GARY SPEED’S legacy will shine brightly for Wales in Qatar.
The ‘Welsh way’ was introduced by the late Speed in 2010, focusing on professionalism, passion – including learning the national anthem – and the value of young players.
As a result, 75 per cent of Robert Page’s heroes who beat Ukraine earlier this month to reach a first World Cup in 64 years came from regional youth level programmes.
Football Association of Wales technical director David Adams said: “Gary made a huge impact by putting the Welsh way in place 12 years ago. He transformed the ecosystem in Welsh football.
“Gary persuaded people to invest in national team football in the right way, making us more professional and we are seeing the benefits now.
“He recognised the value in young players. That created a pathway for other players to think, if you play for Wales, you might get a chance to play in the first team at national level.
“Gary had confidence in those young players and that helped.
“Wider than that, Gary also brought in the feeling of what it meant to play for Wales.
“He got the players to learn the anthem and the culture of the country. He brought a Welsh football family feel.
“You look at Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey and you can see what it means for them to come and play for Wales. 15 years ago we wouldn’t have said that about a lot of players. Top level players saw it as a hassle.
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“Now they want to come on camp and that’s Gary’s biggest legacy – the off-field culture. He’s a really important figure in Welsh football.”
This is a golden period for the Welsh national team with the historic World Cup qualification coming on the back of two successive Euro finals appearances.
As well as Speed, who tragically died in November 2011 at the age of 42, Adams believes the likes of previous technical director Osian Roberts, now Patrick Vieira’s number two at Crystal Palace, plus managers Chris Coleman, Ryan Giggs and Page have all contributed to a decade of success.
Wales aim to keep the momentum going heading into Group B clashes with USA, Iran and England and beyond with their high performance strategy centred on four key strands – talent identification and retention, support services for players, player pathways and their highly-rated coaching system.
Adams added: “It’s a competitive market place for players and we’re mindful that we need to identify and retain the most talented Welsh eligible players. Look at Ethan Ampadu, he could have played for England but we got him with Wales and that’s a huge coup for us.
“Brennan (Johnson) is the latest. It was Gus (talent identification manager) and Richard Williams (head of player development) who spotted him.
“Brennan’s dad was a former international player and played at the highest level so he was sold on the idea that he would get an opportunity to progress through our system. He has done unbelievably well.
“A lot of our top players, Ethan, Brennan, David Brooks, Dan James, Joe Rodon, jump from Under 19s to the senior team and miss U21s football.
“It’s a fantastic incentive for a young player that if you are 17 or 18, I could be in the first team next year. It’s a really clear pathway.
“We offer support off-field services to the players whether that is nutrition or psychology or sports scientists. We make sure they are cutting edge so the players have the best possible experience on camp.
“We invest effectively in our pathway so players get the right level of international experience at age groups so they can transition into the national teams. We want our young players to get 25-30 international caps at youth level before they reach the senior team. Research across elite football in the last ten years says the most successful players have that.
“Then we have a strong coaching system in Wales. It’s world renowned and we want to utilise that as a key strength and make sure we succession plan by putting coaches in high performance environments to drive performance and standards into the national teams.”