Looking Forward With Rob Page

Wales manager Rob Page believes the upcoming 2024 European Championship Qualifying campaign will offer up fresh opportunities for his Welsh side after the departure of two Wales greats.

DOHA, QATAR – 23 NOVEMBER 2022: Wales’ Head Coach Robert Page during a training session ahead of the Group B fixture between Wales & Iran in 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, 23rd November 2022. (Pic by John Smith/FAW)

In recent months, Welsh football has taken some huge blows with the news of Gareth Bale and Joe Allen’s retirement.

Page now looks to the youth setup to continue Wales’ wild ride competing at the top table in world football, as Wales prepare to face Croatia and Latvia in their first men’s senior games since the World Cup in November.

In the last decade, Welsh football has been on a remarkable journey. Back in 2011, Wales were ranked 112th in the world and faced a long fight to emerge from obscurity, beginning to see the light in 2016 when they reached the semi-finals of the Euros.

Since then, the men’s team have competed at two major international tournaments, first the 2020 Euros, and then qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 64 years in 2022.

That success was built upon meticulous planning and the FAW’s shared vision; to focus on producing and developing young talent, before testing them on the international stage from an early age.

AI-RAYYAN, QATAR – 29 NOVEMBER 2022: Wales’ Gareth Bale during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between Wales & England at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, November 29, 2022 in AI-Rayyan, Qatar. (Pic by John Smith/FAW)

The FAW have done an excellent job in the past few years in developing the likes of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Chris Gunter and Wayne Hennessey, and more recently the likes of Ethan Ampadu, Joe Rodon and Brennan Johnson have also emerged from the pathway system.

The Wales manager now hopes the culture, success and the winning mentality from these past few years will rub off on the next generation as they look to continue Wales’ golden age of football.

On what his team can take from their time at the 2023 Qatar World Cup moving forward, Page said: “Going into the World Cup we knew it was going to be a high demand for the players and a tall ask to get out of the group. I think we all probably got a little bit carried away.

“We can only learn from these kinds of experiences, perhaps it was my tactical decisions. Maybe I was a bit naïve, for example underestimating Iran with only having one central midfielder and going a bit too attack minded.

“I’ve had time to reflect with the coaches and we will certainly do so with the players as well.

That being said, the World Cup has been a great experience for some of the younger players. They will have learned a lot from these types of experiences.

“There’s not massive changes needed to be made to the starting 11, barring obviously Gareth Bale and Joe Allen’s retirement. It might be the case that we will see some changes in some of the squad players now.

“I know for a fact they have that hunger to continue to qualify for these major tournaments, because that is what they are used to.”

While Page doesn’t expect to make huge changes to his side for the upcoming European Championship Qualifying games against Croatia and Latvia this Spring, there’s no doubt Bale and Allen’s departure leaves a hole in the team that won’t be fixed overnight.

Both players brought an end to their own international careers following Wales’ sobering World Cup performance, finishing bottom of Group B and leaving Qatar with a single point from the group stages. Allen will continue to play for Swansea City but for Bale, the announcement signals the end of his playing career.

AI-RAYYAN, QATAR – 29 NOVEMBER 2022: Wales’ Head Coach Robert Page arrives prior to the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group B match between Wales & England at the Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, November 29, 2022 in AI-Rayyan, Qatar. (Pic by John Smith/FAW)

 “I don’t think you get to finish on more of a positive note than helping your country qualify for the World Cup. I am privileged to have played a part in their careers. When you work with them closely and see how they conduct themselves as men and how they are as players, it’s incredible,” comments Page.

“I’m so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with them. What they’ve done for Welsh football is incredible and they should be applauded for that.

“I spoke to both players about their decision. It wasn’t an easy decision to make for them, but I completely get it. They are now at an age where they have got their health, their wealth and they can go and enjoy life with their young families.

“They will still support Wales. I spoke to Gareth in particular and will still be having conversations with him about some of the decisions we are making because he is that passionate about it and he still wants to be involved.

“They should not have any regrets and should be very proud of what they have done for Welsh football. They were big characters and a big influence in the changing room, but we have got others that have been there through the success. You need some of those characters around to support the younger players who are coming up.”

The Welsh manager certainly has his eyes on the future, where he hopes his strong relationship with his former international teammate and new men’s under 21’s manager Matty Jones will pay dividends as they focus on youth development.

A renewed focus on the youth set up will be crucial for Welsh football going forward. Page will be keeping a close eye on the players in the pathway by holding two camps, with a mix of senior squad players and under 21 players following the end of the EFL season with the June fixtures for both teams in mind.

“Sometimes you go forward two steps and back one step, that’s what the World Cup felt like and hopefully it will put us in good stead for the future. So we will go all out to get a positive result and performance in the first game.”

