Rob Page has conceded he is treating Joe Allen as a special case after naming him in his squad for Wales’s first World Cup in 64 years and admitted that Gareth Bale’s fitness for the finals remains the “million-dollar question”.
By the time Wales play USA in their Group B opener Allen will not have played a competitive game for more than two months but Page is giving the Swansea midfielder every chance of being fit for their first game in Qatar and never entertained the idea of not selecting the 32-year-old because of his invaluable experience.
Allen, who last month visited a specialist about his hamstring complaint, has been named in the 26-man squad that will be captained by Gareth Bale, who recently scored a crucial extra-time equaliser to help Los Angeles FC to their first Major League Soccer title.
Page admitted that whether Bale, who is yet to complete 90 minutes since moving to the MLS in June, has the fitness capacity to play three games in nine days is a key issue facing Wales in Qatar.
Wales begin their tournament against USA on 21 November before matches against Iran and then England. “Has he played as many minutes as we’d like? Probably not,” Page said of Bale. “But that doesn’t worry me. He’s proved time and time again when he puts the Welsh jersey on, irrespective of how many minutes he’s played at domestic level, he’s always produced.
“On big occasions he’ll always turn up, thrive, and enjoy it. He’s already with the [Wales] staff, over in the country and raring to go. Gareth has proven in the past that without minutes he can deliver in important stages.”
Of Allen, Page said: “We’re giving him every opportunity to be fit for that first game. He’s progressing as we want him to . If he’s fit, he’s playing. He’s massive for how I play and the success we’ve had. He’s a senior lad, he’s got vast amounts of experience playing tournament football as well so he knows the game inside-out and that’s invaluable. That’s why I’m throwing everything at it.
“It’s similar to Joe Ledley probably at [Euro] 2016, when Cookie [Chris Coleman] had that scenario with an experienced lad that he wanted to go in, because he needed him as a key figure in that team. For me, it’s no different with Joe [Allen.”
Page had always maintained there would be few shocks in his squad. The Luton Town defender Tom Lockyer, whose last Wales appearance came against Finland in September 2021, has been recalled to the squad in place of the injured Rhys Norrington-Davies.
There is no place for the in-form Swansea winger Oli Cooper or the Rangers forward Rabbi Matondo, who also missed out on a place at the European Championship last year. Chris Gunter and Jonny Williams, who play in League Two for AFC Wimbledon and Swindon Town respectively, have both been included.
Page announced his squad at Tylorstown Welfare Hall, the last surviving coal miners’ hall in the Rhondda valley, around the corner from the manager’s childhood home, where his parents still reside.
In contrast to the USA, who lit up the Empire State Building in red, white and blue in preparation for their squad announcement. “It is a world away from lighting up the Empire State Building,” Page said, speaking in a building that used to be his old snooker hall.
On Wednesday morning, Page went for breakfast with his father in nearby Pentre, the birthplace of Jimmy Murphy, Wales’s manager at the 1958 World Cup, before visiting the blue plaque on the outside of Murphy’s old house on Treharne Street. “I haven’t been back for a few years and to come back to Tylorstown, where I grew up, and share it with the family is really, really special,” Page said. “It means the world to me and the people of the Rhondda as well.”