by Tom Lees - 29th February 2016
Chris Coleman has led Wales to their first tournament since the 1958 World Cup
With the 2016 European Championships now just a few months away, here at FanFormation, we will be taking a close look at each Nation competing and how they fare once the big event in France kicks off. As part of our pre-tournament preview, we will be going through each Country and highlighting three of the youngsters, on the fringes of selection, who will be hoping to make their Nations final squad.
Today we look at Wales, a nation that qualified for the tournament against expectations and will be hoping to go far despite lacking tournament experience.
Under the management of Chris Coleman, Wales made history in qualifying for the European Championships, their first appearance in the competition finals. In fact, they have only appeared in one major finals in their history, that coming in the 1958 World Cup. Many great players have worn the shirt since, but many disappointments have followed until now. An impressive qualification, that included a victory over Belgium, saw the Welsh finish above Bosnia, Israel and Cyprus in a relatively comfortable manner.
The team is heavily reliant on star players Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, beyond them there are few players with experience at the highest level, although both Joe Allen and Ashley Williams have strong Premier League experience. There are some promising youngsters breaking through into the squad, the best of which is Tottenham left back Ben Davies, who looks set to represent his country for the next decade. Also young Liverpool stopper Danny Ward is currently holding the third goalkeeping place in the side and will probably travel to the tournament to gain experience. Another youngster expected to make it to France is midfielder Jonathan Williams, currently on loan at MK Dons from Crystal Palace, with a number of international caps under his belt he will be disappointed not to be selected.
Aside from these names, who are the young stars on the fringes of selection that could feature in Chris Coleman’s final squad.
Young full back Adam Henley was born in Tennessee to Welsh/American parents, before moving to England at the age of two, where he grew up. Eventually Henley would join up with the Blackburn Rovers youth academy, where he quickly rose through the levels to become a regular in the reserve side. His senior debut for the club came in 2011 and since then he has established himself in the first team and is now considered a regular starter.
Able to play on either side of the pitch, Henley is primarily a right back, with his main attributes being his athleticism and pace. Impressive displays in the Championship for Blackburn have seen Henley gain his first senior international appearance for Wales, in a friendly match against the Netherlands in November 2015. As this was not an official fixture though, Henley remains eligible to represent both England and the United States, but as he has already featured for the Welsh youth national teams it is expected he’ll continue being available for senior selection.
Henley has a great chance of making it to the Euro’s this summer, his ability to play both on the left and right will be a huge advantage to his selection cause, plus his club form is worthy of inclusion. There could be many national appearances in his future, and this could be the first tournament of many for the pacey full back.
In May 2014 Welsh legend Ryan Giggs was interim manager of Manchester United, and introduced two youngsters to the first team in a victory over Hull City, one was James Wilson, the other Tom Lawrence. That would sadly prove to be the only senior United appearance for Lawrence, and after previously being sent on loan moves to Carlisle and Yeovil, he we sold in the summer of 2014 to Leicester City. The talented youngster again has been asked to gain experience in loan moves since his arrival in Leicester, firstly at Blackburn Rovers and just recently Cardiff City, but the young attacker has been gaining valuable playing time with impressive displays.
A product of the famous Manchester United youth system, Lawrence has represented his nation since schoolboy level, playing at every age group and has been rewarded with two senior caps for his Country. With his increasing exposure to football at Championship level he will be confident that his talents will be called upon in France this summer. Skilful, two footed, with the ability to run with the ball at pace and dribble past opponents, Lawrence has star quality and enormous potential. Able to shoot from distance and pick a pass under pressure, he is a talent that could go on to play at the highest level. Able to play centrally, or on either flank, just behind the front line he could add the extra spark that Wales need and relieve some of the burden placed on the likes of Ramsey and Bale.
It will require some good performances on loan at Cardiff, but Tom Lawrence has everything he needs to represent his nation on a regular basis, and will be desperate for selection in the summer.
Young midfielder Emyr Huws was touted as a big star of the future a few seasons ago, but fell victim to the influx of stars to his then club Manchester City and never managed to establish himself in the first team. He was the captain of the clubs Under 21 side and an impressive performer in the ‘Next Gen’ competition, before going to on to a series of loan moves that led to his permanent departure from the Etihad. Originally Huws began his youth career at Swansea City and impressed so much that big spending Manchester City swooped in for his signature, it was there that he turned professional.
With the shortage of first team opportunities in Manchester, Huws enjoyed successful loan spells at Northampton Town, Birmingham City and Wigan Athletic, before sealing a permanent move to the Latics in September 2014. Currently on loan again at Championship side Huddersfield, Huws is in need of a permanent home to really grow, but he has been gaining great experience on his journeys thus far. A tall, classy left footed midfielder with an eye for a spectacular long range goal, Huws is a player with enormous potential and could become one of the great Welsh players of the modern era. The Welsh Steven Gerrard perhaps, able to play box to box in the middle of the pitch, leading by example despite a young age.
A representative of Wales at all youth level, Huws also has a handful of senior caps to his name already. He’ll be desperate to add to his collection in France this summer, the midfield of Wales is strong, but Huws has all the ability to force his way into selection.
OTHER PLAYERS OF NOTE
Apart from these three names, there are a number of other young Welsh players who’ll have an eye on the selection. Left back Morgan Fox has been a regular performer for Charlton in the Championship, his inclusion may rest on the injuries of others. Whereas fellow left back Declan John will be hoping to get more first team football on loan at Chesterfield to nudge ahead of Fox in the order.
Midfielder Lee Evans has been gaining great experience on loan at Bradford from Wolves, as has Jordan Williams on loan from Liverpool to Swindon, but the selection of either would come as a surprise. Louis Thompson is also on loan at Swindon, from Norwich City, and has performed well for the League One side, but without any Under 21 exposure it’ll be a real long shot for his name to be mentioned in the summer. Attacking midfielder George Williams has higher hopes, with a few international appearances to his name already, and a recent loan move to Gillingham in order to gain playing time, the Fulham youngster will hope to make it onto Coleman’s final list.
Teenage wide man Harry Wilson already has one senior national appearance in the books, though this came two years previously and his playing time has been limited since. Currently playing for the Liverpool Under 21 side it’ll be a shock if the youngster makes it to this tournament. Wilson does have a big future for his country, just not soon enough for France this summer. Bristol City wide man Wes Burns has a better chance though, quality game time at Bristol City and strong displays for the Welsh Under 21 side will have put his name on the radar. Burns will be hoping for a chance to link up with the senior squad before the tournament and show what he has to offer. Finally, there is Walsall front man Tom Bradshaw, uncapped at senior level but no stranger to the senior squad, he has been playing well in League One with regular goals to his name. Strikers are in short supply for Wales and Bradshaw will have a real chance if he continues his scoring form, it may be the third tier of English football, but a confident goal scorer in form could be priceless in a tournament situation.
That was our look at the youngsters hoping to shine for Wales this summer, how do you think the Welsh will do in their first tournament since 1958? Do you think these youngsters will make the final selection? Let us know in the comments section below.
Wales are drawn in Group B alongside England, Russia and Slovakia and will begin their tournament against Slovakia on June 11th in Bordeaux. The Welsh will be desperate to qualify from their group and can’t lose focus with the distraction of the England game, the opener against Slovakia will be pivotal to their chances, almost a must win fixture from the start. Win that game and they will fancy their chances of making it to the last 16 which will be a huge achievement.