“It will be a process; nothing is guaranteed in football and mistakes will be made. What we have got now is a group who are hungry for success; who’ve been to three tournaments since 2016. As a group of players, it’s no longer a hope to qualify, there’s now an expectation to qualify.

“It’s a clean slate now. We start again in March and there’s no better way to start than Croatia.

“Me and Matty (Jones) are both passionate about developing this next group of players into the Welsh senior team,” says Page.

“To help us achieve that, I need eyes on my senior team, but I also need to see how the 21’s are progressing.

“Something we need to get better at is having more of an influence on players while they are at their club sides. We need to know when they come into camp, they know what is expected of them from a physical point of view and a technical point of view.

“With some of the staff we are bringing in, that will be part of their job, certainly with the players, to make sure they are in the right condition.”

There is a lot of hope attached to Brendan Johnson, who by many is starting to be dubbed as the next Gareth Bale after what has so far been a superb start to his career.

Page insists he’s more than confident the Nottingham Forest striker can hit the ground running, and even believes his ceiling could be higher than expected, especially after playing alongside the likes of Bale and Aaron Ramsey.

“He’s probably got more development to do as well, but he’s doing really well at the top level and proving his worth, so that’s an exciting prospect.

“It’s an opportunity for others, Jordan (James) has had some exposure, okay he’s not played as many minutes as we would like in the Championship but, long-term, he’s got a good future ahead of him.   “The likes of Ramsey are going to be crucial in helping the younger players. Aaron (Ramsey) is one of the best players I have worked with. He has still got a lot to offer, we will have to manage his workload as I don’t think he will be able to play every minute of every game.

“He’s playing really well for Nice at the moment and for me he’s going to be a massive influence on the younger players who are coming in.

“Seeing how he trains, seeing the reasons why he is still able to do what he does, I want him to be a positive influence on those players.”

The difficult thing about change in international football is managing the younger players’ exposure. Some of those who will be asked to join the camp will be thrown into the deep end. That’s just the nature of the game.

Rob was a pleasure to interview, and we look forward to talking to him again in future issues.

Mae rheolwr Cymru, Rob Page, yn credu y bydd ymgyrch ragbrofol Pencampwriaeth Ewrop 2024 yn cynnig cyfleoedd newydd i’w dîm Cymreig ar ôl ymadawiad dau o fawrion Cymru.

Dros y misoedd diwethaf, mae pêl-droed yng Nghymru wedi derbyn ergydion enfawr gyda’r newyddion am ymddeoliad Gareth Bale a Joe Allen.

Mae Page nawr yn disgwyl i’r grŵp ieuenctid barhau â thaith anhygoel Cymru, gan gystadlu ar y lefel uchaf ym mhêl-droed y byd, wrth i Gymru baratoi i herio Croatia a Latfia yn yr uwch gemau dynion cyntaf byddant yn chwarae ers Cwpan y Byd ym mis Tachwedd.

Yn ystod y degawd diwethaf, mae pêl-droed Cymru wedi bod ar daith ryfeddol.  Nôl yn 2011, roedd Cymru ar safle 112 yn y byd ac yn wynebu brwydr hir i ddod allan o fyd disylw, gan ddechrau gweld y golau yn 2016 pan gyrhaeddon nhw rownd gynderfynol yr Ewros.

Ers hynny, mae tîm y dynion wedi cystadlu mewn dau brif bencampwriaeth ryngwladol, yn gyntaf yn Ewros 2020, ac yna’n cymhwyso i gyrraedd Cwpan y Byd yn 2022 am y tro cyntaf ers 64 mlynedd.

Adeiladwyd y llwyddiant hwnnw ar gynllunio manwl a gweledigaeth gyffredin Cymdeithas Bêl-droed Cymru; er mwyn canolbwyntio ar gynhyrchu a datblygu talentau ifanc, cyn eu profi ar y llwyfan rhyngwladol o oedran cynnar.

Mae Cymdeithas Bêl-droed Cymru wedi gwneud gwaith ardderchog dros y blynyddoedd diwethaf wrth ddatblygu rhai fel Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, Chris Gunter a Wayne Hennessey, ac yn fwy diweddar mae pobl fel Ethan Ampadu, Joe Rodon a Brennan Johnson hefyd wedi dod allan o’r system lwybrau.

Mae rheolwr Cymru nawr yn gobeithio y bydd y diwylliant, y llwyddiant a’r meddylfryd buddugol o’r blynyddoedd diwethaf hyn yn dylanwadu ar y genhedlaeth nesaf wrth iddyn nhw geisio parhau ag oes aur pêl-droed Cymru.

Ynglŷn â’r hyn y gall ei dîm cymryd o’u hamser yng Nghwpan y Byd Qatar 2023 wrth symud ymlaen, dywedodd Page:  “Wrth fynd i mewn i Gwpan y Byd roedden ni’n gwybod y byddai’n gofyniad mawr ar y chwaraewyr ac yn her i fynd allan o’r grŵp. Rwy’n credu ein bod ni gyd wedi mynd bach yn rhy frwd.

