An Eligible for Wales XI
Russell Todd selects a Wales XI and substitutes from players who were eligible to represent Wales.
Goalkeeper – Ian Walker – eligible through his father, Colwyn Bay-born Mike, the former Everton and Norwich City manager who represented Wales at under 23 level, Walker junior never represented Wales at any level. Indeed he played against Wales at under 21 level in a 0-0 draw at Prenton Park in 1990.
Right back – Rob Jones – an obvious choice, Wrexham-born but Ellesmere Port-raised Jones experienced a whirlwind season in 1991-92: signing for Liverpool from Fourth Division Crewe Alexandra, winning the FA Cup and making his England debut in the same friendly match as Alan Shearer against France in February 1992. Jones’s second cap came 19 months later due to injury problems that also caused his fairytale 1991-92 season to lose some of its shine by missing out on Euro 1992. Jones’s grandfather, Bill, also played for Liverpool and England, winning two caps, and Jones speaks in his autobiography of his ambition being always to play for England despite his place of birth.
Centre back – Emlyn Hughes – I recall watching Question of Sport and wondering how such a Welsh sounding bloke could have ended up playing for, and captaining, England. ‘Crazy Horse’ was the son of Welsh rugby league player from Llanelli who signed for Barrow in the mid 1940s. With Hughes being born soon after in 1947 the temptation for amateur rugby union players to turn professional did not only rob the Welsh rugby union team of a number of internationals but also, in the case of Hughes, its football team. Ironically, Hughes captained England for the first time against Wales and scored his only international goal against the land of his father, both games in Cardiff.
Centre back – Ryan Shawcross – eligible because of his minimum five years compulsory education at Buckley’s Elfed High School, Chester-born but Shotton-raised Shawcross once divided opinion between the pragmatically-minded and the more emotive Welsh fans. For the former Shawcross is an an experienced EPL defender with in excess of 350 first team appearance, with imposing presence and leadership ability which a Wales team that was at the time defensively porous and relying on the likes of the ageing Danny Gabbidon and Sam Ricketts at centre back on occasions. The latter were incensed that he is even considered in Wales terms for, variously, his public lack of interest in representing Wales on at least two occasions; having already been capped by England; and, perhaps most crucially, because he broke Aaron Ramsey’s leg.
We debated his availability to Wales (his England cap was in a 2012 friendly) in podcast #6 following a public suggestion by his former manager at Stoke, Welshman Tony Pulis, that he switch allegiance. We concluded that he wasn’t welcome. On purely playing grounds, however the return to the fold of James Collins after his spat with Coleman, the impressive late 2014 displays of James Chester and the impressive central defence performances of converted full backs Chris Gunter and Ben Davies have reduced our need for centre backs. Have we heard the last of this debate?
Left back – Gary Croft – despite representing England under 21s four times Croft would have been eligible during Fifa’s 2004 ‘amnesty’ that allowed players to switch their nationality to represent a country from where they had a parent or grandparent come despite having represented another country at full or under 21 level. Frederic Kanouté was probably the most high profile player to exploit the window declaring his intention to represent Mali having represented his native France at under 21 level. The FAW’s interest presumably cooled when Ben Thatcher, whose club career was largely spent a division higher than Croft’s, also declared his intention to exploit the amnesty and subsequently won seven caps.
Right midfield – David Jones – qualifying through his Welsh father, David Frank Llwyd Jones has however consistently made it clear he is not interested in representing Wales. Southport-born Jones came through the ranks at Manchester United, playing in two cup games, and has since played over 300 first team games in the top two English tiers. Both Mark Hughes and Gary Speed approached Jones. He declined the approach of the former on grounds that he “wanted to wait to see if he had an international future with England as he ‘considered himself an Englishman.’” Eight years later, and with the call to supplement his solitary England under 21 substitute appearance never coming, Speed re-approached Jones but he again declined. Jones appears resolute in his decision, which is to be respected, but with the likes of Paul Trollope, Paul Evans, Carl Fletcher, Andrew Crofts and Owain Tudur Jones winning caps during Jones’s career, it is likely had he opted for Wales Jones would have won several caps.
Left midfield – Kevin Sheedy – if you are a keen pub quizzer the inclusion of Sheedy will be additionally curious to you as he is the answer to the excellent quiz question: Who is the last person born in Wales to play in a World Cup? Born in Builth Wells to an Irish father, Sheedy would have had the likes of Leighton James and Mickey Thomas rivals for Wales on the left wing had he not opted to represent the Republic of Ireland at under 21 level in 1978 following what he perceived to be lack of Welsh interest in him. Sheedy went on to win 46 caps and play at the 1988 European Championships and 1990 World Cup so presumably does not regret his choice.
— Tommie Collins (@CYMROPORT) November 8, 2015
Midfield – Owen Hargreaves – the one that for many Welsh fans still rankles. Canadian-born to an English father and Welsh mother, but with German citizenship, Hargreaves ended up winning 42 England caps, a total which surely would have been higher but for chronic and ultimately career-ending injuries. Given the multi-international competition for his allegiance and the frankly shambolic management of the Welsh intermediate grades during the 1990s it is rather impressive that Wales managed to persuade Hargreaves to represent them at all, winning 3 under 19 caps between years. He finally switched in 2000 after England approached him to represent its under 21 side. Hargreaves was due to make his Welsh under 21 bow in Belarus but withdrew. Jimmy Shoulder, in a lackadaisical manner that epitomises his dreadful tenure of the under 21s, said of Hargreaves’ decision:
“I think Owen is sensible to keep his options open”
And so he was lost to Wales, making his full England début against The Netherlands in August 2001 and going to play at the 2002 World Cup.
