Aaron Ramsey finished Euro 2016 having created more big chances than any other player at the tournament. At Euro 2020, Daniel James has so far created the fourth-most chances (trailing the top three by one). Wales seem to be blessed with playmaker potential.
When the Dragons reached the European Championship semi-finals five years ago, Gareth Bale was in his peak years for Real Madrid, Ramsey was coming off a 40-game season for Arsenal, and Joe Allen was setting the tempo at Anfield. Fast forward to Euro 2020 and that is a triumvirate arguably past its sell-by date, and yet, Wales are in the knockouts once again.
There may have been some concerns that Wales peaked in 2016 and question marks would have been raised as to where the next ‘Golden Generation’ would sprout up from. But, there is currently a swath of burgeoning talent nudging their way to the front of the Wales queue, chief among those is James.
At 23, James has perhaps passed the bracket of an ‘up-and-comer’, but he is certainly a player who has vast potential, and the general consensus at Manchester United is that there is more to come from him, impressing in intervals with his force-of-nature swiftness and vision-blurring speed.
“He’s growing up at Manchester United,” veteran centre-back Giorgio Chiellini mentioned ahead of Wales’ showdown with Italy, in which Roberto Mancini’s men won 1-0 to seal top spot in Group A (with Rob Page’s side finishing second).
When asked to pick out one or two players who could hurt Italy before their match in Rome, Chiellini responded: “I love Aaron Ramsey, we play together and he’s a fantastic player, he’s been unlucky with injuries.
“When he’s fit, he’s an intelligent and fantastic player, Bale is known by everyone and also I like James so much.”
A ringing endorsement from one of modern football’s greatest defenders should serve well to underpin the respect James has generated in his fledgling career, but Chiellini has not been the only illustrious name to earmark him for tournament success.
Former Man Utd manager Jose Mourinho made this assessment of James ahead of Euro 2020: “This kid James, they have to rely a lot on him, because he is fast. He’s the one who can break defenders.”
Endowed with breakneck speed and a fancy-footed approach, James has impressed for Wales this summer, culminating in the pace merchant creating eight chances so far, putting the likes of club teammate Bruno Fernandes (four), Thomas Muller (two) and Antoine Griezmann (six) to shame.
Daniel James has created more chances than any other player at #EURO2020 so far (8).
Already more than he managed in the Premier League for Man Utd in 2021 (6). pic.twitter.com/MeZdy2vsyL
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 20, 2021
He was relatively subdued in Wales’ 1-1 draw with Switzerland, but against Turkey he was the difference-maker alongside Bale and Ramsey, with that trident combining time and again to breach a porous backline and create havoc in the final third.
Wales’ closing match of the group phase saw them take on an Italy side who, prior to the showdown at the Stadio Olimpico, had not conceded in 10 straight games, winning each of those contests. And Mancini’s Gli Azzurri would ultimately make it 11 consecutive clean sheets and a national-record 30 games unbeaten.
It was not to be in the Eternal City for James and Co, but they have proven in these opening games that they can channel the spirit of 2016, keep the camaraderie at a high and devastate defences with the experience of Bale, precision of Ramsey, and acceleration, plus creativity, of James.