Another international break is completed and good results for the various Wales teams gives us some respite from concern. Most notably of course, was the three points gained by the senior side as they resumed their Euro 2024 qualification attempt, along with a creditable draw in the friendly against good quality opponents, South Korea. The Euro’s is however, the be all and end all, as a topic of discussion over the coming months and though nerves were a little frayed and frustration intensified, credit must be given to the management and players for their response after difficult circumstances. Ideally, the margin of victory should have been greater, and the result determined without the need for worrying moments, but they have allowed us to retain some optimistic thoughts. We can look on the bright side and agree that the team dominated the game and were creative enough to forge a plethora of goal scoring opportunities. Added to it we can hope that on more important occasions, the net will bulge at appropriate times along with heeding the necessity to keep clean sheets as a basis of providing a possible path to victory. Confidence will be boosted, and lessons will hopefully have been completely absorbed for the difficult path that lies ahead.
Retreating off my soap box, I move on to an important part of this week’s offering. Amongst the most prominent of young guns who garnered our interest as the new season began, was Birmingham City midfielder Jordan James. After making his first two Wales appearances as a substitute, Jordan was entrusted with a starting assignment in the two recent games and emerged from those encounters with deserved lavish praise, as I’m sure you will have witnessed displayed elsewhere. He delivered on all counts, as he demonstrated his talent in abundance. He performed his assigned duties efficiently, matched the high quality that surrounded him, exhibited by both friend and foe and most importantly allowed his team mates to operate in a comfort zone, as he linked with them effortlessly. There will undoubtedly be stiffer challenges ahead, but he has taken that next step toward meeting them successfully and delivering occasions where the Red Wall will laud him unreservedly. The James diaspora has provided many aspects of Welsh sport with numerous members that have represented the nation in glorious fashion in decades past, giving reasons of great cheer to those of us who celebrate the accomplishments of our fellow countrymen and ladies with immense pride. Are we on the way to adding another name to that historic list?
Unfortunately, sustaining a serious injury in the very early part of last season, Calum Agius therefore missed a substantial portion of his first year as a scholar at Crewe Alexandra, his full recovery only occurring in the latter part. Midfielder Calum has wasted no time once back to playing and performed not only well enough to earn a place in the U-18 team but also to be included regularly in the U-21 side as well. He has even gone a step beyond that, as place on the bench for the early season Carabao Cup tie testifies. Included in the squad for the club’s EFL Trophy match a couple of weeks ago he was introduced into the game for the final thirty minutes or so, earning the praise of his manager for an assured performance as he debuted for the senior side. Identified at an early age for his ability in the Wales schoolboy development system, he has gone on to gain representative honours in the age grade teams and will be a strong candidate for inclusion in next month’s U-19 squad which will compete in the preliminary round of European qualification. A bonus for me to use as I was constructing this article came via the announcement that Crewe and Calum had agreed to end his scholar time early, by virtue of becoming a full-time professional and signing a multi-year contract. Club management feel confident that Calum is on a path to becoming an important member of their first team squad and have rewarded him with this new status. An indication, that quite likely the next first team involvement will happen soon, and that the frequency of their occurrences will be increasing in the coming months. Club and player will be unified in intent, a desire to be challenged at a higher level of football and there may be a mutual assistance toward achieving it. It may also be that a change of club colours is an option for Calum to entertain, particularly so, if another has sufficient interest to match the valuation Crewe will require to complete a transfer.
Derby County central defender Dan Cox was another youngster who had to exhibit patience and determination as he remained on the sidelines when starting his time as a scholar at the club last season. Only gaining full fitness at mid-season, he resumed playing for the U-18’s as he had done a few times as a schoolboy. He also played some late season games for the U-21 side and it seems that the coaching staff have determined to use him mostly at that level of football this season as they estimate him thriving in his progression with that challenge. How soon he can make the step toward first team involvement is a difficult prediction to attempt, but I will postulate for it to be sooner rather than later. Derby’s ambitions are focused on providing their fans with an opportunity to witness the team competing in more glamorous situations than League One competition with haste. That tends to place reliance on experienced operators. All clubs though, especially those outside the top half dozen or so in the Premier League, rely on positive development from within their own club to have any hope of financial stability. Could Dan be a piece of this puzzle that Derby is trying to solve? The jury is still very much in debate at this time, the answers at this moment are uncertain, but a yes verdict is a distinct possibility on the evidence presented thus far. Daniel’s eligibility for Wales teams first became evident when he played for the U-15 team. He has since that time been a regular selection when available, playing for the U-16’s, U-17’s and most recently did so when the U-19’s competed in a couple of friendly games against Finland in preparation for their upcoming European qualification matches.
Upon reaching his sixteenth birthday in September of last year, Cardiff City and Manchester United came to an agreement about the transfer of forward Gabriele Biancheri to the Premier League club. There was a brief introduction to U-18 football last season when he made a couple of substitute appearances and took advantage of the situation to register his first goal for the club. This season, starting his time as a scholar, he will intend to feature regularly for the side. In three games so far, he has increased his total with four more goals, including a hattrick achieved in a recent one. United have an extremely large pool of players assembled in the squad and will have recruited the best quality available to form it. Gabriele will therefore be well aware of the competition he faces for game time and that only acceptable performances can assure that he amasses the experience necessary to develop his ability positively. Gabriele has featured for Wales at U-16 and U-17 levels and further caps are sure to follow if he continues his development in the positive manner achieved to the present. The bit of last minute news that Gabriele has signed a professional contract this week, has required me to extend my verbose as I try to be as current as possible. It provides confirmation that he is a player that club management have confidence in the quality of his abilities and project him to become an important contributor for their teams in the future. Congratulations Gabriele, I believe that it defines you as a person that not only has a special talent but that you also have the dedication and determination to fully exploit your qualities and become a success story in the coming months and years.