Euro 2024 qualifying

Life after Bale: Rob Page faces problems trying to reinvent Wales following golden generation

The modern-day golden age of Wales is over and the challenge now, after failing to qualify automatically for Euro 2024, is to build a major-tournament team without a superstar player, writes Richard Jolly

Wednesday 22 November 2023 09:45
<p>Manager Rob Page with stand-in captain Ben Davies at full-time</p>

Manager Rob Page with stand-in captain Ben Davies at full-time

It could prove a case of diminishing returns. Semi-finalists in Euro 2016, a team who played in the knockout stages of Euro 2020, Wales might not reach Euro 2024. And if there is a tendency to draw sweeping conclusions from relatively few games which can hinge on small number of defining incidents, that is the nature of international football, with its two-year cycles, its stop-start fixture lists, its tournaments where teams are either invited or excluded.

Wales know it better than most. They spent more than half a century sat at home when the great and good convened for World Cups and European Championships. They played in one major tournament in their first 140 years, three in the next seven. Now they have a play-off to make it four in just over eight, to make them seem regulars on the continental – if not necessarily the global – stage. Lose, however, whether to Finland, Iceland or Ukraine in a semi-final or Poland or Estonia in the final, and a different verdict may be reached.

Because perhaps the modern-day golden age of Wales is over. There was always the risk it finished with its most iconic player; a draw against Turkey on a day when Wales could have booked their place in Euro 2024 brought reminders of Gareth Bale dragging Wales past first Austria and then Ukraine by force of personality to earn them their place in the 2022 World Cup. Harry Wilson assumed a talismanic role in last month’s seminal win over Croatia and was influential against Turkey, without the Bale-esque status as the hero. But then comparisons with Bale are automatically unfair; perhaps comparisons with the class of 2016 are too.

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