It has been a roller-coaster decade for the Welsh national side.
From the tragic death of manager Gary Speed in 2011, to reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2016 in their first major tournament since 1958, and then failing to qualify for the 2018 Russia World Cup.
However, it was in the middle of this whirlwind seven years that another piece of often overlooked history was made.
In October 2013, a 16-year-old Harry Wilson became Wales’ youngest ever player when he came on as a substitute in a 1-1 draw with Belgium in October 2013.
Who would have guessed the Liverpool starlet would have to wait nearly four and a half years for his second cap?
After a highly impressive second debut in the Chana Cup last week, I’m sure any Wales fan will tell you it was certainly worth the wait.
The 21-year-old, who is currently on loan at Championship strugglers Hull City, naturally earned comparisons with compatriots Gareth Bale, Craig Bellamy and Ryan Giggs following his role in Wales’ 6-0 demolition of host nation China.
In a game in which the headlines were predictably wrapped up by Bale, whose hat-trick makes the Real Madrid man Wales’ highest ever goalscorer, Wilson’s goal, which also accompanied an impressive assist, was arguably the best of the six.
High praise indeed.
This stand-out display in Nanning follows a roaring start to life in the Championship at Hull City.
Wilson, who signed a new long-term deal with Liverpool before his loan move to the KCOM in January, has proved a rare shining light in an otherwise poor season for the Tigers.
Scoring three goals in just six league appearances, the Welshman may prove key in keeping Hull City in the division come April.
Although regularly impressing for Liverpool’s U23s during the past few seasons in the Premier League 2, Wilson has made just one senior appearance for the senior side – an FA Cup tie against Plymouth last season.
However, should his impressive first real taste of regular senior football finish as well has it has started, the 21-year-old could well find himself in the first team fold when he returns to Anfield this summer.
Interestingly, it is for exactly this reason that Ryan Giggs chose this international break to give young Wilson his second taste of international football.
“When you’re in and out of the reserves or the first team or you’re training with the first team but not playing regular first team football, it has an effect.” Giggs said, before adding, “Harry [Wilson] and Declan [John] are seeing the benefits of playing week in, week out because you can’t beat playing competitive first team games.”
Giggs’ appointment as Chris Coleman’s successor was met with a mixed response by some due to a perceived lack of managerial experience and a historical lack of commitment to the international side.
However, his experience as a truly world class player, and working under one of the greatest managers of all time in Alex Ferguson, is seemingly already paying dividends.
It is true that the Welsh national side is currently in the middle of a so-called Golden Generation of talented players.
However, as we have seen with England in recent years, this does not last forever. A new cycle of talent must be eased into the international fold.
While it is still very early days for Giggs in the Wales dugout, the initial signs are good. This Welsh squad needs to be not only developed, but also rebuilt and strengthened with young talent.
The inclusion and initial success of the likes of Harry Wilson, among others, highlights the need for young players to be playing regular first-team football from an early age.
However, it also shows Giggs wants to do things the right way.
A ‘show me what you can do, and you will be rewarded’ policy represents a positive first step in Ryan Giggs’ managerial career and one that both Wales and their young players like Harry Wilson are likely to benefit from in the long term.
For this reason, Wales fans have every reason to be very optimistic about the future of their national side.
Three things learnt from Aston Villa’s win over Hull City: Grealish stands out
Aston Villa earned their first three points of the season with a victory over Hull City. It has been a turbulent summer for the club, but they have come out of the other side and look to be promotion contenders again this campaign.
They couldn’t have had a worse start as a looping Evandro effort beat everybody and found its way into the back of the net. Visiting supporters weren’t silenced for long as poor defending from a corner allowed Tommy Elphick to score an equaliser.
The game was open and both teams had chances, but individual errors cost the home team. David Marshall was the first to commit one as his poor clearance gifted the ball back to Ahmed Elmohamady who scored against his former team.
The victory was confirmed thanks to a rare Alan Hutton goal. The full-back charged forward without being challenged and fired past Marshall to put the result beyond doubt. Here are three things learned from the game at the KCOM Stadium:
Jack Grealish is a cut above in this division
The transfer speculation surrounding the midfielder has refused to go away this summer and he showed why on Monday night. Grealish didn’t have his best game, but he looked a cut above every time he had the ball at his feet.
The 22-year-old rarely put a foot wrong as he completed 95% of his passes and he got the assist for the first goal. His corner delivery made it easy for Elphick to head home the equaliser.
In addition to his classy contributions in possession, Grealish was fouled more than any other player on the field, highlighting how he was targeted by the opposition. It was clear that he is too good for this division and it will be interesting to see how the final days of the transfer window play out.
If he stays, Aston Villa have a great chance of challenging for automatic promotion.
Hull City’s defence needs to improve
The scoreline flattered Aston Villa on the balance of play, as Hull City offered a threat and were arguably the better team for stretches of the game. However, they were let down by their defence.
