Robert Page: Wales caretaker boss ‘hard as nails, big voice, big presence’

Former defender Robert Page (right) won 41 caps for Wales
Former defender Robert Page (right) won 41 caps for Wales
Date: Thursday 12 November Kick-off: 19:45 GMT Venue: Liberty Stadium, Swansea
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sport website and app

On paper at least, Robert Page may not seem the obvious person for Wales to turn to as caretaker manager in their hour of need.

The former Wales defender’s managerial CV suggests limited experience with Port Vale, Northampton Town as well as Wales Under-21 boss.

But with Wales manager Ryan Giggs stepping aside from this month’s matches after being arrested on suspicion of assault – allegations he denies – it is Page who will lead Wales against the United States, the Republic of Ireland and Finland.

Look between the lines though and Page, who like Giggs is 46, makes sense for the Football Association of Wales, providing continuity and a leadership style described as “a big voice and a big presence”.

Page is an integral part of Giggs’ senior backroom staff along with coach Albert Stuivenberg, who will assist Page for Thursday’s friendly with the USA at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium and the Nations League games against the Republic of Ireland on Sunday, 15 November and Finland three days later, both at Cardiff City Stadium.

“He’s a great lad, Welsh through and through as you’d expect,” former Wales forward Iwan Roberts told the Elis James’ Feast of Football podcast.

“He’s hard as nails, not the biggest centre-half but when he played he never left anything out on the pitch.

“I played against him on numerous occasion. I think he was captain for quite a lot of his clubs, he’s not massive in stature but he’s got a big presence about him.

“He’s a good organiser, a big voice on the pitch, always had an opinion and I like that about him.

“You could sit in a dressing room and be in there with some big hitters, but when a manager or coach asked for our opinions about what had happened in a game, Pagey wouldn’t be afraid to stand up and get off his chest what he thought.”

Page’s playing career took in Watford, Sheffield United, Cardiff City, Coventry City and Huddersfield Town before finishing with Chesterfield in 2011.

Along the way he won 41 international caps, captaining Wales just once in a 2-0 victory over Hungary in February 2005.

He took his first step into management with Port Vale in 2014, followed by a spell at Northampton Town before getting the Wales U21 job in 2017.

Ryan Giggs and Robert Page
Former defender Robert Page will stand in for Ryan Giggs for the next three Wales matches

“He’s had some opportunities as a manager at Port Vale, Northampton, he was given a chance with the Under-21s,” Roberts added.

“Some Welsh fans might look at his record with the Under-21s – 15 games in charge, we’ve won five, we’ve drawn five, we lost five – and it might sound silly but winning games is not the be-all and end-all as an under-21 manager.

“His job is to get those players ready for the next step to play at full level and if you look at a lot of players who are now in this (senior) squad, they’ve come through with Pagey in the Under-21s… and defensively we look far more solid.

“There’s been six clean sheets in our last six competitive games and a lot of that is down to Robert Page’s inclusion in Giggsy’s staff.”

As well as his input into Wales’ defensive strength, Page was the man who helped nurture the likes of Joe Morrell, David Brooks, Dan James, Joe Rodon and Rabbi Matondo through the junior ranks and into the senior team.

Page knows the players, their strengths and weaknesses, and the players know – and trust – him.

Also in his favour is the opportunity of having the USA friendly to make his debut as manager of the national team, before those back-to-back competitive games in quick succession.

Wales top Nations League Group B4 going into this weekend, a point clear of Finland and eight ahead of the Republic in third place. Bulgaria, who Wales beat 1-0 last month, prop up the four-strong pool.

Most of all Page provides a continuity of leadership for the Wales players and although his personal style will be different to Giggs, his football style reads from the same script.

“I’m sure there’ll still be a lot of influence from the manager, they will still be in contact,” said former Wales defender Danny Gabbidon, the man who succeeded Page as first-choice centre-back for both Wales and Cardiff.

“But Pagey has been there under Ryan Giggs for a fair period of time now, he’s got a good understanding of how the manager likes to work and what’s been working for the team.

“I don’t think he’ll want to change too much, although of course he’ll have his own views on one or two things.

“Obviously Page has his own personality which the players will be used to… I think when the lads come into camp Page will not try and disrupt, or do anything too different, from what the players have been used to. He won’t want to rock the boat.

“Since Page has come in the defensive side of our game has improved, I’m sure he’s had a lot of input on that side of things – throwing in different ideas in regards to how we can be a bit more solid as a team.

“We have looked that way in the last few games so I don’t think there’ll be that much difference, it’ll be more about continuity and hopefully we can get the results we need.”

Page will have to manage without the talent of Juventus midfielder Aaron Ramsey, Crystal Palace goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey and Swansea defender Ben Cabango, although talismanic forward Gareth Bale appears to have recovered from the ankle problem suffered with Tottenham last weekend.

But, in no small part thanks to his own efforts with the U21s, Page has strength in depth to choose from as he prepares to write the next chapter in his and Wales’ football story.

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