Is there any country on earth that produces as many great athletes as Wales, relative to size? Perhaps only Jamaica, which seems to always dominate in the Olympics despite only having a population of 2.5 million people. In all sports, Wales seem to do well, and there’s always at least one standout athlete that makes a name for him or herself in their field. Colin Jackson, Joe Calzaghe, Nicole Cooke, we could go on.
However, of all sports, Wales seem to excel in football more than any other. In this blog, we’re going to run through the all-time greatest Welsh footballers.
Four Champions League medals, two La Liga titles, a Copa Del Rey, and many iconic goals: has there ever been a better player, technically-speaking at least, than Gareth Bale? After bursting onto the scene at Tottenham, Bale enjoyed seven years at Real Madrid, where, though he eventually fell out with the management, he sealed his status as a superstar with several high-profile, trophy-winning goals.
After a slow start following his return to Tottenham at the beginning of the season, the Welshman is starting to show glimmers of his former self. After scoring two goals and getting an assist in the recent Premier League victory over Burnley, Bale’s rising confidence and integration into Mourinho’s side have meant he’s a key reason why experts that make football predictions back Spurs to get all three points against teams with poor defensive records. Having added another two goals against Crystal Palace to take his tally to six goals in six games, it looks like Bale might be getting back to his best.
What is it about Wales that produces so many excellent forward players? Ian Rush is one of the greatest strikers, not just in Wales, but all countries. During the 1980s and 1990s, he scored goal after goal after goal for his primary club, Liverpool, and helped take them to many trophies. He won five league titles, two European Cups, three FA Cups, and five League Cups during his time with the Merseyside club, playing a vital role and scoring key goals in the finals of competitions. Paired with Kenny Dalglish, he created a formidable partnership that took Liverpool to the summit of European football.
Rush was no slouch for the national Wales side either, scoring twenty-eight times in 73 appearances. Indeed, he was the country’s top goalscorer until Gareth Bale, who is currently on loan from Real Madrid at Tottenham, finally took his crown. Today, Rush works as an ambassador for Liverpool and also performs media duties.
And what about at the other end of the pitch? Wales don’t only produce great attacking players; they’re also not too shabby at defence. Neville Southall was rightly regarded as the best keeper on the planet during the 1980s and was a key reason for Everton’s trophy haul during the decade. A goalkeeper is rarely awarded the FWA Footballer of the Year award, but that’s just what Southall received in 1985. He played for Wales 92 times.
Another Welshmen, another prolific attacking threat. If you can reasonably make a case that a player is the best to have played in the Premier League, they must be good. Is Ryan Giggs the greatest ever Premier League player? The evidence stacks up. During his time at Manchester United (the only team he ever played for), he won the title a record thirteen times and bagged himself four FA cup wins, two Champions League medals, and many others over a twenty-four year period.
So decorated is Giggs that if he were a club, he’d stand third on the list of teams with most league title wins. And of course, anyone who watched Manchester United during the Giggs years — and especially during the 1990s — knows that he was instrumental to the side’s success. Giggs currently holds the record for most assists in the Premier League, with 162, and there’s only one active player, Kevin de Bruyne, within one hundred of him, so it’s likely he’ll hold that record for a while.