What Does Life After Gareth Bale Look Like For Wales?

Wales face Croatia and Latvia in Euro 2024 qualifiers
09:00, 25 Mar 2023

Wales’ first World Cup appearance since 1958 didn’t quite go down as they would have wanted. The hope of an opening day draw with USA quickly dissipated as defeats to Iran and England left them bottom of the group and heading for the airport at the first possible opportunity. 

Their only goal in Qatar was scored from the penalty spot by their talisman, Gareth Bale. Getting subbed off at half-time against England wasn’t the fitting end to his international career, but it was clear his time was up. Just months later he quit football altogether at the age of 33. 

And so without the gargantuan figure of their greatest ever player, Rob Page embarks on another qualification campaign - but how will Wales fare? Given the five-time Champions League winner was his country’s top ever goalscorer with 41 and led them to three of the four major tournaments they have ever played in, it is clear his influence will be missed. 


But without him, will Wales regress back to a minnow nation that would struggle to qualify for a home nations tournament - or has he dragged them onto the world stage for good? 

Their squad is an interesting one now. Chris Gunter, Joe Allen and Jonny Williams have all called it a day and without the once in a generation talent, their squad has a decidedly youthful look to it. Captain Aaron Ramsey is still knocking about at 32, and Kieffer Moore and Tom Bradshaw are both 30, but aside from that, Page hasn’t selected a single outfield player over the age 30. 

It feels like a new dawn. A new era. 21-year-old Brennan Johnson has now proved his worth in the Premier League and should shoulder the goalscoring responsibility for this team. Cardiff’s Mark Harris, Ipswich’s Nathan Broadhead and Swansea’s Liam Cullen are all 24 or under and Dan James is an experienced head - but still just 25. 

“One hundred per cent (we can make the finals),” Chris Mepham stated. “I genuinely mean that as well. I think we’ve got a really good group of players. It’s obviously a big loss not having someone of Gareth’s quality because, in any given moment, he can turn a game on its head. But we’ve got players like Brennan (Johnson) flying in the Premier League and he’s going to be massive for us going forward."

Further back the freshness continues. 

Ethan Ampadu is still just 22 with an impressive 40 caps to his name, uncapped Oli Cooper is 23 and there have also been call-ups handed to teenage midfield duo Jordan James and Luke Harris. Ben Cabango has a big future ahead of him and should be able to establish himself in the centre of defence at 22, while Neco Williams has done well at Nottingham Forest and is just 21.

Although the lack of experience is a slight concern, Wales don’t have an awful lot to lose heading into games against Croatia and Latvia. Their Euro 2024 qualifying group, also containing Armenia and Turkey, presents them with a golden opportunity to finish in the top two, and make it to their third consecutive European Championship. 

Page has steered them admirably over the past three years but has naturally relied on the brilliance of Bale to drag Wales through in key moments. It was his free-kick that defeated Ukraine and took them to the 2022 World Cup after all. 

But now Page must build upon the team unity that he has harnessed over the last few years. Bale was a colossus, but Wales have a whole host of promising youngsters ready to be blooded over the next 18 months. It won’t be up to one player to replace the gargantuan hole Bale has left in this Welsh squad - but perhaps this new crop of youngsters can fill the void and drag themselves to Euro 2024. 

*18+ | BeGambleAware

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