Since Ryan Giggs took charge of the Welsh national team in January 2018, the former Manchester United winger has brought a number of new faces into the squad.
Due to the great work of the previous manager, Chris Coleman, there was already a solid platform on which Welsh football could build.
However, Giggs has appreciated that star talents such as Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey won’t be around forever and that a supply line of young talent had to be ready to supplement the senior players in his squad.
It was, therefore, no surprise to see that, in Wales’ emphatic 4-1 win over the Republic of Ireland in last September, Giggs gave competitive international debuts to six players under the age of 23.
At Squawka, we’ve taken a look at the young players who featured from that impressive result and the games since, as well as some of the other Welsh wonderkids who are building a bright future for the Dragons.
1. Ethan Ampadu
Position: Defensive midfielder/centre-back
Considering Ampadu made his competitive debut for hometown club, Exeter City, at just 15 years old, it comes as no surprise that the now-Chelsea youngster is at the very forefront of Ryan Giggs’ plans.
He put in a superb man-of-the-match performance on his competitive debut against the Republic of Ireland, outmuscling Jonathan Walters to set up Aaron Ramsey’s goal. He followed that up with another 70 minutes against Denmark. Having already made seven first-team appearances for Chelsea last season under Antonio Conte, Ampadu has sent a message to Maurizio Sarri about his plans to break into the first-team at Stamford Bridge next season – if Sarri is still in charge, of course.
2. Ben Woodburn
One of the most talked-about players from this crop of young talents, Ben Woodburn already has 10 caps and two goals for the Welsh senior side.
Woodburn also has 11 appearances for the Liverpool first-team under his belt. Half a season on loan with Championship side Sheffield United didn’t do much for his development, but he is now back at Liverpool and will be aiming to impress Jurgen Klopp in pre-season.
3. Matthew Smith
Club: FC Twente (on loan from Manchester City)
Following the path of so many talented Premier League youngsters, Matthew Smith spent the 2018/19 season on loan in Holland with FC Twente.
The 2010 Eredivisie winners suffered a shock relegation in 2017/18 but they will be back in the top-flight next term – Smith scored two goals in 34 league appearances for Twente to aid their promotion.
His performances earned him an international call-up, and he made his competitive debut for Wales by replacing Ethan Ampadu against the Republic of Ireland. He has made four more appearances since.
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4. Tyler Roberts
Club: Leeds United
Tyler Roberts had the honour of replacing Gareth Bale in Wales’ win over the Republic of Ireland, picking up his first senior cap in the process, and also played 20 minutes in their following game against Denmark.
Tricky, fast and with an eye for goal, Roberts already has 77 first-team games under his belt domestically, bagging 14 goals, and moved to Leeds United in January 2018 for a fee that could rise to £4 million. Roberts has been public in his praise about the effect Marcelo Bielsa has had on his career since walking through the doors at Elland Road – Ryan Giggs will be excited to see him translate those effects to the international stage.
5. Chris Mepham
Standing at 6 ft 3 inches tall, Chris Mepham definitely comes under the category of ‘domineering centre-back’.
After being released by Chelsea at 14-years-old, Mepham was picked up by Brentford and had a breakthrough season with the Bees in 2017/18, making 23 first-team appearances, becoming a mainstay in their defence before being poached by Bournemouth in January this year.
He made his Wales debut in March 2018, playing in the China Cup and played the full 90 minutes in his competitive debut against the Republic of Ireland.
6. David Brooks
Born in Warrington, David Brooks opted to play for Wales via his mother’s heritage.
That appears to be a very wise move with Brooks already picking up four caps for the senior side since making his debut against France in November 2017. The regular Premier League football this talented midfield playmaker is now receiving since his £10 million move to Bournemouth – bagging seven goals in 30 league games for the Cherries – should ensure he becomes one of the cornerstones of the Wales side for years to come.
7. Harry Wilson
Club: Derby County (on loan from Liverpool)
Harry Wilson actually made his Wales debut back in 2013, aged just 16 years, 6 months and 23 days old. That made the Wrexham-born winger Wales’ youngest ever senior player, beating the record of none other than Gareth Bale, and he subsequently became Liverpool’s youngest international footballer.
Since then, Wilson has only made one first-team appearance for the Reds but seven goals in 14 games on loan at Hull City in 2017/18 more than impressed, even winning back his place in the Wales squad. Wilson spent this season on loan at Derby County, who lost the play-off final to Aston Villa.
The free-kick expert will perhaps be hoping for a Premier League loan next season to strengthen his chances of staying in the Wales team.
8. Daniel James
Club: Swansea City
Reportedly on the verge of a £20m move to Manchester United, Daniel James lit up the Championship in a breakthrough season for Swansea City during 2018/19.
The 21-year-old notched five goals and seven assists for the Swansea last year but it was his blistering pace that really caught the eye. James recorded the third-highest fast breaks per 90 minutes (0.25) in the Championship of any player last season.
Since Solskjaer took the reins in December, no club managed more fast breaks (18) in the Premier League than Man Utd and James should fit in perfectly at Old Trafford if his deal goes through.
At international level, James has two caps so far and scored his first Wales goal during a 1-0 win over Slovakia in a Euro 2020 qualifier in March, while Giggs has lauded the youngster’s ability to ‘play anywhere’.
The Wales boss said: “You don’t need to speak to me to see the quality Dan has had, especially from the turn of the year.
“It has been well documented. The transfer breaking down with Leeds, the week after they (Swansea) played Leeds away and he played really well.
“From then really he has kicked on. For me, in the last game, he was fantastic.
“He is a talent and when you have speed like that as well as the temperament that he has, he could play anywhere.”