Robert Page aims to be the author of a fresh chapter in Welsh football history by emulating Jimmy Murphy’s journey from Rhondda to World Cup manager.
Murphy, who was Matt Busby’s long-time assistant at Manchester United, remains the only man to have guided Wales to the 1958 World Cup. He steered United through the immediate disaster of the 1958 Munich Air Disaster as Busby lay in hospital for several weeks, having missed the trip himself in order to take charge of Wales’ World Cup play-off against Israel in Cardiff.
Over six decades on, the parallels between Page and Murphy are inescapable.
— FootTheBall FC (@FootTheBallFC) June 5, 2022
Two men from the same mining community who used the values of comradeship and solidarity forged in the Rhondda Valley to establish successful careers in football.
Murphy won his World Cup play-off and led Wales to the quarter-finals of the tournament in Sweden that summer; now 64 years on Page had a similar date with destiny against Ukraine in Cardiff and the result was no different than what happened 64 years ago.
The Red Dragons booked their place at FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar courtesy of a 1-0 win over Ukraine in the play-off final. It brought an end to Wales’ 64-year wait to play in the biggest tournament in world football.
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Page said: “I want the Welsh supporters to walk away at the end of the game proud of not only the performance from a footballing point of view, but of the effort that they’ve put in from a work ethic point of view.
Who is Robert Page?
Caretaker Wales boss Robert Page took charge of Wales at Euro 2020 in the absence of Ryan Giggs, who stood aside from Welsh duties following his arrest in the autumn with his next court appearance due in July.
But who is Page, the largely unsung character who won’t be possessing the stellar CV of most of his managerial peers at FIFA World Cup 2022.
Also read: Wales Golden Generation
We’ll never forget the man who kickstarted this incredible journey.
Gary Speed changed Welsh football forever.
— Ben Thomas (@Benfthomas_10) June 5, 2022
Page is a quiet, modest man. He has been living in Sheffield with his wife, Kate, since playing for United at Bramall Lane almost two decades ago. Before that he made his name playing for Watford. But it is Wales that consumes him currently.
Page first took charge of Wales on a caretaker basis during their international break last November. Manager Ryan Giggs was arrested on suspicion of assault and stepped away to leave Page in charge of Wales’ games.
Page has some managerial experience, having been at the helm at both Port Vale and Northampton Town. The 46-year-old was also in charge of Wales’ Under-21 side for a period of time.
As a player, Page made 41 appearances for Wales, with the majority of his club career spent at Watford in the 1990s, where he made 215 apps. Page then went on to play for Sheffield United, Cardiff and Coventry before closing out his career with Huddersfield and Chesterfield.
But now, Page will get the biggest assignment of his career as he takes on the Wales job for this winter’s FIFA World Cup 2022 at Qatar.
Rob Page’s career so far
Page’s first management job was at Port Vale in League One in 2014. Back then his wages barely covered the cost of the diesel required to get from Yorkshire to Staffordshire and back every day.
Page loved being out there with his boots on, though. He always has. As a kid, his father, Malcolm, ran his local boys’ team, while his mum, June, washed the kits. Then, at 16, he was off to Watford.
Ben Davies absolutely immense. Blocks, tackles, headed clearances, just a refusal to be beaten, just a determination to get #Wales to the World Cup. Magnificent performance. Hennessey, Neco Williams too. Johnson lively. Congratulations Rob Page and all @Cymru #TheRedWall #WALUKR
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) June 5, 2022
The fundamentals of the game are dear to Page. After Port Vale came a job at Northampton but, sacked after less than a year, he took a coaching job at Nottingham Forest. With Wales that continued for a while. He was in charge of the age-group teams from March 2017 until Giggs asked him to become his assistant two years later.
Page had revolutionised what he calls the intermediate set-up by implementing systems for young players he had seen in places such as Holland and Switzerland. But when Giggs asked him to move back to senior coaching, he did not hesitate.
Page now works with players in his senior Wales squad he knew as youngsters. But when he really needs to understand how far he has come, he only has to look at Gareth Bale.
‘I see that as my progression but I am human as well and yeah, I can recognise I have gone from Port Vale to managing one of the best players in the world,’ he says. ‘I do pinch myself. But first and foremost I try to be a good bloke. Do that, be respectful and you will get the best out of the players.’
Background of the Welsh Manager
Robert Page has not savoured the array of trophies Ryan Giggs did across a glittering playing career but there is no doubting his pride at leading his country to a World Cup. Colours pinned to the mast, it radiates in his voice. “I’m from Tylorstown in the valleys and to play for your country is a great honour, but to manage it in a major tournament like this is unbelievable,” he says. “I left the valleys at 16 years old to go and pursue a career.”
Wales’s senior players speak glowingly about how Page has held the fort so far, both at Euros 2020 and World Cup 2022 qualification campaign, during the off-field uncertainty that has surrounded Giggs and the Football Association of Wales since November.
The 46-year-old, a popular personality, is seen as a relatable character. “When Rob Page speaks, particularly to young players, he knows what he’s talking about because he’s been there,” says Micky Adams, who signed him as a player at Coventry and took him to Port Vale as a coach.
There must be something special about Rhondda. The two managers who have led #Wales to a men’s #WorldCup both grew up less than four miles apart. Robert Page lived in Tylorstown while Jimmy Murphy’s childhood home was in Pentre. What a fantastic achievement for the area. pic.twitter.com/WmPek4gXAg
— Josh Thomas (@JDPThomas) June 5, 2022
Page became the Wales Under-21 manager two months after leaving Northampton and in August 2019 was appointed as No 2 to Giggs, who is absent as he awaits trial in January on assault charges, which he denies.
Page has done a remarkable job in challenging circumstances, maintaining the feelgood factor fostered by Chris Coleman at Euro 2016. He has a longstanding relationship with several younger players in the squad, including David Brooks, Rhys Norrington-Davies, Joe Rodon, and Joe Morrell, from his time with the Under-21s and many still refer to the interim manager by his nickname.
Will Ryan Giggs be in charge at World Cup 2022?
Giggs was charged with coercive control and actual bodily harm in relation to his ex-girlfriend, while he was also charged with assault by beating relating to a second woman, back in April. As a result, the Welsh FA announced Page would be taking Giggs place as manager for the Euros and has continued ever since till date.
Yet the peculiarity is that Page’s contract with the Football Association of Wales expires the moment the World Cup campaign ends. So it could be in June. Or it could be in December.
With Giggs not due in court until August, the FAW face a situation that is legally complex. Wales, though, are due to play Nations League games this June and September. The understanding is that Page will be in charge.
The @FIFAWorldCup has been the stage for some of the greatest players🏆
However, it has also been missed by some legends😯
— FootTheBall FC (@FootTheBallFC) June 6, 2022
Although, despite being the polar opposite to Giggs, low key rather than a high-profile, defender as opposed to flying winger, the two men have the same managerial philosophy.
Like Giggs, Page insists he wants his teams to play in an adventurous way, overlapping full-backs high up the pitch, creativity in midfield and pace on the wings.
Should suit the likes of Neco Williams, Ben Davies, Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale and Daniel James perfectly at 2022 World Cup.
How Page fares on the big stage, against some of the finest managerial minds in Europe, will become clear in the coming months. But no one should doubt the pride and passion he will bring to the job and which will be instilled again into the players.
This is a man with forceful views about what he wants from the Wales football team.