All three Villa goals were examples of bad defending and Hull will be in trouble this season if they don’t cut out the individual errors. The first was poor marking from Jordy de Wijs as he let Tommy Elphick go in the area.
The second goal came from poor distribution by David Marshall. Meanwhile, the third could have been avoided as Alan Hutton charged through without a meaningful challenge.
Nigel Adkins is always upbeat, but he will realise the task ahead of him this season. The defence is his main concern and if it doesn’t tighten up, relegation is a real possibility.
Aston Villa need to get the best from Jonathan Kodjia
It was encouraging to see Kodjia named in the starting eleven for the first match of the season after his injury problems over the past 12 months. Last season, he managed only 18 appearances, nine of which were as a starter.
If he is fit, he is one of the best strikers in the division, as he showed between 2015 and 2017, when he scored 38 goals across spells at Villa and Bristol City.
On Monday, he looked short of confidence in the final third. His poor decision making was shown when he chose to go alone rather than play Elmohamady who was in a better position. There were two or three other examples of Kodjia giving it away cheaply.
It may take him a few weeks to get up to speed, but at the age of 28, he should be reaching the best years of his career. If Aston Villa want to challenge for promotion, they need to get the best out of Kodjia.
Hull City should bolster ranks with Nottingham Forest’s Zach Clough
Hull City are backed by many people to struggle badly during the 2018/19 Championship campaign
Championship outfit Hull City have found new recruits hard to come by in the summer transfer window and boss Nigel Adkins would surely love to sign a few more players before the window slams shut in just over a week’s time.
Financial uncertainties and boardroom restraints have seen the incoming activity come at a premium at the KCOM Stadium this summer and some of the club’s supporters are unsure what to expect from the 2018/19 campaign.
A couple of shrewd additions have been added to the squad in the form of Eric Lichaj from Nottingham Forest and the highly-rated central defender Reece Burke who has also joined from West Ham United.
The Tigers aren’t blessed with loads of cash to spend so the charismatic Adkins could be forced to continue to shop for loans and bargain signings before the window closes.
One man who could be a solid addition to the Tigers’ squad is Nottingham Forest misfit Zach Clough, who has been told by Aitor Karanka that he is surplus to requirements at the City Ground and is free to find another club, according to the Nottingham Post.
The 23-year-old signed for the Reds from Bolton Wanderers in 2017 and in splashing £3 million for his services, it was anticipated that he would become a big player for Forest in the future.
It hasn’t worked out for the attacker, however, and a loan spell back at the Trotters during the second half of last season was a complete disaster, leaving Clough’s career at something of a crossroads.
It seems pretty clear that he needs to get out of the City Ground as quick as possible if he has any desire to play football during the 2018/19 campaign and given their lack of attack-minded options, Clough would surely get ample chances to impress at Hull City.
One bonus for the Tigers in any potential move to secure his services could be the fee. Given that Forest have told their player that he has no future at the club they might be willing to cut their losses and offload Clough on the cheap, which would be music to the Tigers’ ears.
Michael Dawson signing comes at the ideal time for Nottingham Forest
It was announced the 34-year-old would be returning to the City Ground on Wednesday evening.
On Wednesday night, Nottingham Forest announced the signing of centre-back Michael Dawson after the expiration of his contract at Hull City.
The acquisition of the ex-Tottenham defender is a superb addition to Forest’s backline and will add Premier League and promotion experience to Aitor Karanka’s squad.
The transfer also represents a homecoming of sorts, as Dawson began his career at the City Ground, leaving for Tottenham in 2005 after four first-team years at the club.
The Englishman enjoyed great success at White Hart Lane, leading Spurs into the Champions League and notching four international caps from 2010-2011.
After over 200 appearances in north London, Dawson joined Hull City in 2014, where he experienced two seasons in the top flight and two in the Championship.
- (Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)
An ever-present for the Tigers in his four seasons at the KC Stadium, Dawson gained valuable knowledge on how to lead a team to the Premier League, as he marshalled the side to promotion via the play-offs in 2015/16.
The 34-year-old centre-back will be a crucial part of Forest’s defence next season, as he brings priceless promotion experience and the skills of a lengthy Premier League career.
Known for his superb leadership skills, immense physical presence, and consistency at the back, Dawson can bring solidity to a team that conceded 65 goals last season- only eight Championship clubs allowed more.
Although some fans might fear Dawson’s advanced age may hinder his performances, the defender has shown little signs of letting up, as he made an impressive 40 appearances for Hull City last season.
The signing of Dawson is all the more laudable as as he will join on a free transfer after his Hull contract expires on June 30, a smart move that will respect Financial Fair Play regulations.
Michael Dawson will be an assured presence in the Nottingham Forest backline, as he represents an astute transfer that will inject the promotion-chasing side with Premier League experience and promotion guile.
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