|Young Guns Blog by John Jones.|
Ethan Ampadu (Chelsea)
Ethan has not been involved in many first team games in his time at Chelsea but everyone anticipates that this is a statistic that will soon be altering in the months and seasons ahead. Though the evidence to judge him upon may be a little lacking in quantity, the quality of what has been on display has still shone through. This has been likewise when he has appeared in the national team, much to the delight of those proud and fervent members of the Red Wall and along with those of us who join in the passion of urging a Welsh team to successful outcomes. Undoubtedly he has the potential to become the talisman of the Welsh football team as the future unfolds and be classed alongside the giants of the game at the end of what could be a tremendously successful career.
David Brooks (Bournemouth)
The move to the south coast club has been an ideal one for Davidís development. A wise management team along with a group of skillful players have established Bournemouth as a Premier League club, the addition of players with added qualities such as David, escalates the probability of consolidating this position. He has already contributed well in their season so far and considering that his total first team experience is still quite short, it is expected for there to be continuing improvements in his game as he gathers the knowledge of how to beneficially maximize his mental and physical attributes over time. A successful result of this quest would see David become increasingly influential during his performances in Premier League matches, something surely a valuable commodity when representation for Wales would occur.
Rabbi Matondo (Manchester City)
I must admit my surprise at the rapid rate Rabbi moved from schoolboy to senior Wales international. Teenage internationals are an occurrence that usually involves talented players and certainly Rabbi has been labelled as such. Generally, it is either a case of the exhibition of exceptional skills or in to fill a void in a team that it occurs and his appearance in a Welsh shirt caught me off guard as I believed that neither criteria applied. I recently read a scouting report on Rabbi, one that gave him a lot of credit but also pointed out a couple of important facets of his play that need improving for him to succeed at the top level. Although what I have witnessed of his play is a very small sample and can at best be labelled an opinion and no more, my thoughts of him were in agreement with what was expressed by the scout. Summing up, I feel that undoubtedly he has the potential to be an exceptional talent, he hasnít quite reached it as yet. This, along with the fact that Wales were not lacking in have quality options already available to them was my evaluation of the situation beforehand. Undoubtedly, Manchester City have high regard for him, supported by the fast tracked path they have placed him on. Ryan Giggs seemingly has a likewise opinion of his talent. My characterization of him, is a young man full of dedication and determination to have achieved his present status and this makes me believe he is capable of easily smoothing out what I have suggested are some rough edges in his game. Acknowledging that my expertise in judging talent is well below that of the Manchester City management staff as well as their Wales counterparts, an exceptional talent he may already be, refinements to his skills will certainly place him in that category and the Wales team will gain a tremendous benefit.
Chris Mepham (Brentford)
Chris may well have been a Premier League player already had Brentford not been unwilling to part with his services for what was purported to be a substantial offer in exchange. It does seem that being part of a Premiership squad is his destiny, probably sooner rather than later. The added games he consequently plays in the Championship will possibly prove to be a valuable amount of extra experience to help him in the transition when it happens. Defensive strength, of course allied with other important components, was a big key in qualification and then subsequent success for the Euro 2016 odyssey. Chris is expected to play a big part in continuing to prevent opposition to Wales teams gaining attacking dominance during future matches, thereby increasing the chance of added euphoric times for Wales fans.
Tyler Roberts (Leeds United)
It has been a somewhat of a frustration for Tyler since his move to Leeds occurred in January 2018. Missing the remainder of last season due to injury robbed him the opportunity to stake a regular place in the team. This season, the team has been doing well with minimal use of his services and so he has seen limited playing time. It is far from all bad though, the new manager has a fantastic track record and is one that Tyler can benefit from through association, a fact that the young man has already conceded is so. Another positive is that Ryan Giggs has awarded him his first senior caps this season, indicating that Tyler has the skills to fill the striker position for the Wales team in the future. As time moves on, Tyler will surely develop into a regular first team player at both club and international level, gaining the experience which will see improvements in his game. An increasingly influential Tyler Roberts, performing so whilst wearing a Welsh senior team shirt, will provide another important piece inserted in the puzzle solving venture Ryan and his staff are trying to be successful at.
Matthew Smith (Manchester City Ė on loan at FC Twente Enschede)
Awarding Matt his first senior cap in the match against Mexico last season, certainly raised many eyebrows amongst some of the most fervent of Wales fans. He was a new name to many, even those with a little more knowledge realized his experience was limited to competing in developmental football. Though this part of his career had been extremely impressive, still a big step from there to international football, gave credence to the views of those supporters unsure of what kind of philosophy was being applied. Fast forward to the present and I think it is fair to say that Ryan Giggs has a good eye for evaluating talent. Matt is now on loan at Twente, Manchester City having decided that he was ready to be challenged with first team football. The answer he has provided to the query presented by his parent club is a very positive one. He has exhibited that he is not only more than capable of competing in second tier Dutch football, he has frequently played a starring role for the team. He has also added to that first cap and fitted comfortably at international level when called upon. Of course it is still a stage of his career whereby he is very much in the learning process, the evidence of how well the lessons have been absorbed suggests that we are witnessing the development of a tremendous career for this young man.
