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    Young Guns Blog by John Jones.

    The traditional congested fixture list of matches for both the Premier and English Football Leagues over the Christmas and New Year period coincides with a time when the developmental leagues take a short break. The large majority of young guns therefore have a couple of weeks without any games to play and so I will take a break from discussing individual players and conduct a general review of the past four months or so. It is also approximately the half way point in the season and so somewhat appropriate in that respect as well, as we can look back at events and speculate forward in equidistant fashion.

    Going back a little further to the start of 2018, another new era in the history of Welsh football began, with the appointment of Ryan Giggs as the national senior team manager. Mixed opinions of the choice were expressed by the fans, as maybe of most concern, was it being his first occasion in charge of either a club or country apart from a brief interim time at club level. The inherited squad was regarded as competent, but it was also evident that there was a need to find replacements for those in the waning years of their careers. Some young and very capable players had been introduced into it, but more were needed if the improved achievements of the recent past was a possibility of being repeated. As this season came into focus, a reasonably satisfied fanbase were in large part pleased with the managerial developments and cautiously optimistic that the Wales senior team was in an improvement phase. This criteria was achieved in the early months of the reign, a mixed bag of results did indicate that it was very much a work in progress, but there was an introduction of quite a few more youngsters, all showing strong potential to be viable contributors in the squad. The outlook seemingly pointed toward a situation of bold but appropriate managerial decision making, thereby possibly productive in creating a strong chance of having a successful team.

    On to the present season and it has again been a mixed bag of results and so at best it is still a case of cautious optimism. Hopefully it has been a time of evaluation and reflection, with the lessons learnt being a valuable tool in producing refinements that can garner success. There is no reason to doubt it being a real possibility, the team, excepting one instance which may be an anomaly, has shown itself capable of beating inferior opponents as well as competitive with those it is closely on a par to. Up to now, victories against the stronger nations have been elusive and the recipe for success needs to find the solution that will not just compete but also beat them. Apart from the friendly fixture needing to be played in the spring, results for the next few games are going to be a critical component of how we evaluate our confidence in Ryan Giggs as an international team manager. The qualifying group for Euro 2020 has been set and it does seem that an appearance in the finals is a good possibility for the Wales team. It will, however, be far from easy to achieve and the team will need to perform at its potential level in order to do so. Enough said on that for now.

    Moving on to the age grade teams, I will start by stating that it has been a satisfactory set of results gained by the U-21s in the last few months. With the brightest talent already in the senior squad, the fourth place finish in the final group placings can be considered acceptable. The pleasing aspect is that there are candidates in the group that have  the potential to step up into the senior group in time. It would be expected for a couple or so to become new senior caps with some others also having produced suggestions of possibly being candidates with relatively small but key improvements in their game. The U-19s are the most successful team lately, as they negotiated a fairly tough qualifying group to proceed further and have an elite group set of games to contest in the spring. Although much still remains to be realized in terms of an ability to transition into first team football, there is a feeling that some members of this group of players will eventually be potential candidates for the senior Wales team. The qualification attempt by U-17 age group team was not a successful one, with a somewhat disappointing set of results generated in their three matches. Perhaps, not as encouraging as we would have wished, but for players at such a young age, it is a precarious notion to be predictive about future times. As a summation about all the Wales teams, I think it is fair to say that the last few months have not been unduly disappointing, but by the same token there was a general hope that a higher confidence level possessed than it seems we have, would have been the outcome at this time. As already stated, cautious optimism is the most realistic stance at present with a need for effective improvements to produce higher elation.

    In terms of just evaluating from a young guns perspective, a fair comment is that the success stories far outnumber the disappointing ones. In some respect, I am inclined to state that there are no disappointing ones. I am also sure that the previous sentence may well raise a few eyebrows in regard to one situation. As far as that is concerned, I would label it a temporary setback rather than anything else at present. A more detailed discussion on that issue will be presented in next weeks article. Back to the successes, there are a multitude of them. Good progress over recent months has been achieved by many of these young men, the most obvious ones being those already considered members of the senior squad. They are joined by a few more who are getting ever closer to making a strong challenge to become part of the squad and are already included if one considers an extended squad where candidates for injury absentees are required. It does not stop there. Quite a few of the players in the younger age category are being tested in their ability to be competitive in games above what the normal expectations is for them to be competent at. Some, in fact, with such frequency that they are showing that they are very much up for the task at hand. For me, it is already quite exciting to have those that are installed in the senior set up process. Having more potential candidates makes it even more exciting. Making predictions in football is not a particularly wise thing to hang your hat on and so we have to exhibit caution, knowing that the crucial time for any young footballer is when he is given the opportunity to step up into first team football, this is the make or break to see if a viable career is established. This is the point where every fiber of their body is severely tested. It takes a strong resolve as well as excellent habits to overcome that highest of hurdles. The process after that sees them continually tested in their dedication and determination to construct a lasting career at a good level of football. We shall therefore have to wait and see if I am anywhere near correct in stating my excited anticipation.
    As a closing statement, I will put myself firmly in the camp of those who exhibit cautious optimism, adding this bit of further clarification. I am a glass half full guy, at the moment willing to say it could soon have more liquid in it.

    Finally, I wish to convey the merriments of the season to all of you readers. I hope you find my contributions enjoyable and am always open to helpful suggestions for improvement. Merry Christmas to all of you. Indulge and enjoy it to the greatest level possible, but of course always avoid overdoing it. In that way the good memories of the celebration will stay sweeter and longer with you. Until next week when I will continue in a review mode, cheers.

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    Posted: Thursday 20th December 2018
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