“Gallwn ond dysgu o’r mathau hyn o brofiadau, efallai mai fy mhenderfyniadau tactegol i oedd e. Efallai roeddwn i braidd yn naïf, er enghraifft yn synied yn rhy isel tîm Iran gyda dim ond un maeswr canol ac â meddylfryd ychydig yn rhy ymosodol.

“Dwi wedi cael amser i fyfyrio gyda’r hyfforddwyr ac fe fyddwn yn sicr yn gwneud hynny gyda’r chwaraewyr hefyd.

Wedi dweud hynny, mae Cwpan y Byd wedi bod yn brofiad gwych i rai o’r chwaraewyr iau.  Byddant wedi dysgu llawer o’r mathau hyn o brofiadau.

“Does dim angen newidiadau enfawr i’r 11 cychwynnol, yn amlwg gan gofio am ymddeoliad Gareth Bale a Joe Allen. Efallai y byddwn yn gweld rhai newidiadau yn rhai o chwaraewyr y garfan nawr.

“Rwy’n gwybod am ffaith bod ganddyn nhw’r chwant hynny i barhau i gymhwyso ar gyfer y twrnameintiau mawr hyn, oherwydd dyna maen nhw wedi arfer ag ef.”

Er nad yw Page yn disgwyl gwneud newidiadau enfawr i’w ochr ar gyfer gemau Rhagbrofol Pencampwriaeth Ewrop sydd ar ddod yn erbyn Croatia a Latfia Gwanwyn eleni, does dim dwywaith amdani fod ymadawiad Bale ac Allen yn gadael bwlch yn y tîm na fydd yn cael ei ddatrys dros nos.

Daeth y ddau chwaraewr â’u gyrfaoedd rhyngwladol eu hunain i ben yn dilyn perfformiad sobreiddiol Cymru yng Nghwpan y Byd, gan orffen ar waelod Grŵp B a gadael Qatar gydag un pwynt allan o gamau’r grŵp. Bydd Allen yn parhau i chwarae i glwb pêl-droed Abertawe ond i Bale, mae’r cyhoeddiad yn arwydd o ddiwedd ei yrfa chwarae.

“Dydw i ddim yn credu eich bod gallu gorffen ar fwy o nodyn cadarnhaol na helpu eich gwlad i fod yn gymwys ar gyfer Cwpan y Byd. Mae’n fraint i mi fy mod wedi chwarae rhan yn eu gyrfaoedd. Pan rydych chi’n gweithio gyda nhw’n agos ac yn gweld sut maen nhw’n cynnal eu hunain fel dynion a sut maen nhw fel chwaraewyr, mae’n anhygoel,” nododd Page.

“Dwi mor lwcus fy mod i wedi cael y cyfle i weithio gyda nhw. Mae’r hyn maen nhw wedi’i wneud dros bêl-droed yng Nghymru yn anhygoel a dylid eu cymeradwyo am hynny.

“Fe wnes i siarad gyda’r ddau chwaraewr am eu penderfyniad.  Doedd o ddim yn benderfyniad hawdd i’w wneud iddyn nhw, ond dwi’n ei ddeall yn llwyr. Maen nhw bellach wedi cyrraedd oed lle mae ganddynt eu hiechyd, eu cyfoeth ac maen nhw’n gallu mynd i fwynhau bywyd gyda’u teuluoedd ifanc.

“Byddan nhw’n dal i gefnogi Cymru.  Siaradais â Gareth yn arbennig a byddaf yn dal i gael sgyrsiau gydag ef am rai o’r penderfyniadau rydym yn eu gwneud gan ei fod mor angerddol â hynny am hyn ac mae am gymryd rhan o hyd.

“Ddylen nhw ddim difaru o gwbl a dylent fod yn falch iawn o’r hyn maen nhw wedi’i wneud dros bêl-droed Cymru. Roedden nhw’n gymeriadau mawr ac yn ddylanwad mawr yn yr ystafell newid, ond rydyn ni wedi cael eraill sydd wedi bod yno drwy’r llwyddiant.  Mae angen rhai o’r cymeriadau hynny o gwmpas i gefnogi’r chwaraewyr iau sydd ar y gweill.”

Yn sicr mae gan reolwr Cymru ei lygaid ar y dyfodol, lle mae’n gobeithio y bydd ei berthynas gref gyda’i gyn cyd-chwaraewr rhyngwladol a rheolwr dynion newydd dan 21, Matty Jones yn talu ar ei ganfed wrth iddyn nhw ganolbwyntio ar ddatblygiad ieuenctid.

