Toshack set to decide on Welsh old guard
Tuesday 09 June 2009
Wales manager John Toshack will spend the summer deciding whether he needs to build bridges with the senior players who were absent from the World Cup victory in Azerbaijan.
The Azeris are no world power, but victory by a virtual Wales Under-21 side in Baku was one of the most satisfying moments in Toshack's five years in charge. It was noted by many that the atmosphere, attitude and spirit around the youthful camp was a notable improvement on some of the tension-filled squads Toshack has overseen.
And one of the key decisions Toshack will make is how to reintegrate Craig Bellamy – by far Wales' most high-profile and talented player – back into the squad. Perfectionist Bellamy is demanding of himself and those around him, and that has not always had the desired effect on young players. A source close to the FA of Wales commented: "Craig is a big personality, he pushes himself hard but he sometimes intimidates the younger players."
There was a much more relaxed atmosphere around the camp for the nine days that incorporated the 1-0 home friendly international victory over Estonia and the Group Four win over Azerbaijan, the first time for three years that Wales have won such a double-header.
And they did it without Bellamy, James Collins, Simon Davies, Jason Koumas, Carl Fletcher, Danny Gabbidon, Gareth Bale, Jack Collison, David Cotterill and Ched Evans.
But Toshack's remarks in the build up to the game that Wales did not have "senior players with the right leadership qualities" is something that will need addressing. It is understood former captain Davies is disappointed and surprised to be labelled in such a way. Bellamy, Koumas and Davies have all had – or are about to have – operations to solve long-term injury problems, and Davies in particular feels he has been unfairly treated.
Toshack has discovered an outstanding axis of former and current Cardiff youngsters who have grown up through schools football in the city and the Championship club's academy. It is clear now that he will build his side around new captain Joe Ledley, Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey and Spurs defender Chris Gunter, long-term friends who have made a major impact.
Ledley's emergence as a leader of a young side will tempt Toshack to leave the captaincy with the Cardiff captain, a move which would need delicate discussions with the current squad captain Bellamy.
Toshack will be happy to have Fletcher and Davies back in the squad for the reason that there are not many senior men he can call on, and injuries always seem to destroy his plans.
Koumas, who had a long discussion with Toshack in the wake of the damaging defeat to Finland in March, may have to wait a little longer for a recall.
Bellamy's talents cannot be discarded. He is the only genuine match-winner of very top quality that Wales have, but he may be asked now to accept a lesser role in the squad especially as he has figured in only five of Wales' last 17 matches.
Wales' next match is a friendly in Montenegro on 12 August ahead of the World Cup home game against Russia in Cardiff on 9 September.
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