The summer of 2016 was the best summer of a lot of Wales fans life. Having qualified for the European Championship for the first time in history, fans were excited. EURO 2016 was the first taste of major competition for many Wales fans. Few remembered Pele knocking Wales out the 1958 World Cup, their last tournament before EURO 2016
Wales won four matches in the Euros that year. Chris Coleman led his team to the Semi Finals, where they lost 2-0 to Portugal. But that didn’t matter. The Wales vs Belgium match, where Robson-Kanu turned his way into mythology, was the best game I’ve ever seen in my life. The eleven men that started game has ascended to legendary status. Some of them are still playing for Wales today. A few are retired. Some simply are not as good as Rubin Colwill, apparently.
So where are the heroes of Cymru now?
1. Wayne Hennessey
The six foot six goalkeeper from Bangor has been a consistent Wales starter since 2007. He played every game in Qualifying for Wales, and all but one in the Euros. Hennessey missed the EURO 2016 opener against Slovakia due to injury, but was recalled for the England game.
He conceded twice, including a last minute winner from Daniel Sturridge, but performed well. He kept his place for the rest of campaign, and is Wales highest capped goalkeeper, with 96 caps.
After EURO 2016, he became first choice keeper at Crystal Palace. Despite Palace signing French international Steve Mandanda, Hennessey made the number 1 shirt his own. He played 29 Premier League matches that campaign, with Mandanda suffering injuries and homesickness.
Hennessey would keep his place in the staring line up until 2 seasons later. He was usurped by Spanish goalkeeper Vincent Guita, signed in the summer. He has been Wales regular goalkeeper until EURO 2020, when Danny Ward took his spot. Ward started the Slovakia game in Euro 2016.
Hennessey was investigated by the FA due to a supposed Nazi salute he appeared to perform in a team photo. The charges were ultimately dropped due to Hennessey’s ignorance about Nazism, with Palace manager Roy Hodgson claiming he was “desperate to learn about the Nazis”
2. Chris Gunter
No man has ever played more games with the dragon on his chest than Chris Gunter. The former Cardiff City and Tottenham man played every minute at EURO 2016, and proved his worth with solid performance throughout the tournament, and has earned every one of his 100+ caps.
Gunter played every match of the following two seasons, as he helped Reading to third place in the league. They lost to Huddersfield on penalties. Gunter was brought agonisingly close to playing in the Premier League for the first time since his days at Tottenham. The following season, the club finished 20th in the league and narrowly avoided relegation to the Championship. They sacked manager Jaap Stam in March and replaced him with former Swansea boss Paul Clement.
Gunter lost his place the following two seasons, and was put on the transfer list. He still managed to make his 225th start for Reading and 500th appearance in football total, but was released at the end of his deal in 2020.
Gunter was part of the Wales squad that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. This marked the end of Chris Coleman’s reign as manager, and Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs was handed the reigns at Wales.
Giggs began to usher in a new era at Wales, bringing through young players and handing them their first chances in a Wales jersey. One of these was Connor Roberts, a rapid young right back playing for Swansea. Roberts soon succeeded Gunter, making his debut against China in 2018 and keeping his place ever since.
Gunter would still play for Wales, becoming the countries most capped Wales player of all time in 2018. He overtook Neville Southall’s record of 92 in a 1-0 loss to Albania.
He became the first Welshman to earn a century of caps in a 1-0 win over Mexico, and as of the 1-0 loss to Italy in Euro 2020, has earned 102 caps.
After being released by Reading, Gunter signed a deal with Charlton Athletic in October 2020. He made 36 appearances for Charlton in League One, but failed to help the club gain promotion to the Championship.
5. James Chester
The Aston Villa defender looked like the third man in defence at the tournament start, with the lack of depth in the Wales squad clearly defined by his selection.
However, the English born defender proved himself a very competent defender in the tournament. He looked solid on the right hand side of Ashley Williams, looked good at passing the ball out from the back against teams like Russia.
Chester moved to Aston Villa in a deal worth more than £8 million after the Euros. He spent four years with the Villians, helping them achieve promotion to the Premier League in 2019. They won the play off final in 2019, beating Derby 2-1 at Wembley. However, Chester was injured for the latter half of the campaign, and didn’t play in the final.
He never made an appearance for Villa in the Premier League, however. A knee injury limited his involvement with the team, and he was loaned out to Stoke City until the end of the season.
He signed permanently for Stoke at the end of the 2019/2020 season, where he remains to this day.
Chester has achieve 35 caps for Y Draigau, but hasn’t played for the team since 2019, but show no signs of International retirement.
6. Ashley Williams
The talismanic Captain played the tournament of his life at Euro 2016. The Swansea man couldn’t put a foot wrong in every game he played in, including a fine headed goal in the famous 3-1 over Belgium. He played ever game in the famous run to the Euro 2016 semi final.
His performances for Wales and Swansea City earned the Welshman a £12 million move to Merseyside club Everton in the Summer of 2016. The transfer was greeted with much excitement, as Williams had been a rock in the Swansea defence in the Premier League.
