By David Williams
Wales boss Rob Page says Brennan Johnson will handle the pressure of being compared to Gareth Bale.
The retirement of former skipper Bale – the men’s team’s record goalscorer and most capped player – in January has left Wales with a huge void to fill for the forthcoming Euro 2024 qualifying campaign.
Johnson is the top scorer for Premier League new boys Nottingham Forest this season with nine goals, but faces further assessment on a groin problem before being given the all clear to face Croatia and Latvia this week.
“Brennan is a top player – he’s arguably one of the best counter-attacking centre-forwards in the Premier League at this moment,” said Page when asked if expectation levels on the 21-year-old were unfair.
“Top players deal with pressure. He will be fine with that.
“His journey in the last two years since we brought him up to the first-team has been really impressive. But we have to manage that with young players.
“There’s no expectations from us, he just needs to keep playing how he has been and he will continue to create chances.
“Some of the opposition defenders he will play against are not as good as what he is facing week in, week out in the Premier League.
“We know he is capable of scoring goals, his pace is an unbelievable asset and threat, so we will continue to develop him and take that pressure off him. He just has to enjoy his football.”
Wales boss Rob Page says Brennan Johnson will handle the pressure of being compared to Gareth Balehttps://t.co/5E3Lv0KPAx
— PA Dugout (@PAdugout) March 22, 2023
Bale netted 41 goals for Wales – 13 more than second highest scorer Ian Rush – and made his 111th and final appearance at the World Cup in Qatar.
The former Real Madrid star was regularly the difference for over a decade as Wales broke into the top 10 of the FIFA world rankings and reached two European Championships and a World Cup.
Page said: “Gareth was one on his own. World-class. Absolutely.
“Brennan still has a lot of developing and improving to do. We think we can make him a better player as well.
“He is showing great potential at this moment, but we can’t compare him to Gareth. They are different types of players.”
Wales start their Euro 2024 campaign against Croatia, who finished third at the 2022 World Cup, in Split on Saturday and host Latvia in Cardiff three days later.
As well as losing Bale, Joe Allen, Chris Gunter and Jonny Williams have all retired from international football – four players boasting a combined total of 327 caps.
Page said: “It’s not just Brennan that has to come in now and step up to the plate, it’s an opportunity for the others around him to take that responsibility.
“It’s still the same journey we are on, it’s just that some of the players have retired.
“We want success. The biggest thing for us now is we don’t just hope with the question, ‘Can we qualify?’
“We believe we can. The biggest thing has to be the mindset in the changing room.”
Gunter, who announced his retirement from international football earlier this month, has joined the Wales coaching staff for the March window.
The 33-year-old AFC Wimbledon defender won 109 caps during a 15-year Wales career, second only to Bale’s 111 for the men’s national team.
“The role is seen as part of a transition into future coaching work,” the Football Association of Wales said.
Read more about Rob Page
And So It Begins . . . The Post-Bale Era For Wales, Where Only Brave Calls And A Radical Reset Can Fill The Void