Any day now, we should hear Robert Page’s final decision on who will represent Wales at this summer’s delayed Euro 2020 tournament. While it’s possible that the squad will be named within the next week, it’s more likely that Page will follow the example of England manager Gareth Southgate in waiting until the end of the English Premier League season before announcing his squad. That gives players time to focus on their domestic campaigns before thinking about international football. Managers have until June 1st to inform UEFA of their squads, so Page still has a little time to play with yet.
In the absence of any solid news, we thought it might be fun to speculate about who’s likely to make the squad and who’s going to narrowly miss out. There will be good news for one or two fringe players, as UEFA has decided to expand the maximum squad selection from the traditional 23 players to 26 for this tournament only. That means a couple of players who would normally be cut will be spared that particular heartbreak, but there will still be players sat at home kicking their heels when Wales take to the pitch for their first game against Switzerland on June 12th.
The difficulty faced by Page – and by every other international manager – is that he has to pick a squad rather than a team. Rather than focusing on talented individuals, he has to think about how players from different clubs who are used to playing different systems will complement each other and how they’ll gel as a unit. Each position needs cover. Every player needs a backup. It’s not unlike trying to put together a winning combination at an online slots website, where having the most valuable symbols on your screen is useless unless you can persuade them to line up in the optimum order. Even as we write this, Page is probably spinning the reels of this fictional online slots game in his mind, trying to visualise the best sequence. Anyone who’s ever won or lost money at Rose Slots NZ can sympathise with that. The whole point of playing online slots is to win the jackpot, though, so it’s to be hoped that Page can come up with a jackpot combination of players.
Barring injury, there are a few players who are guaranteed a place in the squad. We’ll deal with them quickly so we can move on to those who’ll be biting their nails while they’re waiting for their phones to ring. The most obvious of them all is Gareth Bale. While the iconic forward might be approaching the end of his career and probably isn’t the same player he was at his Real Madrid peak, he’s still the best Welsh player involved in the game today. His return to Spurs on loan might not have gone the way he or the club envisioned it, but that might have had more to do with his relationship with former manager Jose Mourinho than with Bale himself, who’s performed well and scored goals when selected. Bale’s name will be the first one Page writes down.
Aaron Ramsey should also be guaranteed a place. We’d have no doubts whatsoever about this if it weren’t for his injury issues. The midfielder has recently missed time with Juventus after yet another muscle injury and has only recently returned to the first team. Page will presumably want to see proof that he’s fully fit before making a final decision. No such problem should apply to Tottenham Hotspur defender Ben Davies, who’s the lynchpin of the defence. Joe Allen and goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey, both veterans of the relatively successful Euro 2016 campaign, are likely to join the aforementioned trio in the camp.
Manchester United’s Daniel James isn’t quite as secure in his position as the players we’ve mentioned so far, but we think he ought to make the cut. He’s improving slowly but surely at his club after once being written off as nothing more than a sprinter and is seeing more game time as the season approaches its conclusion. He was too young to be part of the Welsh Euro 2016 adventure but should get to experience it this time around. He’ll be joined in that respect by Ethan Ampadu, who’s surely likely to be involved along with Harry Wilson and Joe Rodon.
Having named a few players already, it’s time to take stock of where we are. We believe the goalkeeping positions are locked down. It will be Hennessey, Danny Ward, and Adam Davies. Ben Davies and Joe Rodon will be joined in defence by Chris Mepham, Connor Roberts, Neco Williams, and James Lawrence. In midfield, we expect to see Ampadu, Allen, and Ramsey partnered with Harry Wilson and Joe Morrell. Gareth Bale will lead the line as captain with Daniel James and Kieffer Moore.
Anyone we haven’t named thus far ought to be worried about their prospects of selection. There’s clearly room for more names, but beyond the core of the squad, we’re approaching “toss-up” territory. It’s tempting to think that Page will find room for teenage striker Brennan Johnson, but with only two caps to his name, it’s equally possible that the Welsh management team still consider him to be a player for the future as opposed to right now. Hal Robson-Kanu – who experienced the best moments of his career at Euro 2016 – might miss out, too. He’s recently got his name on the scoresheet again at West Bromwich Albion, but he’s endured a torrid season there. Chris Gunter’s adaptability makes him a potential asset in any squad, but his position isn’t as secure as it once was. Tom Lockyer’s injury record is likely to count against him.
Fans will be disappointed if Cardiff’s Jonny Williams isn’t in the squad, but we think it’s far from guaranteed. That place might go to Matt Smith instead, who’s been catching the eye at Doncaster Rovers while on loan from parent club Manchester City. Tyler Robots is more likely to make the final cut than to miss out even with his “protocol breach” that saw him sent home in disgrace in March. Rabbi Matondo was also involved in that breach, and that might count against him when coupled with his poor performances at Stoke. As an outside chance, Page could attempt to catch his opponents off guard by including in-form Plymouth Argyle striker Luke Jephcott.
We’ll soon know how accurate these predictions are. Whatever Page decides, though, the objective is to match those heady days in 2016 and dream of going one better. Stranger things have happened in football – and Wales aren’t in the tournament purely to make up the numbers.