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Welcome to On-line Welsh Football. / Croeso i Pel-droed Cymru Ar-lein.

Is the future now - by John Lloyd Jones

As we move into 2006, we find ourselves just beyond the halfway point of the present season, giving us a point both to reflect and look ahead.

It is also a little over a year into John Toshackís tenure as the head of the Welsh management team. I am sure that all interested parties certainly hoped for more progress than what seems apparent to this point; in fact I suspect that some Welsh followers are extremely sceptical of any future significant successes. I, however, beg to differ at least somewhat, with that train of thought, believing in fact, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The inclusion of some of the young players in some senior matches gives invaluable experience toward possible appearances in the seasons ahead. The key, being the need, for them to continue to improve, converting youthful potential into commanding club displays at Premiership or Championship levels, making the transition to international competition a little less demanding. It must be said that a judgement of results for the senior team leaves only a very little positive encouragement. However, the admission of some harsh lessons learnt, gives some reinforcement to the belief that John Toshackís considerable experience will eventually mould a competent Welsh squad. The aftermath of the play-off loss to Russia and the eventual disenchantment of some of the players has led to a little more difficult transition period. Those that have remained seem to have a strong commitment to the managerís ability and methods. A successful Wales team will need to capitalise to the maximum on itís own strengths, as well as attempt to exploit the weaknesses of, certainly itís tougher, opponents. This puts the onus very much on John Toshack and his staff to assess  and develop a system which the players at his disposal can translate into a winning match preformance on a consistent basis.

Moving on to a discussion of what may be the biggest single factor as to whether Toshack will eventually be lauded by Welsh fans, is that he must have enough quality players. His own recognition of the need to include some of the younger players in the team and help them adjust to the rigours of international football as quickly as possible has already been publicised. It does seem to me that he may be in a little more favourable position than many previous Welsh managers in this regard. There may possibly be a good bit larger than normal number of young players getting established at first team club level at the moment, with the added expert opinions that their talents can be successful at even higher levels. Taking the greatest possible advantage of these resources to mould in with his established stars will no doubt require careful planning and organisation.

My pre-season article, Young Welsh players, focused on some of the rising talent to keep an eye on, so I will provide a half term report on my predictions. My top two nominations, James Collins and David Vaughan have both warranted their places. Although Collins endured early season injuries, leaving him mostly on the outside looking in, as West Ham have had a very good first half of the season, he has recently had more involvement and could significantly increase his first team appearances as the weeks go along. This can only be of benefit, the two of them are now an important part of the Wales senior squad. Richard Duffy and Joe Ledley have also vindicated my selection of them in the next two places. They seem to be comfortably coping with Champioship level football and have already performed adequately when called into the senior team. Lewis Price is another to have achieved plaudits, to be honest he has in fact matured into a first team choice for Ipswich and seemingly Wales in quicker time than I had envisioned a few months ago. David Cotterill has also continued to provide Bristol City fans with some uplifting moments, in what has so far been a trying season for them. He obviously deserved a placing in my list and I apologise for not doing so, my reasoning being some question regarding his dual qualification status at that time. Now, of course, he has been capped by Wales in a competetive senior match, this is no longer an issue and I do believe that neither he or Wales will regret his commitment decision. Craig Davies has raised some concern with the reports of being unsettled at Oxford. He obviously has ability as he continues to be involved in first team matches and has also  caught enough attention to forecast that he can take his game to higher levels. One hopes that he has, or will soon, put this potential distraction into the correct perspective. As in life in general, the great majority of proffesional sportsmen have to learn to cope with ups and downs, be they fair or not, keeping the ambition to strive to be as good as possible as the main focus. Craig Morgan has been an ever present for the M. K. Dons this season, regular first team football being an indication he is making steady progress. I have to admit that I do not know whether his displays are attracting  the attention of the higher division clubs, as has been indicated he has shown such potential in the past. Peter Gilbert and Arron Davies are the other two players from my one through nine list and they have not had the season they would have wished for thus far. Maybe they are going through those almost inevitable hiccups and will again be in the forefront of names put forward in similar future writings. One very noteable omission from my list was Andrew Crofts. Although I was familiar with his elevation as a regular member of the Gillingham team I did not realise his displays were climbing to anywhere near such levels that eventually gained him a senior cap. Another name who only had a brief mention but likely warranted more is Mark Jones. He has continued impressing Wrexham fans, in fact raising his game lately to a level that has a number of respected pundits predicitng a very bright future for him. Now I will move on to new names that will almost surely be in prominence in any subsequent discussions of Welsh players likely to be senior internationals. Owain Tudur-Jones has certainly made quite an impression at Swansea City, becoming an important member of a League One promotion challenging side a few months after joining from Bangor City. Lewin Nayatanga has secured what seems to be a regular first team spot in the Derby County side in the last few weeks and considering that he is only a few months past his seventeenth birthday, is a noteable achievement. Two more players who I have only become aware of their eligibility since the start of the season are Callum Hart at Bournemouth and Nicky Adams at Bury. Both have a good number of appearances for their respective first teams and so could become welcomed additions to the under 21 squad. Added to this is Lewis Guy, a player I knew had gained schoolboy honours with Wales, but had subsequently been invloved with England at youth level. He may now possibly be willing to put his lot back with Wales and is also gaining football league experience at Doncaster. We can also add Matt Crowell who seems to be overcoming various injuries that have hampered his progress at Wrexham over the past season and a half. David Edwards at Shrewsbury is another with a similar history. They were both highly thought of as schoolboys and youths and can hopefully regain such praise in the months ahead. Adam Birchall is a regular in the Mansfield first team, whilst Simon Spender, Mike Williams and Levi Mackin at Wrexham, Adam Gross at Barnet and Alex Lawless at Torquay are all making occasional first team appearances.

