A blog on Chris Coleman’s latest Wales squad and what it means in the long-term.
Prior to the summer months, David Brooks was an unfamiliar name outside of the respective youth systems of England, Wales and Sheffield United. On Thursday morning he was making national headlines and his international selection was being debated on social media and across radio shows all over the country.
Wales manager Chris Coleman gave his customary press conference on Thursday morning to announce his squad for the two remaining 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying fixtures against Georgia and the Republic of Ireland. A man of the match performance in the Sheffield derby on Sunday cemented David Brooks’ place in Coleman’s squad, especially after he played a starring role for the Under-21s earlier in the month.
But Brooks first came to prominence during the summer in the colours of England after he was named Player of the Tournament in Toulon. Even before he let his football do the talking, he opted to withdraw from the Wales squad in order to represent England in France. Now having met with Coleman and Under-21 manager Rob Page over a coffee, Brooks appears to have pledged his allegiances to Wales, and he has the potential to be another valuable addition to an already exciting young squad.
The debate over dual-nationality is still in its infancy, and it will cause controversy across different nations with different players over the coming years. Each player has his or her own personal and professional reasons for wanting to represent one country over another, while some players may not have that strong a connection with one nation over the other to rush into making a decision. One thing that is for sure, the issue is not going to go away, and how national associations develop and educate their young players may have to change, and improve, to ensure that their best players are not lost to their international rivals.
— Wales (@FAWales) September 28, 2017
“He’s earned it, he’s done really well,” explained Coleman when asked about Brooks inclusion. “He’s been on the radar for a long time. In the derby game last weekend he was excellent. You would have to ask David about his reasons, but he’s chosen Wales, which I’m sure will cause a few ripples on the other side of the bridge. We’re not the only country with players that have dual-nationality and it’s a feather in the cap for our structure. But I don’t feel obliged to cap anyone, anybody that’s with us and has chosen to be with us is here for the long haul.”
It is well-documented that Wales have made huge strides forward over the last decade or so in developing a pathway system and professional environment in which to educate players into playing the Welsh way. FAW Technical Director and national team assistant Osian Roberts has been a key part in the ever-evolving process, while the basic ideals were introduced when John Toshack appointed Brian Flynn to oversee the intermediate setup when he was appointed Wales manager for the second time back in 2004.
— Mark Pitman (@UEFAcomMPitman) September 28, 2017
It was a calculated and valuable decision by Toshack, and it wasn’t long before the likes of Gareth Bale, Chris Gunter, Joe Ledley, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Allen and a number of other players in the current squad were introduced to international football as impressionable teenagers well-ahead of their years. They learnt the hard way, but matured together as a close-knit unit, and avenged those dark times in France last summer by reaching the semi-finals of UEFA EURO 2016.
But while Toshack and Flynn suffered in the early years through their belief that these players would emerge with the right guidance and experience, they would never enjoy the benefits of the faith that they had shown in them. Instead, the late Gary Speed began to see just what these players were capable of, and it was Chris Coleman that would eventually take things to another level. Both Speed and Coleman inherited a young squad with experience beyond their years, and both managers benefited from the foresight of their predecessor.
Now, it is Chris Coleman who is giving youth its chance, and after watching teenage prodigy Ben Woodburn effectively ensure that Wales claimed maximum points against both Austria and Moldova in the last round of fixtures, he has been vindicated. Of course, the circumstances are very different to Toshack’s tenure, and the veteran manager had few other options available. By comparison, Coleman has enjoyed unprecedented international success, and his side remain in contention for a place at the World Cup finals in Russia next summer.
Once again, Coleman batted away questions on his future on Thursday morning, reiterating his mantra that he cannot afford to look further ahead than the next game. He has previously said that this will be his last campaign, and while it could end next summer, it could also end in the next couple of weeks. However, Coleman was in attendance at recent Under-16 and Under-17 international fixtures, and his obvious interest in the long-term future offers hope that he may have seen enough to make him stay.
If not, then like Toshack, he will leave his successor with a squad of talented young players that have already benefited from international experience over and above what they have gained at their respective clubs. Woodburn has already established himself in the squad, while players like Ethan Ampadu have attended a number of training camps and are on the verge of becoming senior international players. These are the players that will shape the next generation, and playing and training alongside the likes of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen will ensure that they are prepared and ready for the challenges ahead.