Harry Wilson (Liverpool Ė on loan at Derby County)
I think that all of you know about all that is needed to know about Harry at present. I will therefore be quite brief in this case, no point in repeating known stuff. I think the most appropriate comment is, very well done young man. Carrying on from when he caught the eye for both Hull City and Wales last season, his deeds this season have been even more spectacular. For us Wales fans, it has been a while coming since his introduction to the public eye with a senior international cameo appearance as a 16 year old. Extremely young at that time, he is still young enough to be considered as in the learning phase of his career. If he can continue to develop and go on to bigger and better things, all I will say is wow and another very well done.
Ben Woodburn (Liverpool Ė on loan at Sheffield United)
Where do I start? I am sure that many Wales fans have a feeling of disappointment in how this first half of the season has transpired for Ben. I am not one, my belief is that it can be classified as a temporary setback for the time being. The loan move has certainly not developed as anticipated. If my memory serves me correctly, some small injury issues in the early season were not particularly helpful. The players Ben was projected to compete with, both in starting roles and as bench players have performed at least as well and often better than had been anticipated. This, along with the team producing sufficient good results keeping them in the upper reaches of the league table has alleviated the manager needing to ponder much change to his game line up decisions. Ben has therefore been very much on the outside looking in, a situation not helpful to either player or the clubs. According to all that I have seen published about the situation, Ben will not be at Bramall Lane for the second half of the season. What Liverpool will evaluate and decide remains to be seen. Whatever it is, my belief is that Ben will rebound from this. The talent we have seen on display previously is evidence that he is a special one and from what I have been led to believe his character has not been questioned. He will find a way to get his career back on track again. Hopefully, this column will contain some positive words in regard to Ben during the second half of this season. Even if not, he is young with time on his side and there will be plenty of good things to say about him in issues beyond that time. He is too good and will certainly be able to bounce back from this.
It is already an extremely long dissertation this week, but I still feel that I need to add some concluding comments, briefly as is possible for me, I hope. These young men discussed this week all have exhibited a strong potential to be top class players. Not only that, they have been tested at something approaching that level and shown glimpses that they can transform that potential into reality. Undoubtedly, they are still very much in the learning mode and will need to continually add to, maybe, modify their game, produce top class performances on a regular basis, along with doing this for a considerable period before any lauding as being amongst those influential at the top level occurs. What a thought though, if they all get to that point, what a team Wales may possibly have in the years ahead. Before we get too carried away in positive thoughts, we need to remember that it is through a team effort that Wales will succeed though. Having the finest individual talent possible is extremely helpful, but it will need to combine together to make the whole even stronger. I am not questioning their ability to do so in that regard, just saying that all the pieces, even some ancillary ones, need to fit to make it all work. Am I excited by the prospect? Yes. Have I followed football for long enough to know that even the most obvious expectation can evapourate and disappear almost without trace? Yes. All I can therefore say is, using a comparison of the Wales team with a picture puzzle, the following words. The picture is certainly better than at a comparable instance for many previous regimes. Important and key pieces are already in place but it only provides a vague idea of the final product. The other pieces do seem to be available and ready to be inserted in place. Is it easy to solve? A good question, maybe best answered in this way. Decisions by management in how it all fits in the most aesthetic way will be critical. Equally so, the players must respond to the demands put upon them, provide support and encouragement for each other to the maximum of their ability. What will that final picture look like? Hopefully it will be one good enough that we at the least, enjoy looking at from time to time. It may be one that catches our attention regularly and feel it is quite attractive. The pieces are not exactly clear when viewed at present, but if they do happen to fit in a way to provide a picture we adore, it could be one ingrained in memories for a long time. Sorry, brevity is a talent even weaker than the other mediocre ones I possess.
Daniel James (Swansea City)
After making his Swansea first team debut with a substitute appearance in the FA Cup last season, Daniel is now firmly established as a first team squad member and has a double digit amount of starting eleven assignments to his credit. Having shown his ability to not only play at Championship level, but also to be a key member of the team in attaining positive results, has also raised his profile enough to see him receive a call up to the Wales senior squad as a replacement for an injured absentee. Undoubtedly, as he continues to gather experience, which participation in first team football games provides, he will hopefully be able to improve his abilities even further than they have presently reached. Reaching such goals would then see his name projected as one that should get increasingly strong considerations for inclusion in original national squad announcements.
Joe Rodon (Swansea City)
It has certainly been an exciting last few months for Joe, a time that has seen him not only make his first team debut for Swansea but also manage to produce game performances that have resulted in a regular starting berth in the team. His contribution has helped see the side labelled as defensively solid as it adjusts to Championship competition. Obviously fans were hopeful an immediate return to the Premiership was possible, it does not seem likely, although with half a season remaining it cannot be discounted by any means. What is encouraging are the signs that they are progressing toward that possibility as opposed to tumbling down the leagues as sometimes happens to recent Premier League casualties. For someone like me, there is a bonus of the promotion of Welsh players into the team, they having provided improvement of it in a time of rebuilding. Joe has quickly asserted himself as a deserved fan favourite for the part played in these displays, an added comment from many of those who have watched his confident control of situations, was that there should be selection for the Wales senior squad. It does seem inevitable that a senior cap will be awarded at some point in the near future.