Having followed Welsh football closely for many years, I believe that these players provide the strongest pool that has ever been available for u-21 selection. Of course Collins, Vaughan, Gilbert and also Lee Beevers are no longer eligible for future u-21 competitions, never the less, it still leaves quite an array of talent available. As success for the senior team is obviously the main priority, then as has already happened, a promotion to that squad before the end of their u-21 status is almost certain for some of them. Others will benefit from continued international u-21 competition and hopefully eventually graduate to senior involvement. This leads me into one aspect of my reason for the choice of title I used for this article. There is somewhat of a conflict, needing John Toshack and Brian Flynn to decide on the most immediate priority. The new EUFA u-21 competition requires Welsh pre-qualification for the 2006/7 version. Should Wales field itís strongest possible side to attempt to qualify? The answer would seem to be yes. The need to gain experience versus better class opposition is an important part of the learning curve. This may however remove the availabilty of some players for the senior international friendlies during the second half of this season. A bit of a quandry, but I am sure they will deal with it wisely.

Gaining experience as quickly as possible to be ready for the European Championship qualifiers is also extremely important. Although a realistic expectation that qualifying for the finals in 2008 is a little ambitious, I am sure the coaching staff will be anxious to build a competent and confident squad. Confidence is a result of a winning habit and so there is a need to avoid any surprise results, except positive ones, along with knowledge of being able to give even the strongest European nations a tough match. This needs to be achieved prior to the start of the 2010 World Cup qualification period in order to make the success of a Welsh appearance in those finals reasonably viable.

Lastly, some comments I recently saw, expressing a concern about Welsh youngsters having to compete with even greater odds, as the premier clubs extend their search for new talent to assimilate into their youth ranks, onto a world wide basis these days. This is a little disconcerting, however, I am hoping the FAW pay heed to important opinions voiced in some regularity. There is an urgent need to greatly improve the grass roots set up for their young players. A good national scheme with a sensible budget, would surely have the potential for a high dividend return on their investment, by helping produce international class players and a successful national team. I can cite French football as an example, for many, many years considered mostly under achievers, until they developed their national scheme. Such ultimate results as the French may be an extremely lofty goal when comparing population constraints, but regular qualification for championship finals would provide ongoing revenue to fund it. It would surely be quite a legacy for any forward thinking FAW officials to promote and help establish.

Well I certainly have ended up with a very long disertation, hopefully if you have ploughed through this far, you have found it of some interest. Any comments, positive or negative will always be much welcomed, my e-mail address is  I will leave you with my optimistic belief that Wales have a number of up and coming young players who can help John Toshack fulfill his promise to gain Welsh qualification for the 2010 World Cup finals. There does also seem to be quite a number of talents in the Welsh youth ranks, which, with continued improvement, will almost certainly supplement the present u-21 squad in the future. You can read about the progress of such youngsters in Owainís weekly Young  Guns column, an exellent way to keep up with this topic of interest.

Wishing everyone happy and prosperous 2006 are my final words for now.-

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