He started strongly at Everton, helping the Toffees to a seventh place finish in 2016/17. However, the following season his form dipped dramatically. He lost his place in the team, and struggled with his discipline. Williams was sent off in a Europa League tie against Lyon, pushing Lyon keeper Anthony Lopes into the advertising boards. He also got into a scuffle with a set of Everton fans, eventually punching one of his own fans in the face.
This marked the beginning of the end for his time at Everton. He was loaned to Stoke the following season, playing 33 matches for the Potter’s in the Championship.
He then spent a year at Bristol City, playing 32 times but retiring at the end of the season.
The defender retired from International duty in 2018 after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
4. Ben Davies
The second of three former Swansea men in defence is Tottenham defender Ben Davies. Davies was suspended for the Semi Final match against Portugal. He was sorely missed as he was replaced by James Collins in a 2-0 defeat.
Davies has played for Tottenham Hotspur since he left Swansea in 2014. He cost the London side for an undisclosed fee, as part of a deal to take Gyfli Sigurddson to Swansea.
Davies has been in and out of the Spurs side over the years, battling for the left back spot with the likes of Danny Rose and Sergio Reguilon. He has also played at Centre back, in a back 4 or back 5. Davies became a regular starter playing under Jose Mourinho, but lost his place to Reguilon after a series of bad performances.
He was part of the Spurs squads that made the 2019 Champions League final and 2021 League cup final. Tottenham lost both games to Liverpool and Man City, respectively. He has yet to win a trophy with Tottenham, but has made 228 appearances and scored 5 goals.
He was part of the Wales squad that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, and was a regular starter at left back when Wales made it to the knock out round of the 2020 Euros.
3. Neil Taylor
Neil “The Gower” Taylor became Wales most unlikely goal scorer when he netted past Igor Akinfeev in Euro 2016. Taylor scored the second as Wales trounced Russia in Euro 2016 3-0.
Taylor joined Aston Villa from Swansea City in the January after the Euro’s, as part of a swap deal for Jordan Ayew. He cemented himself as a starter in his second season with Villa, and helped the club reach the 2018 Play off final. He wasn’t included in the matchday squad, but started the next year when they won the final and were promoted to the Premier League.
Injuries and bad form lost him his place at Villa, and only made 15 appearances in the two seasons he spent in the top division. He was released at the end of the season, and is currently without a club.
Taylor withdrew from the Wales squad in 2019 for their tie against Azerbaijan. It was cited as personal reasons, and the defender has not made another appearance for Wales since. He has 43 caps for Wales and will go down as a legend for his part in the 2016 success.
7. Joe Allen
The “Welsh Xavi” has been a fan favourite of the Wales fans since he made his debut for Y Draigiau in 2009. The tidy midfielder who’s ball retention ability and creative passing has been a joy to watch, and popping up for occasional long range goal hasn’t hurt either.
After falling out of favour with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp before the Euros, Allen made the jump to Stoke City. Stoke boss Mark Hughes paid £13 million for the Welsh midfielder. He became a regular fixture in the Stoke midfield, but suffered relegation to the championship in 2018.
After relegation, Allen played every game in the Championship as Stoke achieved a 16th place finish. He played every game of the 19/20 season, but suffered a serious achilleas injury in March which looked set to rule him out of the Euros. Due to COVID-19 postponing the tournament, he was fit the following summer. He started alongside Joe Morrell in midfield in all 4 matches, as Wales crashed out the tournament in the Round of 16 to Denmark.
10. Aaron Ramsey
From a fresh faced 16 year old coming off the bench in the 2008 FA Cup Final, to the blonde haired dynamo tearing Belgium apart, Aaron Ramsey’s career is a long as successful one.
After his Euro 2016 escapades, he spent 3 more years at current club Arsenal. Ramsey won three FA Cup’s with the Gunners, scoring twice in the final win against Hull. He was runner up in the Europa League final against Chelsea in 2019, before failing to renew his contract at the Emirates.
The Welsh midfielder joined Juventus on a free transfer in 2019, signing for a reported £400,000 a week deal. He became one of the highest earners at the club, but injuries impacted the impact he could make at the Allianz Stadium. He won the Serie A league title in his first season, becoming the first Welshman to lift the trophy since Juventus legend John Charles in 1961.
Playing alongside the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Pablo Dybala, he was part of the first Juventus side in 10 years to not win the Scudetto, losing the title to Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan.
In Euro 2020, he starred as Wales made it through their group to the knock out rounds. He scored the winner and, along with Gareth Bale, dominated the match as Wales beat Turkey 2-0. After a loss to his club’s home country Italy, Wales were drawn against Denmark in the round of 16.
16. Joe Ledley
The former Cardiff City man has enjoyed a long career in English football since leaving Cardiff City for Celtic in 2010
Ledley moved on a free transfer to Celtic, and was a key part in a team which won 3 SPL titles and a Scottish cup. He even started in that famous 2-1 over Barcelona. Former Cardiff City striker Tony Watt scored a brace to knock down the multi time European Champions.
