Where now for Wales as Giggs turns his back?

May 30 2007

Ryan Giggs - destined to be remembered as the second best Welsh footballer behind John CharlesRyan Giggs is to retire from international football after Saturday’s game against the Czech Republic in Cardiff. The timing of the announcement may create a sense of shock, but it’s not really that big a surprise.

It is now unfortunately the norm for players seeking to prolong their careers to announce their retirement from international football, even though they seem fully capable of representing their country.

Alan Shearer and Paul Scholes are two recent examples, and while Shearer’s departure left a void in England’s front line that has still not been filled, Scholes’s performances for Man United this season suggest he is still England’s most effective attacking midfielder.

Gary Speed is still one of the Premiership’s most consistent performers, but Wales have been without his services since 2004, and now Giggs is set to join him.

As a Welshman, it is a tremendous disappointment. Since bursting onto the international scene as a 17 year-old, Giggs’s Wales career has been dogged by accusations that he elected to miss seemingly insignificant friendlies by claiming to be injured when he was fit enough to play for his club. But still the hope persisted that only with Giggs to the fore could Wales hope to qualify for a major tournament.

Only since John Toshack handed him the captain’s armband has he appeared consistently for his country, and now he decides to retire.

Toshack has received a lot of flak for his policy of blooding very young players for the national side and persisting with a slightly antiquated 5-3-2 formation, but although the current qualifying campaign has been something of a let-down, in players like Gareth Bale, Chris Gunter, Lewin Nyatanga and Jason Koumas there is real hope for the future.

Toshack needs Giggs to help the youngsters on. Since the end of the Hughes/Rush/Southall era, he has been Wales’s only world class player. Lose Giggs, and Wales lose not only a significant force on the pitch but a huge chunk of credibility – and marketing appeal – off it.

The current Wales team is a disjointed side. New players are still bedding in. The young players will want to look to Giggs for guidance ahead of the World Cup 2010 qualifying campaign (which has long been Toshack’s stated objective), but he has turned his back. The fact he couldn’t even see out the rest of the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign seems to represent a damning indictment of the supposed potential in the team.

His recent commitment to the Welsh cause has allowed some Welsh fans to forgive his previous reluctance to play, but the decision now to turn his back on this young, developing side in favour of his club is unlikely to be forgotten.

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