Do Not Underestimate The Determination Of A Quiet Bald Man. . . Especially When It’s Wales And Rob Page

One time wannabe Prime Minister Ian Duncan Smith once famously told a Tory conference: Do not underestimate the determination of the quiet man.  

Well, as it turned out, underestimates of his chances of making No.10 proved to be spot on.  

But there is another quietly determined bald man who’s making a much better fist of stepping into a leadership vacuum.  

Step forward, and take a bow, Wales football manager Robert Page. 

Understated, modest and unassuming are three words that would describe the man who is currently at the helm of the Welsh national team. 

His achievements so far with Wales – which culminated this week with the reward of a home tie in the World Cup play-offs next March – are fairly astonishing. 

An Emotional Rob Page claps the Wales fans after securing a home play-off tie. Pic: Getty Images.

He is the first Wales manager for 63 years to take the team to a World Cup play-off spot. 

You might recall that Page stepped in when Ryan Giggs was suspended whilst awaiting trial. 

His brief was to steady the ship, but he has done far more than that. The ship is in sight of an exciting destination, last visited in 1958. 

Page took charge just over a year ago and has overseen the whole of the World Cup qualifying campaign.  

Just imagine the chaos and uncertainty that must have swirled around the Football Association of Wales when the Giggs situation unfolded. 

With the Euros on the horizon back then as well as the aforementioned World Cup qualifiers, it was crucial they had a safe pair of hands in which to entrust the team. 

As it turns out, Page has proven so much more than that. 

It’s safe to say that at the time of his sudden promotion from assistant, very few people would have predicted him to be a future Wales manager.  

The only experience he had was in charge of Wales U21s and in the third and fourth tiers of English football with Port Vale and Northampton. 

He was sacked at Northampton following a humiliating FA Cup defeat to non-league Stourbridge.  

But, once again we come back to that word “determination”.  

Page was eager to rebuild his coaching career by working in the backroom staff at Nottingham Forest as well as taking on the job as Wales U21 manager.  

His reputation is now higher than it’s ever been, with his team just two games away from qualifying for the World Cup finals.  

Most Wales fans were not even born, never mind have no clear memory of being at a World Cup. It was that long ago.  

Yet Wales are almost there and the man who has masterminded it is not someone with a superstar playing background at Manchester United. 

There were no executives within the FAW anxious to anoint Page because of the reflected glory he might bring. 

He is not a man to send cameras whirring and shutters clicking at swanky FIFA locations, where the tournament draws are made. 

His is “Pagey” – a heart on his sleeve Rhondda boy with a work ethic, a sharp mind and a winner’s tenacity who will stick up for his work mates and players at all costs.  

Rob Page in action for Coventry back in 2005. Pic: Getty Images.

Back in 2007, whilst playing for Coventry at the back end of his career, Page was left with his hand in a cast and his Coventry teammate Michael Doyle was without three front teeth.  

This stemmed from a heated training-ground bust-up, prompted by Doyle’s tackle on Chris Birchall. A dazed Doyle headed back to the dressing room and the caretaker manager at the time, Adrian Heath, sent youth-team players out to hunt for Doyle’s teeth. 

“They were like forensics, on their hands and knees on the training pitch, in lines, and they had to stay out there until they found all of his teeth,” the Coventry goalkeeper at the time, Luke Steele, recalled on a podcast last year. “It was a mess. Doyley got these beautiful new veneers after that.” 

These days, Page may possess a calmer temperament, but anyone who threatens the ethos of Together, Stronger would be wise to tread carefully. 

In poignant scenes after Wales’s draw against the world number one ranked team Belgium, On Tuesday night, Page showed a softer side by walking around the edge of the pitch with a tear in his eye as he clapped the Wales supporters.  

Rob Page at a Euro 2020 press conference. Pic: Getty Images.

From a tactical perspective, Page has also shown his capabilities during this interim period.  

He has not been overly reliant on the rescuer, Gareth Bale, who has only scored in one of his 19 games in charge – that was his hat-trick away to Belarus in September.  

There is flexibility and pragmatism. The caretaker has not been afraid to utilise the arial presence of Kieffer Moore, whilst sometimes switching to the false nine formation.  

More impressively, he has shown he knows what type of game suits what type of formation and opposition. 

After being held to a draw against Estonia at home, he switched to a more attacking line-up and style of play for Wales’ pivotal two final games in the group. 

He has also not been afraid to put his own stamp on the team by rewarding both potential and current form.  

The likes of Cardiff duo Rubin Colwill and Mark Harris have both had opportunity as well as former non-league star Sorba Thomas, who plays his football at unfashionable Huddersfield.  

Page’s long-term future with Wales may well be reliant on the outcome of Giggs’ trial in January. 

But what he has shown in abundance is that he has what it takes to finish the job he has started.  

If the fulfillment of his ambition and potential is not with Wales, then it will surely be with someone else – at either club or international level. 

 

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