Football

Wales have always lacked strength in depth

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Bale & Bellamy are two of Wales's current stars (©GettyImages)
Bale & Bellamy are two of Wales's current stars (©GettyImages).

Mark Hughes, Ian Rush, Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy and Gareth Bale. All household names in football, all Welsh, and all have never played for Wales at a World Cup.

Nor have other players of their generation, as Wales have only qualified for the World Cup once, in 1958 and for European Championships once, in 1976.

In 1958 they had one stand-out player, John Charles, who played for Juventus at the time, and was a prolific goalscorer at Leeds United. This was an age when strength in depth was not necessarily needed, as one player could really change the game, as did George Best at Northern Ireland later on. Nowadays, a wider squad is needed to succeed as the likes of Spain and France have proved.

During the 1980s they were blessed with fantastic strike-force of Liverpool's Ian Rush and Manchester United's Mark Hughes. A truly world-class strike-force, and with Everton's reliable goalkeeper Neville Southall in goal, you'd think they would stand a chance.

Then they were struck by reality, those three players were the only three stand-out Welsh players, the rest were Second Division stand-in players, and with the lack of predominance of the Welsh league (of which you could say is relevant to today's game) they even had to root down to the lower league's of the English game to find players to play.

Then in 1990/91 in came starlet Ryan Giggs and midfielder Gary Speed - whilst Rush and Hughes were still playing. Wales now had four players who were top-of-the-game Premier League standard. But only four. Then when Ian Rush retired in 1996, Mark Hughes retired in 1999, we saw big John Hartson brace the English game, and Craig Bellamy take to our hearts as a speedy winger that being in 1998.

Then that era finished, Speed retiring in 2004, Hartson and also Robbie Savage retiring in 2005, and Ryan Giggs hanging up his boots for Wales in 2007. Then Wales are blessed in 2006 with the creative and inspirational mind of Gareth Bale, who admittedly has changed extravagantly since then and now plays for Real Madrid of course after a fantastic season with Tottenham last year.

The message is that Wales will always have stand-out players, even today they do, Bale, Aaron Ramsay, Joe Allen and they also have those who are just bracing the game like Declan John. And if, like it has recently, an injury pandemic hits the squad, they will always lack strength in depth. That is the fact of the matter for Wales.

Just think if Charles, Rush, Hughes, Giggs, Bale, Speed, Bellamy, and all the other stand-out players during Wales's history all braced the game together, we might be seeing a different Wales all together. For now, Chris Coleman can take what he's got, however unbalanced the squad may be, and take the game to the moving force of Belgium on Tuesday, as the pride is always alive in the Welsh team. 


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Topics:
Football
Gareth Bale
Wales
Internationals
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