Rob Page says Wales ‘a team in transition’ ahead of Gibraltar and Slovakia games

Rob Page has defended his assertion that Wales are in transition after failing to reach Euro 2024.

Wales end their season this week by playing Gibraltar and Slovakia, having missed out on a glamour friendly with two-time world champions France.

It is the first time Wales have been in action since losing the Euro 2024 play-off final to Poland on penalties over two months ago.

Wales v Poland – UEFA Euro 2024 Qualifying – Play Off Final – Cardiff City Stadium
Daniel James (left) is consoled after Wales’ Euro 2024 play-off final defeat to Poland in March (David Davies/PA)

Wales boss Page plans to introduce more young blood against Gibraltar on Thursday, with Charlie Crew, Fin Stevens, Lewis Koumas and Matt Baker in line to make their debuts at some point at the Estadio Algarve in Portugal.

But Page has angered some supporters with repeated claims that Wales remain in transition following the departure of talismanic skipper Gareth Bale, Joe Allen and others after the 2022 World Cup.

Ten of the team which started the Poland game were part of Page’s World Cup squad in Qatar, with the only exception being Birmingham midfielder Jordan James.

“I’ve made it pretty clear we are a team in transition,” Page told the PA news agency.

Wales v Finland – UEFA Euro 2024 Qualifying – Play Off – Cardiff City Stadium
Wales hope to introduce more talented youngsters like Jordan James (left) after the midfielder’s impressive displays in Euro 2024 qualifying (David Davies/PA)

“Off the back of the World Cup we knew we needed athleticism in that team. I was loyal to the senior players to take them to the World Cup.

“Lessons learned, we had a new campaign, we were a penalty away in transition from reaching the Euros.

“We found people like JJ (James) and are trying to introduce some of the younger players into the squad.

“That’s exactly what I mean by transition, and now we need another couple to step up and strengthen us.

“I’m not going to keep saying it forever, but at this moment we’re still looking for those young players.”

Wales might have been lining up against Kylian Mbappe and his French colleagues tomorrow rather than meeting one of the minnows of world football, who are ranked 203rd out of 210 teams.

Playing Euros-bound Georgia was another option for the Dragons, but that would have involved a tiring 4,700-mile round trip to Tbilisi.

“Because of the play-offs we had to play, a lot of teams had already planned their friendlies ahead of the Euros,” said Page.

“France was mentioned and at the last minute that was cancelled. It was taken off the table within 24 hours.

“It was out of our control and we’ve got from one extreme to the other by playing Gibraltar – but we’ll take the positives from it.

France v Scotland – International Friendly – Stade Pierre Mauroy
Wales saw prospects of a June friendly against Kylian Mbappe and France dashed (Adam Davy/PA)

“We had to look at the logistics with Georgia and show a bit of common sense. You’re looking at a five-hour flight to get there in June when the players have had such a long season.”

Wales have instead arrived at a familiar Portuguese training base used in the past before meeting Gibraltar and Slovakia in Trnava on Sunday.

“The last time we played Gibraltar it gave me the opportunity to play four new caps and it was really beneficial for us,” said Page, referencing a 4-0 friendly victory at Wrexham in October.

“We’d had some meetings about being more ruthless and finishing our actions, and that game gave us the opportunity to do that.

“It’s another opportunity to focus on the bigger picture in trying to develop these young players and get some momentum going into the Nations League in September.”

Bolton midfielder Josh Sheehan has been handed the armband against Gibraltar in what will be just his seventh game.

Sheehan said at a press conference in Gibraltar: “He (Page) told me this morning – he pulled me aside after breakfast and said ‘you are playing tomorrow’ and he just dropped in there ‘you are going to be leading the boys out’.

“I couldn’t really believe it to be honest – it’s not something I thought was going to happen. I was happy to be playing the game and try to show what I am about. To lead the boys out is something you dream about.”