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    Young Guns by John Jones.
    A combination of a much reduced schedule for the U-23 and U-18 club teams as a result of it being international week along with the culmination of the qualifying campaign for the Wales U-21 team leads me into choosing a somewhat general topic rather than a direct review of individual players this week. I will do so by making an attempt at answering what I think are three relevant questions.

    How did the U-21 team fare in the qualification attempt?

    The elusive qualification for a place in the tournament finals was never a realistic proposition at any point along the way, the young Danes proved to be a far superior team than any other in the group. Had it not been for a disappointing home draw against what was on paper an inferior Luxembourg team, a win in that match would have secured them what could be conceded as a creditable 2nd place as opposed to what transpired to be a somewhat non-descript 4th place. It would still have been the end of the campaign as that would not have been enough to secure one of the 4 play-off spots. Some credit has to be given that the drawn game in Denmark was the only points dropped by the impressive Danish team, but they certainly exacted revenge in the return game at the Racecourse, decisively sweeping aside the Welsh team with a resounding victory.

    What to expect for the next qualification attempt that begins in the 2017-18 season?

    Though it is hard to define without knowing the opposition teams, I think that it can still be evaluated as a very good achievement to say the least, if qualification for the finals was the end result of the venture. The draw will almost certainly have 2, maybe 3 teams regarded as being equal or greater in strength than Wales. Although roughly a handful of the players who have a taste of the competition will still be eligible for the next version, a large majority of the squad will be untested at that level. This is not a concern as it will be a very similar scenario for most if not all the teams involved. What will be of much greater importance is the talent level of the players involved and there are encouraging signs that there are enough of them to maintain the competitiveness the Wales U-21 teams have achieved over the last good number of years. Of course almost everyone is aware of the young players who have performed in headline making fashion for their clubs over the last few months and they are possibly ones who could be difference makers with a good supporting cast. It really can be nothing but a speculative guess at this point in time, but there are some reasons for an optimistic outlook.

    Who are the players from the present squad that can add strength to the senior squad?

    Whilst the vintage of memories created in France 2016 will stand proudly alongside whatever remarkable wines that country has produced, at least those savoured by followers of Welsh football fortunes, natural instinct provides that insatiable appetite of a craving for the continuation of such subliminal delights. All international teams are by a default of circumstances a continually evolving group of players and improvements or otherwise are dependent on the ability of younger players to supplant those who move towards the veteran stage of their careers. The manager has rightly stayed loyal to the ones who not only produced the necessary displays but also whom he feels are best suited for the task at hand. It does not however disguise the fact that there must be an eventual infusion of new talent in order to progress in any sort of positive direction. Generally, this is provided by the most recent graduates of the U-21 team as their international football education at that level comes to an end. Of those who still had U-21 eligibility this season, only Tom Lawerence has been a regular member of the senior squad lately. Adam Henley, Declan John and George Williams have all appeared for the senior team and Lee Evans has been in some senior squads, but has not as yet earned a cap. If Tom continues to play at a high level in the Championship, he will remain to be a valuable member of the squad, able to possibly make telling contributions when called upon. Adam has unfortunately been beset with injuries, stifling his progress after being very much a stand out prospect in his Premier League appearances at Blackburn. Similarly, Declan, though it was much more of club turmoil in his case, has shown in the past some amount of ability to adequately perform in the Premiership. After somewhat of a barren spell in terms of first team football, the early part of the season has seen him regularly involved in either the Cardiff first team or matchday squad. Another club change means his competition to continue in that vein has greatly increased with an influx of new players. George has not quite amassed the same sort of resume at club level, but has impressed in his substitute appearances for the senior international side.  All three, if they can approach the form of their better performances would likely find themselves under consideration for the senior squad once more. Lee Evans did have a slight setback in terms of form in the intervening months since his involvement with the senior squad, but did start this season as a regular in the Wolves side, an indication that he was performing in the manner of those former days. An injury has interrupted his continued presence in the side, but hopefully it is only a temporary absence. Louis Thompson has made progress to achieve some first team minutes at Norwich and will be another to be considered if he continues to do so. Of the other players who are from the 1994/95 birth years, the goalkeepers seem likely to continue the trend of Wales having at the least, competent netminders included in the squad. Some of the others have shown that they can adequately perform at League 1 or 2 level, but that is quite some margin short of the necessary experience to cope with senior international football.

    As a conclusion I will offer these thoughts to complete something that I hope offers a pleasant read. With the '16 summer odyssey still fresh in our minds, the natural tendency is to crave more of what we just had. Whilst such supreme delights may be unachievable in repeat fashion, a semblance of something in a similar mode is the standard "modus operandi" that will be expected by many. In order for such to be possible and with the assumption that the principal performers are available at crucial times, the squad will almost certainly need to be supplemented. In all honesty there are no obvious candidates unless those mentioned achieve a return to the potential previously indicated. Attention is therefore focused on the group of very young, but also extremely impressive, players that are expected to compete successfully at the higher levels of the game. The question of when to instigate the coopting of these young men into the senior squad is one that cannot be answered easily. There are many to and fro arguments that can be put forward as a possible solution and only hindsight can provide even some sort of means to evaluate such decisions. In other words, we shall have to wait and see what transpires, allowing the manager the credit that the majority of his actions have been of a positive fashion and trust a continuation in this mode. Having written this many words already, I would be remiss in not mentioning the group of players that I had the pleasure of watching play for the Wales U-21 team a few weeks ago. I have already provided comment on what I witnessed during the matches and have no wish to regurgitate that part. What I will add is that I saw talented players with quite an amount of natural ability and maybe there are some who question why I have not proposed any of them as obvious candidates for future Wales senior squads. My belief is that I saw players, many of which can probably look forward to a fruitful professional career in the game, but also witnessed deficiencies in their play that unless corrected, prevents them from succeeding at the highest level. I am almost sure that family, friends and admirers will take umbrage with this sort of assessment and I mean no disrespect. I have no doubt that these young men work diligently at honing their craft, otherwise they would not have achieved their present status, but maybe it takes something a little extra at times to make the difference. My observations were that ball retention and distribution under pressure as well that telling shots and crosses rather than hopeful ones were points needing address. It is admittedly a game where one set of players try to force the other into making mistakes that can be capitalized on and so perfection is not a viable reality. The key is therefore to minimize them and in my opinion I saw it happen more often than it should have. It is a situation where practice can lead to improvement and so it is something that possibly can be resolved in time. All I can add is that whilst they are young and distractions should be at a minimum, is the time to give it their maximum attention for improvement. I will gladly be available to apologize if I am incorrect with my statements and have little problem if I am forced to as it were swallow my words as a result.

    Apologies for such a long dissertation and producing an article that makes for laborious reading rather than one that is succinct. Unfortunately, this is the sort I am capable of and thank you for persevering this far.

    Posted: Monday 17th October 2016
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