Midfield – Matthew De Cae – Luxembourg-born to a Welsh mother, De Cae played five times for Wales under 19s in 2007 and 2008. He later signed for Bridgend Town whilst studying at the University of Glamorgan which suggests any international aspirations he might still have will likely be realised with Luxembourg rather than Wales.
Midfield – Paul James – The likes of Rush, Ratcliffe, Hughes and Southall might not have played at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico but one Welshman did. Having become a Canadian citizen in 1983 Cardiff-born, ex-Newport County player James played in each of Canada’s group games. In total he played 47 times for Canada and was later inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame. He became a successful youth and women’s coach in Canada, despite battling crack cocaine addiction, which he writes frankly about in his autobiography Cracked Open. You can take the boy out of Cardiff….
Forward – Dylan Hughes – Gary Speed recommended Hughes to the Wales youth set up having caught his eye while he was involved with Newcastle United’s youth teams. Having not made the grade at Newcastle, Canadian-born Hughes was playing regularly for Kaiserslautern’s reserve team in Germany and keeping his options open over his international allegiance. He had already declined to join up with a Canada under 20 squad in 2003 when he accepted a call up for a Wales under 21 friendly in Latvia in 2004. “It will give me a good chance to look at the Wales set-up and for them to look at me” Hughes, eligible via his Welsh father, said at the time of his call-up with the friendly status of the game meaning an appearance would not tie Hughes to Wales permanently. At least in theory anyway; it can’t have gone down well in Canada when he was also quoted as saying that he’d “definitely rather play for a European country ahead of Canada…Playing in Europe you are facing bigger and better countries.” Hughes was among 12 new caps selected by then under 21 manager Glyn Hodges in a final warm up for the European Championship qualification campaign. Hughes was an unused substitute in the campaign’s opening game in Azerbaijan but was not called-up for the following double header against England and Poland. By the time the next fixture came round in February 2005 Mark Hughes had resigned and John Toshack had brought in Brian Flynn at Hodges’s expense to oversee a radical, and ultimately successful, overhaul of the Welsh intermediate set-up. Hughes was never selected again. By his late 20s Hughes had quit playing and become an agent, a connection which led to a Canadian property developer buying German fifth division side SC Fürstenfeldbruck and installing Hughes as its sporting director. Relegation to Germany’s sixth tier quickly followed.
Karl Darlow – Northampton-born Darlow qualifies for Wales via his Ynysybwl-born grandfather Ken Leek who was a non-playing member of Wales’ 1958 World Cup squad and went on to win 13 caps. Despite this heritage Darlow declined the opportunity to join a Wales squad in 2013 when approached ahead of a friendly against Austria in Swansea. Wayne Hennessey was injured at the time and Coleman selected Lewis Price and Owain Fon Williams as back up to Boaz Myhill, but they were playing less frequently and at a lower level respectively than Darlow at that time. Darlow was quoted as not wanting to make any decisions about his international future. And though Darlow has since stepped up to the EPL with a move to Newcastle United, he has yet to make his league debut for them and was returned to his first club Nottingham Forest for a season-long loan in 2014-15. Any aspirations to represent England might be realistic according to some and he has been linked previously with the likes of Arsenal, Tottenham and Liverpool.
Ben Turner– with maternal and paternal grandparents from Wales (though he could only prove the roots of one of them) Turner bluntly turned down Wales in 2012 when approached by Chris Coleman, having been approached at under 21 level previously by Brian Flynn. His response was as robust as his playing style:
“I couldn’t justify it for me and clear my own conscience. It would be like I was pretending to be a Welshman when I’m not. The reason I turned down Wales is that I’m an English lad. There are lads who grow up dreaming about playing for Wales because they are Welsh and are born in Wales”
Turner’s honesty is to be admired and it appears unlikely he will ever change his mind. Realistically though with Wales able to choose from EPL regulars James Collins, Ashley William, Ben Davies and James Chester, Turner is some way down the pecking order.
Rhys Williams – The one that got away? Having lost Owen Hargreaves to England while still a teenager, many Welsh fans are disappointed with John Toshack for letting Williams slip through our grasp. Had Williams taken to the field in either of the qualifiers against Finland and Germany after his first call-up in March-April of 2009 the competitive status of the games would have seen him cease to be able to represent England, India or Australia (the country of his birth) for whom he was also eligible. Not surprisingly Williams was disappointed not to take to the pitch: “I was a bit upset that I didn’t play last time in one of the matches…[I]t’s not me who picks the team so you’ve just got to wait and see. Wales have been good to me, I just want to keep progressing and hopefully I will get in eventually and play games.” Moreover, rather than face Germany, Toshack pressed Williams into under 21 action in a laboured goalless draw in Luxembourg and within two weeks of the above quote Williams opted to represent Australia with his agent, not unreasonably, citing a lack of Welsh “interest in him being in the first team squad”. Williams has been more contrite since, expressing regret at “jumping ship”
Terry Venables – at the time of his two caps for England (1964) Venables would only have been eligible for the country in which he was born. However, had he remained uncapped for another year, when FIFA relaxed the rules to allow a player to represent a country of his parents’ birth, he would have been eligible for Wales via his Clydach Vale-born mother. Also close on at least one occasion to managing Wales, Venables is revered in his mother’s home village where a suite is named after him and the picture adorns a clubhouse alongside one of Ryan Giggs and John Charles
If you can think of anyone else eligible for Wales then tweet us at @PodcastPeldroed