Who can forget the 2016 Euros when the Welsh national football team reached the semi-finals, outperforming England and returning home to a heroes welcome? It seemed that there was only one way for Welsh football to go, and that was up.
Since then Chris Coleman has moved on and the Dragons have been taken over by ex-Man U star Ryan Giggs but progress has stuttered. With Welsh domestic teams also struggling in the 2018/2019 domestic season, is Welsh football still in such a healthy state? Here’s a closer look.
After the magnificence of Euro 2016, all attention was switched to the upcoming World Cup in 2018 with the hope of another record performance. Sadly, it was not to be.
Drawn in Group D against opposite such as Serbia and the Republic of Ireland, Wales could only come trailing in at third place, missing out on qualification for the World Cup Finals.
Domestically, Welsh football has seen progress come shuddering to a halt too. The 2018/2019 season was catastrophic for Cardiff who went crashing out of the Premier League despite the best efforts of seasoned manager Neil Warnock.
The tragedy of Emiliano Sala undoubtedly sent shockwaves through the Bluebirds, and who knows what they might have achieved if the player had joined them for the final few months? The loss of key defender Sol Bamba to a ligament injury for the last few weeks of the season was the final straw, but ultimately Cardiff paid the price for their lack of consistent results. William Hill even paid out free bets early to punters who backed the bluebirds to be relegated, such was their dismal performance during the run in.
The 2018/2019 didn’t go much better for rivals Swansea who also failed to make progress. After being relegated to the Championship, the Swans were hoping to bounce back but only managed to finish in a lacklustre 10th position, nine points off the playoffs.
So does this mean that Welsh football is currently in crisis?
Although it’s fair to say there’s been some disappointments for Welsh football, things aren’t quite as dire as they may seem.
In the FIFA rankings, Wales are currently holding steady in 19th, a position they’ve held consistently since 2017. To put that into perspective, just eight years ago Wales were 117th in the FIFA rankings, a stat which reveals just how far they’ve come.
Qualification for the 2020 Euros is still in the early stages but Wales have made a good start, collecting three points and currently in an automatic qualification place. Players such as Ben Woodburn have chosen to play for Wales despite being eligible for England and there’s youth too with creative Man U youngster Dylan Levitt also being picked.
However, for a honest look at Welsh football, it’s essential to go beyond the players currently reaching the peak of their career and go back to grass roots level.
The Welsh FA have tens of projects all over the country, which includes specific initiatives to get girls and ethnic minorities involved with the beautiful game too. Goals for their projects include 50% of youngsters playing football weekly, with 20,000 registered female players and 1500 disabled registered players.
The investment in youth appears to be paying off with the Wales U15s winning the Tri-Nations tournament in April, shrugging off challenges from Switzerland and Belgium. Time will tell if these green shoots continue to grow into the senior team but with the passion and energy of Ryan Giggs and the undoubted talent being nurtured, the future for Welsh football continues to look promising.