What a transformation Wales have undergone in the past four years.
In 2011 they were ranked 117th, but now sit above England in the rankings.
Football has completely changed for Wales in those four years. They’ve had two clubs in the Premier League, and Swansea have now become a well established top flight side, with several Welsh internationals impressing.
It’s no coincidence that with the rise of Gareth Bale, things have dramatically improved for Chris Coleman’s men. But, are they really as much of a one man team as we portray them to be?
Bale really started to take off at the back end of 2011 and 2012 for his nation, when he started scoring goals on a regular basis.
They weren’t quite producing the results and performances that we see from them now, but still, the signs were promising, and those who watched closely thought they really had a chance to make Euro 2016.
Back in those days, their side wasn’t too dissimilar to what they have now, with Ashley Williams, Bale, Neil Taylor, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey among others named in their starting line-up for a Euro 2012 qualifier against Bulgaria in 2011.
The difference between then and now? Premier League experience.
Williams and Taylor are Premier League regulars for Swansea, Joe Allen has got more experience playing at the top level than he did three years ago, and the same goes for Bale and Ramsey.
They still don’t have the strength in depth, which the nations around them in the rankings do, but their starting XI isn’t one to be sniffed at.
Wayne Hennessey has now kept a clean sheet in each of his past four international appearances, so it clearly isn’t just the attackers doing their job – the defence is strong.
It stands to reason that forwards like Bale can play with more freedom, and try more creative things to break sides down when they know that the defence behind them is reliable.
There isn’t anyone more creative in that Wales team than Gareth Bale, who may get abused for his club side, but is the Welsh darling.
The Real Madrid man has bagged six goals in the European Championship qualifiers, and only Robert Lewandowski has scored more, sitting on seven.
Granted, he’s relied upon for his goalscoring prowess, and boasting a player like Bale is only going to provide confidence for the players around him – however they most definitely aren’t a one man team.
In fact, most English fans would take Ashley Williams, Aaron Ramsey, and Neil Taylor in the England squad too given half a chance.
Look at Wales during the Ryan Giggs era. The players he had around him simply weren’t good enough, hence their lack of success. Consider Portugal over the last few tournaments.
Cristiano Ronaldo has only gotten better and better, yet with players like Ricardo Carvalho and Paulo Ferreria aging, and others declining, they have little chance of winning the Euros, and only just qualified for the World Cup because of a Ballon d’Or clinching display from Ronaldo.
When Ronaldo didn’t really perform during the World Cup, through injury and only he knows what else, they crashed out. The same goes for Sweden, who possess Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but failed to make the World Cup.
One world class player can make for game winning moments, but it is a top team around said player that really allows for them to flourish and go into the latter stages of tournaments.
Currently, Bale is only 12 behind the all-time top scorer for his nation, Ian Rush, and he’s fully expected to comfortably overtake him.
The winger has been called the greatest player the country have ever produced, which may be premature at the minute, but could well come to pass eventually.
By the end of his career, he may even be the best player Britain have produced should he return to the Premier League and win all there is to win in England and the Champions League, although plenty would contest that with their own favourites in mind.
Bale’s current and future personal accolades aside, it is undoubtedly an exciting era for Welsh football supporters.
Yet it must be said that while Gareth Bale is an outstanding performer for his country, it would be grossly unfair to undermine the influence of his team mates around him.