We're On Our Way To france!
Wales and Swansea star defender Neil Taylor on the 58 year wait to get this country to a major football tournament. Interview by Riath Al-Samarrai
REDHANDED: How does it feel to have qualified for Euro 2016?
NEIL TAYLOR: Honestly, it doesn’t feel like it has been fully absorbed. It is a massive achievement for us as individuals and as a team and so obviously there has been a very nice feeling about doing this, but the magnitude of it has not quite hit. I think once the draw comes out and we see Wales up against these big teams on this huge stage; that is when it will hit home.
When you reflect, are there any definitive moments that stand out? It felt like Andorra away, when Bale scored in the final 10 minutes, was critical. Instead of being the clowns that had drawn against a minnow, and Chris Coleman getting hammered, you were off to a winning start.
Andorra was definitely a turning point. It was a difficult game, it really was. The artificial pitch out there was dreadful, honestly it should not have been cleared for football. I gather it has got better since we were there but at the time it was awful. Besides that, they were a team that sat back a lot, fouled you and play acted a fair bit as well. Combine all that and it was a hard night for us. We were trying a new formation and nothing quite got going. We all could have come out of that game looking very silly. No team in world football is truly a minnow any more – Andorra scored against Belgium as well. But obviously we were expected to beat them and if we had not we would all have been under a lot of pressure. It was a very big moment.
What was the reaction inside the camp to that 2-1 win?
We just decided we had to move on from it. I remember us all talking and saying it had to be a wake-up call. In fairness it was. We changed our formation after that and everything took off from there.
What are the factors behind the success of this campaign?
The thing that really impresses me is the team spirit. We have boys in the squad who have not played so much for their clubs and they come in and give absolutely everything. It is not just some line that you say either – it really helps. We all want to come and play. I would love it if we could form as a club side – not that it is possible. But it is such a nice feeling being with this group of players. There have been none of those little cliques you find at clubs, the groups that just naturally form together. At Wales, everyone enjoys everyone’s company. We have all had this common purpose and that has brought us all together. Look at Gareth Bale – he is properly world class but he turns up and just wants to be part of everything straight away. How many minutes did he miss in this campaign? You wouldn’t be able to keep him away.
I think it was about three minutes.
I think with Gareth it is an element of being back home. He is coming to Cardiff where he is surrounded by his friends, both at home in the city and in the squad. We have all known each other since we were kids really and I think Gareth is very comfortable when he comes back to Wales and is surrounded by that.
He gets criticism at Real Madrid. What do you make of that?
He is world class. There is not much more to say. He is a simply brilliant player. I’d far rather play with him than against him.
How important has it been to this side that so many of you were given chances at a young age and have been brought through together? The John Toshack era was generally criticized but he did set a foundation for so many young players having so much experience by the time this campaign came around.
The experience of the squad has been a massive factor in why this has happened. Look at someone like Chris Gunter – he is 26-years-old and has something like 60 international caps. But none of that is by accident. A decision was taken many years ago that it was time to focus on the future and that meant bringing through young players together. That is risky and we have seen that. But in time it has worked out.
Obviously this campaign belongs to Chris Coleman, the squad and also the big role played by Gary Speed. But does Toshack deserve more credit looking back?
He definitely deserves credit. I think a lot of people deserve credit. But I remember our manager saying there weren’t many managers who wanted to share the credit when we got beat 6-1 by Serbia. But you have to say a lot of managers deserve a share of the credit for what we have done. John Toshack gave me my debut against Croatia. When Gary Speed came in he transformed things. He was a big part of it and we all wanted to do well for him and his memory. Then we have the current manager who has been huge for us. He has created that excellent environment for us, found us a style and a formation. We have come a very long way from some pretty bad results.
What have been the low points – Wales have taken their share of batterings over the years?
There have been some very hard times. Not so much in terms of a specific battering but more in feeling like we were playing for a reserve side on some occasions when you were playing for your country in front of tiny crowds. That was only a couple of years ago and we had someone like Gareth Bale in the side. Even kids didn’t want to come and see us play. It was not nice. But if you know the film is going to be bad why would you buy a ticket?
Wales are now in Euro 2016 and have been ranked inside the top 10 in the world. What is the potential for the group?
We have big potential. We can’t get carried away with predictions because we need to see what comes out of the draw. But we play good football and have a counter-attacking style that could be quite effective. With the weapons we have, we are quite effective that way and that is credit to the manager. Also, and I’m not just saying it because I’m a defender, I think one of the pleasing parts of the campaign is that we conceded four goals and none were from open play. We have made ourselves hard to beat. The team has come a very long way.
The Euro 2016 draw takes place on December 12.