Wales have historically qualified for their first major tournament since they reached the quarter-finals of the World Cup in 1958. In the same month, the Welsh have also reached 8th spot in the world rankings above teams as illustrious as Italy, the Netherlands and France.
Of course two main questions have surfaced: Do the rankings actually mean anything and are Wales a one man team?
First of all lets put this into context. Whether the rankings are any good or not, it is still a huge achievement for Wales which should be praised and celebrated. Far too many bitter statements are being banded around, devaluing this outcome.
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Wales are a small nation of just over three million people. That's 5.6% the size of England and 2.5% the size of historically dominant Brazil. For every Welshman, there are 17 Englishmen and 33 Brazilians. The point being there is a significantly smaller pool of people for talent to be developed within. Regardless of credibility, this ranking position is impressive.
On to the main point of this article: Are Wales a one man team? This is an extremely divisive question and actually difficult to answer.
The main factor to consider is just how good Bale actually is. He would walk into any Premier League side and is making an impressive go at a career at arguably the biggest club in the world. Of course, he will stick out!
On the contrary, Wales have an impeccable defensive record during qualification. It's difficult to argue that this wasn't as equally important in the successful campaign as Bales' goals. Chris Coleman has made a name for himself and, as any good manager would, by playing to the strengths his side has. Every manager in the world, with Wales' cohort of players, would build around a top five world player and utilise this as a focal point.
It's not a new phenomenon to the Welsh that one man sticks out and appears to carry the team. Historically three other men have been lauded similarly:
John Charles (38 apps, 15 Goals)
Perhaps a name less familiar outside of Wales. John Charles was quite literally a superstar before his time. Charles was only the second British player to join an overseas team, breaking the British transfer record when he joined Juventus in 1957. In his debut season, he secured player of the season and was the top scorer in Serie A. Fans voted him the best foreign player during the club's centenary in 1997.
His role for Wales was pivotal in their success at the 1958 World Cup. Wales surpassed expectations and reached the quarter-finals, unbeaten throughout the group stages. Charles was injured when Brazil, no less, knocked the Welsh out through a Pele goal and then went on to win the competition. The Welsh manager at the time claimed Wales could have beaten the Brazilians had Charles been fit. A true Welsh legend, perhaps forgotten in the modern era.
Ian Rush (73 apps, 38 Goals)
Another example of Wales' ability to produce an absolute world-beating player every couple of generations. Rush is undoubtedly one of the most instinctive and deadly strikers ever to grace the game. Most famous for his role in Liverpool's period of dominance during the 1980's, Rush also spent a largely difficult season in Italy at Juventus during his career.
Rush remains Wales' top scorer but, looking at the teams he was a part of, a lack of quality is clear. Big names Dean Saunders and Mark Hughes aside, the defensive contingent of sides of the time lacked quality. Future stars Giggs and Speed were merely developing young prospects and the disappointing campaigns he endured were perhaps not a surprise.
Ryan Giggs (64 apps, 12 Goals)
Perhaps the most prominent Welsh figure, prior to Bale, of the Premier League era. Giggs was recently deemed one of only four players Sir Alex Ferguson considered world class. Quite a compliment.
Despite his hugely successful club exploits, Giggs' international career was uninspiring. He debuted as Wales' youngest ever player, but it's difficult to pick out any moments he really stood out for them. Notable teammates included Hartson, Bellamy and Speed, but, unlike Bale, Giggs never really delivered as a top player. He retired from his duties in 2007, confirming to some fans his priority: Manchester United.
It's clear to see Wales does have a knack of producing unbelievably talented World Class players. But only one in a generation of players! Rush and Giggs demonstrated how difficult it has been for Welsh players to deliver world class form for their country. Perhaps this could be down to the sides they were a part of.
On the other hand, Charles and Bale show just how pivotal one player can be in driving forward a nation which traditionally struggles to have an impact on the international stage. Personally, I believe this current Welsh side does feature some very good players, nicely structured around one superstar.
The next big question is: Now they have qualified, how will Wales actually perform in a major competition?
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