Ryan Giggs is determined to win over his Wales doubters after acknowledging that the 2020 European Championship campaign will define his time as national-team manager.
Wales start their Euro 2020 qualifiers at home to Slovakia on Sunday, with the jury still out on Giggs’ 14 months in charge since he succeeded Chris Coleman.
On the face of it, Giggs has had an average return of three wins, one draw and five defeats from his nine games in charge.
But the former Manchester United star has fast-tracked an exciting group of young players into the senior set-up, and the 4-1 demolition of the Republic of Ireland in the Nations League last September saw Wales produce some scintillating football.
Wales eventually finished second in their Nations League group behind Denmark and Giggs said: “I put myself under pressure last year so whether it’s a honeymoon period or not, I’m not too sure.
“I put myself under pressure. That’s the only pressure I feel really. I think I will be judged on the qualifying games, I knew that going into the job.
“Getting Wales to a major championships, that’s how I will be judged.”
Coleman guided Wales to the semi-finals of Euro 2016, the country’s first appearance at a major tournament for 58 years. But his six-year stay came to an end after Wales failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
“People do expect (qualification), understandably because of what we achieved at Euro 2016,” Giggs said.
“But it’s been once in 60 years, so we don’t qualify on a regular basis. That’s what my job is now to qualify or at least compete. We didn’t qualify for the World Cup, but we competed.
“In the past we nearly got somewhere and in the next campaign we were nowhere near. We want to be competing or getting close on a consistent basis. If we do that then we will get to more championships than not.”
Giggs’ commitment – or the perceived lack of it – has attracted criticism from some quarters in Wales given his ambassadorial, business and consultancy interests around the world.
The 45-year-old is involved with a football academy in Vietnam and is also an ambassador for the Champions League, as well as holding various commercial interests.
🏴🇸🇰 There are only 10 days left until our first Euro 2020 Qualifier against Slovakia!— FA WALES (@FAWales) 14 March 2019
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“My primary job is to get Wales to a European Championship,” Giggs said ahead of Wednesday’s pre-Slovakia friendly with Trinidad and Tobago in Wrexham.
“Yes, I’ve got other commitments that the FAW (Football Association of Wales) knew before I took over.
“I’ve been to Vietnam, which gives me five days on the grass coaching, and I was in South Africa for three days as an ambassador for the Champions League.
“But I’m being introduced as the Welsh manager and that can only be good in my eyes.
“I have other commitments, but I take the job of managing Wales very seriously and I’m 100 per cent committed.”
Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey will emulate Gareth Bale and take his game to the next level when he moves abroad this summer, according to his Wales manager Ryan Giggs.
Ramsey’s 11-year Arsenal stay will come to an end when he officially joins Juventus on July 1, the 28-year-old having signed a pre-contract agreement with the Serie A champions.
Wales team-mate Bale is in his sixth season at Real Madrid in Spain, where he has scored more than 100 goals and won four Champions League titles, and Giggs expects Ramsey to similarly flourish alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and company in Turin.
“You’ve seen what it (going abroad) has done for Gareth,” said Giggs.
“It will be a great experience for Aaron and he is going to a great club, the biggest in Italy.
“Look at the facilities Juventus have got, they are a massive club.
“He is playing well at the moment and (leaving Arsenal) has not affected him.”
Giggs has an increasingly cosmopolitan squad at his disposal with 18-year-old winger Rabbi Matondo having also moved to Germany in January.
Matondo joined Schalke from Manchester City for around £10 million just a couple of months after making his Wales debut in Albania.
He is expected to win his second cap against Trinidad & Tobago in a friendly in Wrexham on Wednesday, four days before Wales open their 2020 European Championship qualifying campaign at home to Slovakia in Cardiff.
“I was slightly surprised when he went, but Rabbi is a talent,” Giggs said.
“He has electrifying pace and that always keeps you interested. Obviously after that you have to develop.
“If a full-back works you out you have to have that Plan B, but he can hurt teams.
“It is great he has had that different experience, like I’ve touched on with Rambo, and gone to a different country.”
Matondo has followed the same path to the Bundesliga as England’s Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho, another exciting teenager who went through the City academy system.
“If he’s half as successful as Sancho has been so far, I’ll be happy.” Giggs said.