Ledley spent 4 years at Parkhead, before moving to his first Premier League club, Crystal Palace. He spent another 4 years at Palace but never really nailed down a starting place. Palce made it all the way to the FA Cup final that season. However, they were not to win. Jesse Lingard scored the winner to sink Alan Pardew’s side.
Ledley became a hero as part of the Wales team that made it to the EURO 2016 Semi Finals. He suffered a leg break the season prior with Crystal Palace, and played his first game in almost a year, coming on as a second half sub for David Edwards.
Ledley spent a further year at Palace, only making 18 Premier League appearances as the Eagles avoided relegation. He moved to Derby County the following year on a free transfer, but once again failed to hold down a place in the side. Two seasons and 30 appearances later, he spent one game at Charlton Athletic before moving “Down Under” to Australian side Newcastle Jets.
He only spent a year in Australia before returning to Wales with Newport County. Newport sadly lost the League 2 play off final by an extra time penalty. Ledley left in the summer after his contract expired, and is still without a club at the time of writing.
11. Gareth Bale
The argument for Wales greatest ever player isn’t a long one, but Bale is right up there along with John Charles. Both led their counties to unpredicented heights and shone on the domestic and European stage.
Bale was a Real Madrid player in 2016 when he led Wales to the Semi Finals of Euro 2016. He scored in ever group stage match including “the best moment of my life” when his free kick snuck under Joe Hart vs England. The Welshman also crossed in to help Gareth McAuley score an own goal to help Wales past Northern Ireland. He then played in Aaron Ramsey to set Hal Robson-Kanu for his famous goal versus Belgium.
He has had a glittering career with currently club Real Madrid. Bale scored over 100 goals for Los Blancos, and helped the club to a league title and four Champions League title. This included goals in three finals, including an outrageous bicycle kick in the 2018 final against Liverpool.
Bale spent a season on loan at Spurs in 20/21, helping the team to a league cup final. That summer helped Wales to the European Championship. He dominated in the group stage against Turkey, assisting Ramsey and Connor Roberts but sadly missing a penalty.
Bale became Wales all time top goal scorer in 2018, netting a hat trick against China to overtake Ian Rush’s record of 29 goals. He has since scored 33 goals for Y Draigiau and remains one of the most loved Wales players of all time.
For a man who’s only scored 5 International goals in 46 matches, he sure knows when to put his shooting boots on.
Robson-Kanu was famously released by Reading on the eve on Euro 2016. The Welshman was still looking for a club when he netted twice in Euro 2016, including THAT Cruyff turn against Belgium.
Robson-Kanu was linked with Spanish giants Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2016, but opted for a move to West Brom. He spent 5 years with the Baggies. He suffered relegation but then promoted back to the Premier League, and scored an excellent goal against Liverpool last season. The striker was released by West Brom at the end of the season. He missed out on selection for Rob Page’s Wales squad for the Euro 2020 tournament.
Manager – Chris Coleman
Rightfully considered by many to be Wales greatest ever manager, Coleman guided Wales to the Semi Finals of Euro 2016 and into the Welsh history books. However, only two years later he would leave his post as Wales manager.
Chris Coleman resigned from the Wales job after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. He resigned from the role on November 17, 2017.
Two days later, he was confirmed as the new manager of Sunderland. Now struggling in the Championship after relegation from the Premier League, Coleman took charge of the Black Cats as they sat 3rd bottom of the Championship, staring relegation in the face.
Coleman was handed an aging squad on high wages who didn’t want to be at the club. Key players like Jermaine Defoe, Didier Ndong and Seb Larsson all left the club in the summer, and the club failed to replace them.
Coleman briefly lifted the club out of the relegation zone before Christmas. Lack of investment meant free transfers and loans were the only incomings into the club. Signings like Jonny Williams, Adam Matthews and Aiden Mcgeady propped up the failing club, but a nine game winless run put them right back into the relegation zone.
Sunderland were relegated at the end of the season. Coleman was sacked at the end of April when the club were sold by owner Ellis Short.
Coleman’s reign at Sunderland was captured in the Netflix documentary Sunderland Till I Die, which gives a sympathetic look at the challenges he faced at such a dysfunctional club, but not overlooking his personal failures.
Move to China
After Sunderland he moved to China, taking over at Hebei China Fortune in the Chinese Super League. He replaced Manuel Pellegrini in June 2018, the former Manchester City boss who moved to West Ham United that summer.
Coleman had a tough first season. Despite the high profile signing of Barcelona star Javier Mascherano, Hebei struggled to sixth in the table, and missed out on the AFC Champions League places.
The next season went even worse. He was sacked in May 2019, with the club sat in the relegation for the majority of the season. It was his last manager job so far, and has since found work as a pundit. He was seen recently covering Wales’ matches at Euro 2020.