Daily Mail

Page on a knife-edge with rejuvenate­d Wales

- by Tom Collomosse

FROM the brink of the sack to the edge of history in the space of a few weeks.

One of Rob Page’s strengths is his level-headed manner but even he must be surprised at how his status as Wales manager has changed so dramatical­ly in such a short time.

Victory in Armenia today and against Turkey in Cardiff on Tuesday would ensure Wales qualify for their third successive major tournament — an unpreceden­ted achievemen­t and proof of how one result can alter the course of a manager’s future.

Ever since Wales’s disappoint­ing World Cup campaign a year ago, Page’s future has been in doubt, with the Welsh FA assessing possible replacemen­ts. He looked more vulnerable than ever when chief executive Noel Mooney gave an extraordin­ary interview before the friendly against Gibraltar in Wrexham on October 11, in which he intimated Page’s position was under review.

Mooney could not have known it, but his comments were an unexpected masterstro­ke. The players were furious and rallied around Page, who is hugely popular within the squad. His team promptly beat Croatia 2-1 to take control of their own destiny. Suddenly, Page was looking as secure as he had for some time and Mooney was facing the awkward questions, with Ben Davies and Harry Wilson criticisin­g his remarks publicly.

Yet if Wales blunder once more against Armenia or Turkey and are beaten to second place by Croatia, the tables could turn again, even though Page would almost certainly take charge of any play- off matches and is under contract until 2026.

Page and Mooney held talks earlier this month which the chief executive described as ‘positive and productive’.

Page said: ‘There were things said that needed to be said and we all want the same outcome. We all want to be successful for Wales and win games of football and qualify for major tournament­s.’

Page accepted that Mooney’s remarks had been ‘unnecessar­y’ but added: ‘We’re in a great place and full focus is now all on the football so I don’t want to waste any more time speaking about it, we’ve dealt with it.

We’re all on the same page. We all know what we’ve got to do. It’d be disrespect­ful from me now if I continue to keep talking about it to the players. Let’s just focus on the players and let them get on with their job of winning games.’

Wales had been in a slump since the retirement of Gareth Bale after the World Cup but the Croatia win revived a nation. Midfielder Jordan James went toe-to-toe with Luka Modric and came out on top. At 19, he looks set to be a key figure.

James played alongside Jude Bellingham at youth level for Birmingham. While it is unfair to compare any prospect with the Real Madrid superstar, he has an exciting future.

Though Aaron Ramsey is still out injured, Brennan Johnson returns after scoring his first goal for new club Tottenham in their 2-1 defeat at Wolves.

In Ramsey’s absence, Davies retains the armband. The Spurs defender finds his voice on internatio­nal duty. He gave an impromptu speech on the pitch immediatel­y after the Croatia win and urged team-mates to find a similar spirit today.

‘We never stopped believing,’ he said. ‘The mindset we’ve got is we can get a result against anyone. We’ve shown that. The speech was just a case of showing the reason why we’re here. It was backs-against-the-wall stuff, it was showing that people doubted us again but we’re still standing.’

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