“I think the biggest compliment I could give him is that you wouldn’t have known that he was so young. He fit straight in and is a very talented lad.”
Those were the words of captain Ashley Williams to describe West Brom’s rising star Tyler Roberts following Wales’ unforgettable 1-0 win over Belgium at the Cardiff City Stadium.
My first live glimpse of the 16-year-old prospect’s talents came on a cold night in Bangor, North Wales, late last year when Osian Roberts’ Wales Under-16s got their teeth stuck into what would be their first outright victorious Victory Shield Campaign since the 1948/49 season; beating England 1-0 in their first game of the tournament.
It was obvious almost immediately that this guy was something special. The whole team played well; a real embodiment at times of the ‘Welsh Way’ of playing the game that Gary Speed, Chris Coleman and Osian Roberts all worked so hard to implement and develop. The result is quick passing and great movement, combined with astute defensive work.
Roberts stood out: captaining a side at that age, you don’t expect the kind of complete performance that you might see from the likes of Wayne Rooney in the Premier League but that’s what TyRo gave. He took free-kicks, dropped off and got involved with the build-up and he worked the goalkeeper. Roberts was then involved in the winning goal for Wales, scored by Cardiff City defensive prospect, Liam Angel, before being substituted after 73 minutes.
And he was no one-hit wonder: Roberts had a great campaign overall, notching two assists and getting a goal himself in the remaining two games against Scotland and Northern Ireland. He’s quick, powerful, tall and looks an intelligent footballer.
Since then, his season has just gone from strength to strength. West Brom manager Tony Pulis – proud of his Welsh roots himself – clearly values him and has labelled Roberts a “very promising talent for the future”. This was obvious when the teen made the bench for their final game of the season against Arsenal and the trip to Old Trafford earlier on in the campaign as they beat United 1-0; invaluable experience for the youngster.
And now, he’s had a great training camp with Wales’ senior side and there really should be a place for him in that team in the future. It’s probably the first time in 30 years or so that the international side haven’t had a really top-class number 9. Over the years, Wales have had the likes of Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Craig Bellamy, John Toshack, John Hartson and Robert Earnshaw but an argument could be made that the current crop of forwards (not including Gareth Bale and Hal Robson-Kanu who are wingers, sometimes deployed as forwards) aren’t at that level.
It would be foolhardy, of course, to suggest that Roberts is at that level now, because of course he isn’t, not yet. He could well be though in a few years if he continues his current rate of development and hopefully, Wales fans will see him making his Premier League debut next season. Is this the Golden Generation as many are predicting? If they qualify for Euro 2016 and see the likes of Roberts breaking through, it is certain to be.
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