George Thomas (Leicester City Ė on loan at Scunthorpe United)
In his first season after the move from Coventry City to Leicester, George made enough of an impression playing developmental football for their U-23 team to warrant end of season consideration for the first team. This resulted in a couple more bench appearances to add to the one he had been utilized during the heavily congested fixture period at the turn of the year. No playing time was granted and so he has as yet, not made a first team appearance for his home town club. The recognition, along with good displays for the Wales U-21 team, did however see his inclusion in the end of season Wales senior squad and the gaining of his first cap at that level when entering the match played in Los Angeles as a substitute. Leicester decided that first team football would provide a greater benefit in progressing Georgeís career than any further U-23 competitive situation and so he has been loaned out to Scunthorpe where he is having a reasonable season so far.
These 3 young men are very much a part of the Wales senior squad future plans and certainly provide the management team competent options to consider when injury rules out members of the squad at present. As the experience of first team football grows, those maybe ahead of them now, will realize that unless the quality of their play remains at a high level, candidates for replacement are very much available.
Mitchell Clark, Cian Harries and Joe Morrell are also players deserving of a mention. All three have continued to add to in the last few months, what had been previously a good rate of progress in building a successful career. Mitch has impressed many during his loan assignment at Port Vale and will surely be a first team player at his parent club Aston Villa before too long. Cian and Joe have both become members of the first team squads at their respective clubs this season and have brief appearances in Championship matches in their resume. They are working hard to convince the management of their clubs, Swansea and Bristol City for consideration of further opportunities to prove their worthiness when wearing that first team shirt on the field of play. Regular appearances in Championship matches would seem a viable aim for these three and consideration for selection in a Wales senior squad would almost surely follow such events. Though not mentioned by name, I think it is also fair to mention with a general complimentary comment, that there are others within the young guns brigade who have had a positive time during the last few weeks. Adding to first team experience resumes or making first team debuts has been a reason for these young men to pleasingly catch my attention and with it my offer of congratulations to them. Over time they may well move towards a more prominent mention of their accomplishments.
My proposals, presented over the last 2 weeks, can be interpreted as a forecast of an extremely bright future for the Wales team and its quest for positive results in important matches. All the players are young and have progressed well enough in their careers so far to impress those who have witnessed their abilities. Added to this is a consensus opinion of their quality being one that has potential to be even more productive on the football field in the future. Imagination focuses on the positive side and using it to project in that way could easily cause a Wales fan to salivate effusively at the prospect of witnessing influential contributions driving the team to successes in competitive circumstances. Fun as it may be to view the future through those rose tinted eyepieces we wear, we also must remember that it is still mainly conjecture at this point although it does produce an element of wanting time to move rapidly forward, if it is going to develop as we wish.
I could finish now with a feeling that I have posed a narrative, if done so with a correct deductive ability, envisioning The Red Wall as a thronging mass in rapturous delight during and after future matchday occasions. I do however, need to add, that as bright the colours may seem to be in the picture I am trying to paint in your minds, a potentially more vibrant canvas may yet evolve. As strong in content as the list of names I have provided does seem, it may be supplemented further in the times ahead with even more candidates for inclusion. The Welsh Way in developing young talent seems to be a conveyor belt of nurturing their charges in a manner of mutual benefit. It is early days, with much still waiting to be achieved, but I think I am correct in suggesting that in the groups of talent, younger than those mentioned in these recent issues, there are some who may in time be pushing whoever may be incumbent in the Wales senior squad with the need to maintain a very high standard of performances, or risk the possibility of being replaced by those more deserving of inclusion. Am I moving inexplicably toward a fantasy presentation by contemplating a time ahead where the greatest means of producing a critical evaluation of a Wales manager could be the use of putting forward names of those excluded from a squad selection, such would be the depth of talent available. Are we on a ride toward fairy tale times?¬† With that question, I conclude my three part review.
Now, as we move along with 2019 arrived, maybe a year when some special things begin, I will be back next time with some more young gun names and associated discussions.
All that remains, is for me to wish you a very Happy New Year, may 2019 be a successful time for Welsh football, all things Welsh really. If so, many will be more than ready to celebrate the arrival of 2020 and wear those red shirts on some European sojourns in the early summer of that year. Let us enjoy these next few days and months first though, time will go fast enough anyway. Cheers for now, the third (and final) part of my review of the season so far, will be presented next week. As always also, my thanks to Neil for providing another year of a service we like so much, giving us an avenue where information about Wales international football can be easily found, in my case also giving me the opportunity to try and make a meaningful contribution, though rambling and unwieldy a one, it is at times.
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