The news broke yesterday, Gareth Bale, six times Welsh player of the year, second highest Welsh goalscorer of all time, Real Madrid and Wales superstar, our talisman, will not be playing in the final two crucial qualifiers due to injury. Many people have made their thoughts known on the subject, and many feel Wales are doomed without him. Another World Cup Finals to be missed by Wales. But should we write off our chances going into games against Georgia and Republic of Ireland this prematurely? In my view, absolutely not, and here are my thoughts as to why.
Of course having Gareth Bale unavailable at any time, let alone going into these last two games whilst still in the hunt for qualification is a major blow. Wales have not won a competitive match that Bale has not played in for more than four years, and in the last ten matches that Bales did not play, Wales have not won once. These statistics do not lie and for the passionate Welsh fan, could give you nightmares in the build-up to Friday night. However, Chris Coleman, coaching staff and the players, now have the opportunity to show we are not just a one-man team, which is the label that is often tagged onto this group and gain us qualification to Russia and the World Cup Finals. The holy grail.
Since the European Championships qualifications and indeed the finals themselves, where again, Bale played a huge role, scoring seven goals in qualification and starring in the finals, Wales as a team have gained a huge amount of confidence, beating teams such as Belgium (twice) and Russia amongst other positive results against strong European sides home and away. They all understand their roles within the team, they have a methodology for their play and understand their strengths and weaknesses. Remember also that Bale missed the recent qualification away to Serbia, who are a really strong side especially at home, and came away from Belgrade with a point, in a really strong professional performance from Coleman’s boys. There is now a belief in the squad, they are not scared to take on anyone on a football pitch, a message Coleman regularly delivers in his media press conferences.
Another reason for my positivity is players such as Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey, hugely influential players for Wales now have the opportunity to come out of the shadow of Gareth Bale and show everyone, for those that do not know it, just how good they are on this team. Ramsey creatively is a joy to watch. It is almost that he feels that the shackles of the negativity he often gets at his club side, Arsenal for his performances are removed, and for Wales, he is given a freedom to express himself on the international stage. Ramsey strikes me as a player who embraces expectations for his country, and I expect him to be given a licence to get forward and create against both Georgia and Ireland, and I expect him to have massive performances in both. Joe Allen is vital for Wales, his calmness in possession and his ability to take the right option spreads through the side when he is playing. I believe the loss of Joe Allen from the side has a bigger impact than the loss of Gareth Bale, that is how highly I rate his influence on the side. Against Austria in Cardiff with no Allen in the side, Wales struggled massively, we could not get any foothold in the game, passing was awry, and Ramsey and Bale were just starved of the ball.
On Friday and indeed next Monday, Coleman has a decision to make over who comes into the side to replace Bale, and he has some exciting options to select from. Ben Woodburn, the new star in the Welsh football system is one. Each time he has played for Wales he has looked nothing short of an outstanding football talent. Not just for his goal and his assist, but the way he is in possession, always getting his head up, and not looking overawed at all. Question is at just seventeen years of age, is he ready to start now? Another option is Tom Lawrence who has had a few starts for Wales and is playing well currently for Derby County. Lawrence has a bit more experience than Woodburn and has had some decent performances for Wales but as yet has not ignited on the international stage, is this his time? Coleman could also look to Jonny Williams, a player who for Wales has had some excellent matches, with his ability to commit defenders and go past them. Williams has had a spate of injuries which has stopped his progression but is now fit and playing well for Sunderland, could Coleman surprise many and go this route? A final option I want to look at which would be the complete outsider option would be the first start for a player who is in the squad for the first time, and that player is David Brooks of Sheffield United. I have only seen Brooks play live once, but I was so impressed with this young player. He has a good skillset, is quick and is clever how he gets into pockets of space to pick up passes and create chances. Looks a real prospect and an another option for Wales, question being is this an option for now?
I am hoping nobody is reading this piece as me downplaying Gareth Bale as a player or his impact on the Welsh national side. He is arguably the greatest player ever to don a Welsh shirt, and any side in the world would miss him not being able to play for them. Just Bale’s presence on the pitch regardless of his performance in any game occupies opposing players and coaches, thoughts. They often have one or two players closely monitoring him, and no doubt, impacts oppositions tactics and formational line up’s before the game. However, Wales has evolved in recent years, they are a strong international force, and they are now better equipped to deal with his loss than previously. There are alternate options as outlined above and whoever Coleman does decide to go with, what will the opposition know of that player and what they bring to the side, especially Georgia? I have confidence that Coleman will make the right selectional decision, and if not from the outset, as he has shown in previous games, he is not afraid to make personnel changes or formations during games to get a positive outcome in both matches.
In closing, this is a huge opportunity for the Welsh team to prove many wrong, Wales can be multi-faceted and not just have the tactic of giving it to Bale, as some will lead you to believe. Wales have got themselves in a position with two games left to qualify for the World Cup Finals, now to grasp that opportunity, so that fans can look back in years to come and be able to say fondly we got to the World Cup Finals in Russia without Gareth Bale for the final two games in qualifying and won both. This is it, boys. Time to shine.
Feature Picture Credit: http://www.bbc.com