9:44pm Wednesday 11th June 2014
Dragon Park in Newport is attracting the great and the good of world football in pursuit of their UEFA coaching licenses.
Last week former Premier League and France international star David Ginola was in Newport on the A license course alongside a host of ex-Premier League players. Argus football writer Michael Pearlman went along to find out more and spoke with FAW Technical director, Welsh national team coach and Wales U15 and U16s manager, Osian Roberts.
IF Dragon Park is Welsh football’s new palace, then Osian Roberts is its king.
He doesn’t wear a crown of course, but in fairness, Roberts is currently wearing so many different hats for Welsh football, you wouldn’t be surprised if he’s got one somewhere in reserve.
A midfielder in his day for Bangor City and the wonderfully named New Mexico Chiles, Roberts has been an integral part of the Welsh set-up since being appointed by his close friend Gary Speed.
He’s in charge of their coaching schemes, interviewing every individual applicant for their courses and combines that work with being the first team coach of the national team.
He is also an integral part of Wales’ age-grade set-up, running both the U15 and U16 sides with his protégé Carl Darlington.
However, despite the rich success of Dragon Park, as detailed in Argus Sport yesterday, Roberts knows that qualification for a major tournament with Wales, for the first time since 1958, remains his key objective.
Argus Sport caught up with Roberts, hours after his return from the Netherlands with Wales, who lost an international friendly 2-0 in Amsterdam against Louis van Gaal’s Brazil-bound side.
However, Roberts felt the Holland game showed the firm foundations the current Welsh optimism is built on.
"The Holland game was encouraging in many ways, you have to appreciate the opposition, their front three of Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder, they have 96 international goals between them,” he told Argus sport.
"That's the quality of opposition, so overall the boys did well, and they finished training three weeks ago or longer whereas the Dutch had been in a training camp, so it wasn't a level playing field from that perspective either.
"We were pleased with the opportunity and take a lot from it, both in terms of opportunities and how the five days went with the camp.”
Roberts has been a huge part of the recent youth movement in Wales with a slew of young players looking to follow Gareth Bale on the path to international stardom.
And the fact that each player who has come through has impressed, is a huge source of pride to Roberts, especially as it hasn’t come by virtue of necessity being the mother of all invention.
"The list goes on with young players coming through but the gratifying thing is hearing the players who have been here for a lot longer in the international fold saying 'these kids are really talented, they belong here,' and that in turn makes the more established players excited for the future,” he explained.
"If you're short, it's obvious in training, if you aren't up to it with the tempo of the training, it soon becomes obvious.
"We haven't had that, everyone we've identified to come through has been ready and we know who will be the next ones as well, that's our job in developing players.
"We have a different situation to the last time there was such an emphasis on young players with the international set-up.
"Then (under John Toshack) it was a youth movement out of necessity, whereas this time we feel it's because the players that are coming through are good enough to thrive in the environment.
"This hasn't happened by accident, we've spent a lot of time in Belgium and Holland and other places saying what can we take, what is useful for us?
"It's not copying; it's taking little aspects from different places and working out how we want to take things forward.
"We have a philosophy for what we want to do and the way someone like Emyr Huws has fitted into the senior international side, it doesn't happen by accident, it's a result of years of hard work by him and by us.”
The key for Roberts is continuity between the work being down with the age grade sides and at Dragon Park.
"I love working with the 15 and 16-year olds, because I can put them on the right starting point, so that when they do make that next step, it's seamless,” he explains.
"If we don't do that, we are failing the kids and the suggestion at the moment, the evidence shows that we are getting it right.
"We are proud of what we've achieved so far, we've established a good reputation in football.
"We know we can't stand still, we've just hosted the national football conference at Dragon Park for the first time and here at Dragon Park we have a healthy and challenging environment, people are allowed to raise questions and issues and that stops us standing still.”
Roberts doesn’t believe Wales have an easy group for Euro 2016, but insists the belief exists that the Dragons can and will qualify.
"It's not an easy group, Bosnia are right up there with Serbia, very similar in style and we had big problems with Serbia last time around,” he said.
"Bosnia have qualified for the World Cup and of course we know all about the talents of Belgium, so that's where we are in the group, one of the aspiring teams below two top tier ones.
"The second aspect of it is that Belgium and Bosnia now get a month together, which gives them a chance to push things to another level tactically. It's a massive advantage heading into September and October.
"However, belief is the key. You must have belief and faith before a campaign that you can do something and this time around, our players really do believe. They think we can push into that top two.
"That's a starting point. It gives us a real foundation.
"What we all know is we can't afford to start in a weak manner, as we have before.”
Roberts felt Wales had “no chance,” in their last campaign with the tragic loss of Speed still too fresh in the minds of the players.
"I've been fortunate to be involved with the Welsh set-up since I came in with Gary Speed and we came in halfway through the campaign. We won four games out of five, but it was too late in terms of achieving anything,” he said.
"Then in this campaign, we lost Gary, Chris came in during difficult circumstances and it was impossible for us. Utterly impossible.
"The group wasn't ready, they hadn't overcome the tragic loss of Gary and we were out of it before we started.
"We finished the group ok, there was an improvement, we should've beaten Macedonia in Macedonia, but this time we have to start strong.
"We have Andorra away and then Bosnia and Cyprus at home and we need a decent points haul to give us that belief and confidence we've not had in previous campaigns.
"It's also vitally important in terms of capturing the imagination of the Welsh public.
"I've said before that momentum will lead to people through the turnstiles. We need to get off to a great start to fill the stadium and everything else will take care of itself.”
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