“We have players in the Premier League, different countries, Championship and League One.
“So it is a real diverse group of players, playing at different levels and in different situations.
“It brings a different flavour to the group and that’s good.”
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Earlier on Friday, Spain coach Luis Enrique announced the squad for the upcoming Euro qualifiers against Norway and Malta.
The former Barcelona coach’s choice of players displayed signs of the impending transition period for the 2010 World Cup winners.
Firstly, Enrique has not shied away from excluding some big names that play for top clubs. Alvaro Odriozola, Isco, Saul Niguez and Koke have been omitted.
Further, it’s worth noting that the 23-member squad is not dominated by players who play for Barcelona and Real Madrid.
The 2010 World Cup had eight representatives from Barcelona and three from Madrid. In 2014, the Catalan side provided the Spanish national team with seven players, while Madrid provided three.
More recently, the Spain squad that was humiliated in Russia had six Madrid players and four from Barcelona.
The squad that will take on Norway and Marca have just three players each from the two powerhouses of Spain. Jordi Alba, Sergi Roberto and Sergio Busquets will be Barcelona’s representatives, while Madrid will be sending Sergio Ramos, Dani Ceballos and Marco Asensio.
The rise of the lesser known teams in La Liga has been spectacular this season and it has clearly made an impact on Enrique’s selection.
Getafe are having a tremendous campaign and remain in the hunt for last Champions League spot. Naturally, their star striker Jaime Mata made the cut having contributed to 19 goals in La Liga this term (13 scored and six assists) and is on the verge of winning his first cap.
Although it has been a mixed bag for Real Betis, certain players have delivered consistently, one of which is Sergio Canales. The former Madrid midfielder has been one of the best players for Quique Setien’s side and has rightfully earned his maiden call-up at the age of 28.
Fabian Ruiz – whose tremendous performance for Betis last season earned him a move to Napoli – was also included in the list. The midfielder could be playing his first game for the national team during the international break. Having played under Quique Setien for one season, his understanding of the game and ability to distribute the ball well could come handy.
Centre-backs have been rock solid in the past season and half in La Liga and Enrique would surely have had a hard time short-listing the players. Dependable Sevilla defender Sergi Gomez and Espanyol’s solid Mario Hermoso eventually made the cut.
While these players have definitely earned their spot after a series of tremendous performances, they are not ball-playing centre-backs. Enrique would have opted for Marc Bartra as a replacement for Gerard Pique if he was intending to involve his centre-backs in build up as often as Vicente del Bosque and Julen Lopetegui used to.
Valencia captain Dani Parejo, Sevilla’s Jesus Navas and Athletic Bilbao’s Iker Muniain are some of the players who made it to the squad after a hiatus.
Again, these players are brimming with quality, and probably cut-out well for Enrique’s philosophy. David Silva – who has recorded an xGBuildUp90 (measure of build-up involvement) of 0.74 was omitted to accommodate Parejo, who has an xGBuildUp90 of 0.51.
One can expect Parejo to be playing the role that Ivan Rakitic carried out in Enrique’s Barcelona. He will be handed defensive burden and will have to increase his work-rate to do well in such a role.
Analysing the squad, it’s safe to assume that Enrique has chosen the players who can employ his brand of football and it might not necessarily be identical to that of Del Bosque or Lopetegui.
The brand of football that won Spain the Euros relied heavily on possession, positioning and patient build-up.
While Enrique’s philosophy shares the same core, the former Barcelona boss likes to build his game around the attack-line and adopt a more direct approach towards goal.
The quality in the squad is truly immense, but if Enrique were to adopt the traditional juego de posicion style of football where the play is built patiently from the back and the final pass is played rather conservatively, his choice of players would have been different.
One can still expect Spain to dominate possession and play from the back. But Enrique’s managerial history and choice of players points to the fact that we could have a more direct approach, with the likes of Rodrigo, Asensio and Alvaro Morata playing a crucial role.
Rodrigo and Mata are quality strikers who can hit on the counter and trouble the defenders with intelligent runs into the box. However, they are not the first choice for a manager who would want his striker to involve in the build-up.
Spain is in transition and it won’t be easy. Yet it’s refreshing to have a wide variety of players who don’t play for Barcelona or Madrid making the cut.