he made the biggest impression, keeping his place in the first team as they improved their form in what eventually was an unsuccessful battle against relegation.

            Most of these players will be involved in the U-21 squads for the coming season. It is hoped that many of them will develop sufficiently to make the step up to the senior squad eventually. It is undoubtedly a big step, needing a good deal of dedication and hard work to reach such a level. It does seem encouraging to those of us that enjoy prognosticating about Welsh football, that the wealth of talent seems to be continually improving of late. A congratulatory note to all concerned with the development of young Welsh players is well deserved. The schoolboy international team has enjoyed some good results over the past couple or more seasons, which has in turn led to better fortunes for the U-17 team. As many of you already know, there are a good number of hurdles to overcome for a young player to eventually develop and attain a successful professional career. Without doubt, it is a testament of strength of character for each one that does achieve such a level. With that little bit of luck that it takes for any person to get to the pinnacle of their profession, we certainly wish all of them the very best for the future. As already mentioned Owain will be providing the weekly news in the Young Guns, giving an idea of how well their fortunes are developing. Some of the names to look out for will be Gareth Williams and Richard Jones at Southampton, Craig Garside at Everton, Ramon Caliste at Man. United and Liam Powell at Leicester, who will all be hoping for regular reserve team football to continue their development. Younger players to keep an eye on are Adam Gross and David Evans at Charlton, Chris Jones at Leeds, Craig Davies at Man. City and David Edwards at Shrewsbury along with first year trainees Rhys Powell at Bolton, Scott Thyer at Spurs and Chad Bond at Swansea.

            Hopefully this is again an informative and enjoyable dissertation; let us hope the coming season will be one full of enjoyment for all Welsh officials, players and fans. My view may be somewhat optimistic, but I believe indications are such, that the revival of late can be maintained, or possibly even surpassed, in future, as the young talent comes to the fore. Good luck to Mark Hughes, his staff and players.

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