A blog on the Welsh Premier League and the success of its clubs in Europe.
This week domestic attentions turn to the fortunes of the four Welsh Premier League clubs competing on the European stage. The New Saints once again represent Wales in the UEFA Champions League while Bala Town, Bangor City and Connah’s Quay Nomads will be looking to perform well in the UEFA Europa League. Clubs from the national league have represented Wales in Europe for 25 years now, and while results and performances have improved consistently over this period, there still remains much to do if one of our clubs are to emulate the fortunes of Irish duo Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk by reaching the group stages.
It is of course a massive challenge, and the current format of the seeded draw ensures that the minnows will always struggle to make it past July. Coming up against full-time sides with budgets that dwarf the collective wages of Welsh Premier League clubs represents the size of the task they face, and all clubs can hope for really is to draw a club currently embroiled in internal turmoil, and even then to catch them on an off couple of days. However, more and more clubs are regular progressing past the opening round, and even recent defeats have been harsh when performances have been much improved.
Better coaching, scouting and preparation for European games has obviously assisted in these improvements, while more and more ex-professional players from the Football League are adding experience to Welsh Premier League clubs. The question now is what can clubs do to make sure that they are consistently knocking on the group stage door? Eventually it will happen, but in order for it to happen, then it is the domestic league as a whole, and not just the European representatives, that need to improve.
European prize money is the single financial carrot that justifies making significant investment into a Welsh Premier League club. The prize money earned for domestic success does not compare, and it has become common place for clubs to overspend in order to take their slice of the European prize. Failure to do so can lead to eventual demise, while success demands more investment to ensure that they continue to reap the available rewards. Clubs that aim to be self-sufficient on domestic returns only will need the right manager in order to try and avoid an inevitable relegation battle.
— Matthew Burgess (@1matthewburgess) June 19, 2017
If our clubs are to succeed and progress to the group stages of either the Champions League, or more realistically, the Europa League, then considerable improvements to each playing squad will be required. However, the gulf in standard between European football and domestic football in Wales makes such an investment difficult. Players have to sign up for both, and those good enough to be competing in the group stages of Europe’s leading competitions are simply too good to be playing in the Welsh Premier League at this time.
Therefore, it is the Welsh Premier League that must raise its overall standard, and not just the clubs that reach Europe each summer. But that is easier said than done. The league is improving in terms of its professionalism, profile and coverage, but many remain critical of many factors from the fixture format to investment. The league is only as strong as its clubs, but every club needs to be significantly raising their playing standard, and only then will it grow into a league that can attract players that can push clubs on in Europe.
— Connah's Quay Nomads (@the_nomads) June 19, 2017
At the Welsh Premier League’s annual awards evening in Newport recently, Jason Oswell of Newtown scooped both the Golden Boot and Player of the Season, Bangor City’s Henry Jones claimed Young Player of the Season and Craig Harrison of The New Saints was named Manager of the Season. All deserved and all celebrating the talent that exists within the league. Within a month of the awards night, all three had left for the English non-league pyramid system. It was a concerning blow for the Welsh Premier League.
There are many aspects to the Welsh Premier League that it make it the perfect shop window. From regular live televised games on S4/C Sgorio to the opportunity to play and manage in Europe, it is easy to see why an increasing number of young players released by professional clubs are finding their way to Wales along with experienced ex-pros playing out their final few years in a competitive environment. However, young players and young managers do not take these opportunities with a view to remaining in the Welsh Premier League for the long-term.
BREAKING NEWS | AFC Fylde complete the signing of highly-rated Welsh midfielder Henry Jones from @bangorcityfc
— AFC Fylde (@AFCFYLDE) June 20, 2017
The Welsh Premier League continues to improve, but every two steps forward are inevitably met by at least one step back, and it is that frustration which makes its progress seem like such a slow process. Money, and money spent in the right way, is key to the Welsh Premier League and its clubs continuing on the right path, but should our clubs again fail to take their respective European campaigns past July then questions will again be asked about its future direction.
— Mark Pitman (@markpitman1) June 20, 2017
And so the focus should not be on European results, at least not yet. An annual yardstick of progress, what is more important is that the Welsh Premier League as a whole improves and develops, and European results will follow as a direct result of better managers and players being attracted into the domestic top-flight. One of our clubs may get lucky in the next couple of years, but reaching the group stages at this time would be through the failings of the opposition, and not through the strength of our own.
Unfortunately, the Welsh Premier League is heavily, and unfairly, judged on European results alone. Performances and budgets are rarely taking into consideration when the scorelines are retweeted by members of Welsh football press and public. It is the only time of the year when the Welsh Premier League can attract national interest, and that is all the more reason to promote progress and positivity for the coming domestic campaign. Our four clubs have a tough couple of weeks ahead, but a surprise victory can make all the difference.