Monday, November 13, 2006

League Apartheid?

Steve Evans of Wrexham has been selected to play for Wales tomorrow evening against Liechtenstein. For those of us familiar with his work, and with the paucity of options available to Toshack after "injuries" to Collins and Gabbidon, it is no great surprise.

But just 6 months ago, Evans' selection would have been unthinkable. He was after all playing for TNS, in the Welsh Premier. I'm not quite sure what remarkable transition has taken place since his move to The Racecourse, but Toshack is following a familiar pattern of Welsh managers snubbing the League of Wales players until they get signed by English League clubs. You'll notice that I didn't say "professional" clubs, because TNS have been professional for some time now. Nevertheless,a player is apparently not a real player until he plays in England.

Also in the squad is Owain Tudur Jones. If ever Wales needed a player to develop quickly and to stay free of injury, it is Owain Tudur. OT-J was born for international football, and his debut can't come soon enough. We desperately need a replacement for Robinson or Fletcher, and he could be the man to do it. Built like Steven Gerrard, he has an eye for goal, and strikes the ball venomously.

But Tudur-Jones was the subject of a similar apartheid a few years back when Bryan Flynn introduced him to the Under 21's side...But only after he had moved to Swansea. Literally weeks after he had arrived at The Liberty, when that club's influence on him was negligible. Peter Davenport raised this very issue at the time. How can a player not be good enough one week when he is playing for Bangor, but as soon as he signs for Swansea, then his face fits ?

I suppose that managers are wary since Bobby Gould's attention-seeking selection of Gary Lloyd when he was a Barry player. But looking back on it, was Gould so far away ? Was Gary Lloyd in his prime a worse player than Danny Collins, or Partridge? Both of whom have played left back for Wales in recent years?

I just think it's a shame that a player's club automatically rules them out when really it should have no influence on selection. It works the other way round too - Dana Collins thought that he was owed selection because his club, Sunderland, were playing in the English Premiership. And look where Collins has since taken the Black Cats. Should you still be a shoe-in Dana ?

I'm not being fundamentalist about this. The Welsh Premier has a pitiful reputation amongst the old pros, particularly those who played at a high level in the English pyramid. Ergo, anyone who plays in it, must also be pitiful.

But the football landscape is changing. Twenty years ago, before Sky, and before the influx of high quality Europeans, Scandinavians, and South Americans, a player like Marc Lloyd Williams, Gary Lloyd or (as much as I hate to say it), Lee Kendall, might well have had a long career as a professional in the English League. A cap or two would have followed. Off the top of my head, I can't think of many English League regulars of the seventies and eighties who weren't capped. It isn't so easy these days. Can you imagine Keith Pontin, Gordon Davies, Bryan Attley, Donato Nardiello, Paul Giles, or even my hero, Phil Dwyer being so successful in the current era ?

No, the sands of quality have shifted down. There are players in the Welsh Premiership who might have been regular internationals had by now, had they not been squeezed downwards by globalisation of the English system. Whilst understanding the manager's reluctance to select from within, the players and coaching teams at the top of the Welsh pyramid deserve a little more respect.

2 comments:

Gareth said...

Good site. Enjoy reading it.

Have to raise a point about this article though.

There may well be very good players within the Welsh Prem, but the overall standard is poor.

Put Rooney in there & he'd still be a world class player, but would the diet of matches at Welsh Prem level make him ready for international football?

The players you mention are probably as good the day before they moved as the day after. Playing at a higher level where the game is faster and more intense prepares a player for international matches.

League 2 isn't the best grounding for internationals, but an international manager can make a better decision if a player could cope than if the plyaer was plying his trade in the Welsh Prem.

Eric the Red said...

You're right of course. But don't forget that most of the top players in the Welsh Prem play regular European ties. Barry played Dynamo Kiev and Aberdeen. Do you think that Toshack/Hughes even saw TNS play Liverpool or Man City ?
No, they wouldn't want to demean themselves. But surely this is a better international yardstick than watching Steve Evans play against Stevenage ?
I'm not asking for selection, just respect. Bobby Gould at least understood that he had a duty to support the WP. He failed badly at his real job, but did a lot for Welsh football in other respects.