Bydd ffocws o’r newydd ar y trefniant ieuenctid yn hollbwysig i bêl-droed Cymru yn y dyfodol. Bydd Page yn cadw llygad barcud ar y chwaraewyr yn y llwybr drwy gynnal dwy garfan, gyda chymysgedd o chwaraewyr uwch garfan a chwaraewyr dan 21 yn dilyn diwedd tymor Pencampwriaeth Cynghrair Pêl-droed Lloegr gyda gemau Mehefin i’r ddau dîm mewn golwg.

“Weithiau rydych chi’n mynd ymlaen dau gam ac yn ôl un cam, dyna sut oedd Cwpan y Byd yn teimlo, a gobeithio y bydd yn ein rhoi mewn sefyllfa dda ar gyfer y dyfodol. Felly byddwn ni’n mynd amdani i gael canlyniad a pherfformiad positif yn y gêm gyntaf.”

“Bydd yn broses; does dim byd wedi’i warantu mewn pêl-droed a bydd camgymeriadau’n cael eu gwneud. Beth sydd gennym nawr yw grŵp sydd â chwant am lwyddiant; sydd wedi bod mewn tri thwrnamaint ers 2016. Fel grŵp o chwaraewyr, nid yw’n obaith cymhwyso bellach, mae yna ddisgwyl nawr i hynny ddigwydd.

“Mae’n gyfle i ddechrau o’r newydd nawr.  Dechreuwn eto ym mis Mawrth a does dim ffordd well o ddechrau na Croatia.

“Mae fi a Matty (Jones) ill dau yn angerddol am ddatblygu’r grŵp nesaf yma o chwaraewyr i fod yn uwch dîm Cymru,” meddai Page.

“Er mwyn ein helpu i gyflawni hynny, dwi angen llygaid ar fy uwch dîm, ond mae angen i mi hefyd weld sut mae’r rhai 21 yn datblygu.

“Rhywbeth sydd angen i ni wella arno yw cael mwy o ddylanwad ar chwaraewyr yn ystod eu hamser gyda’u clybiau. Mae angen i ni wybod, pan fyddan nhw’n dod i’r gwersyll, bo nhw’n gwybod beth yw’r disgwyl o safbwynt corfforol a safbwynt technegol.

“Gyda rhai o’r staff rydyn ni’n dod â nhw i mewn, bydd hynny’n rhan o’u swydd, yn sicr gyda’r chwaraewyr, i wneud yn siŵr eu bod nhw yn y cyflwr cywir.”

Mae llawer o obaith o ran Brendan Johnson, sy’n dechrau cael ei alw’n y Gareth Bale nesaf gan lawer, ar ôl dechrau gwych i’w yrfa hyd yma.

Mae Page yn mynnu ei fod yn fwy na hyderus y gall ymosodwr Nottingham Forest bod yn barod i weithredu’n syth, ac mae hyd yn oed yn credu y gallai ei orau fod yn uwch na’r disgwyl, yn enwedig ar ôl chwarae ochr yn ochr â phobl fel Bale ac Aaron Ramsey.

“Mae’n debyg bod ganddo fwy o ddatblygiad o’i flaen hefyd, ond mae’n gwneud yn dda iawn ar y lefel uchaf ac yn profi ei werth, felly mae hynny’n obaith cyffrous.

“Mae’n gyfle i eraill, mae Jordan (James) wedi cael rhywfaint o amlygiad, ie naeth e ddim chwarae cymaint o funudau ag yr hoffem yn y Bencampwriaeth ond, yn y tymor hir, mae ganddo ddyfodol da o’i flaen.

“Mae pobl fel Ramsey yn mynd i fod yn hollbwysig wrth helpu’r chwaraewyr iau.  Aaron (Ramsey) yw un o’r chwaraewyr gorau i mi weithio gyda nhw.  Mae ganddo lawer i’w gynnig o hyd, bydd yn rhaid i ni reoli ei lwyth gwaith gan nad ydw i’n credu y bydd yn gallu chwarae pob munud o bob gêm.

“Mae’n chwarae’n dda iawn i Nice ar hyn o bryd ac i mi mae’n mynd i fod yn ddylanwad enfawr ar y chwaraewyr iau sy’n dod i mewn.

“O weld sut mae’n ymarfer, o weld y rhesymau pam ei fod yn dal i allu gwneud yr hyn mae’n ei wneud, rwyf am iddo fod yn ddylanwad cadarnhaol ar y chwaraewyr hynny.”

Y peth anodd am newid mewn pêl-droed rhyngwladol yw rheoli amlygiad y chwaraewyr iau.  Bydd rhai o’r rhai y gofynnir iddynt ymuno â’r gwersyll yn cael eu taflu’n syth i’r dwfn. Dyna yw natur y gêm.

Roedd Rob yn bleser i’w gyfweld, ac edrychwn ymlaen at siarad ag ef eto mewn rhifynnau yn y dyfodol.