Have Wales missed a trick in omitting Hibs striker Christian Doidge from Nations League squad?
This time last year, the idea of Christian Doidge in the Wales national team squad would have been unthinkable. The striker had managed goals against lower-league opposition in the Betfred Cup group stages but had drawn a blank in league matches as Hibs and Doidge struggled for form.
Twelve months on and it is the fact that he has been overlooked by his country that has got people talking.
The 28-year-old bagged 18 goals last season and has already hit the net twice this campaign as he picked up where he left off in March.
For comparison, the three forwards named in Ryan Giggs’ squad for the Nations League double-header against Finland and Bulgaria managed a combined 24 last term, albeit at differing levels.
Speaking in March, the Wales boss told clwbpeldreod.org: “When you have a goalscorer, it doesn’t matter what level, they know where the back of the net is.”
The decision by Hal Robson-Kanu in January to reverse his international retirement may well have scuppered Doidge’s chances, regardless of Giggs’ pre-coronavirus comments.
The 31-year-old West Bromwich Albion forward has hardly been prolific on the international stage with five goals in 44 appearances but his experience and performances for Wales during their heroic run to the Euro 2016 semi-finals and form for the Baggies last term make it hard to leave him out.
Match fitness issues?
There are some very talented players in the Welsh pool, but it’s worth noting that just one member of the 26-man squad – Anderlecht defender James Lawrence – will have restarted club football by the time the Nations League matches roll around in early September.
The vast majority of Bulgaria's squad, and at least a third if not more of Finland’s squad, have already resumed playing.
There is surely an argument for including more than one player who has been playing competitive games in the weeks leading up to the international break – especially when, as Giggs said in his press conference, Wales are hoping for six points from the two fixtures.
The Cymru boss also said: “Both games are before the season starts and we have one eye on these two games, and one on next summer. We’re trying to mould a team to be competitive when the Euros come around again.”
A good fit?
There is still a chance that with potential call-offs or injuries, he could be drafted into the squad for next month’s matches.
That Doidge is capable of operating as a lone striker as well as in a front two should make him a decent fit for Giggs’ preferred system of 4-2-3-1.
While not the tallest, Doidge is strong in the air and works hard on and off the ball.
As his former strike partner at Easter Road Marc McNulty told the Evening News earlier this month: “He wins the ball, he makes space, and he makes it tough for the defenders.”
Given the strength of Doidge's all-round game, there could even be a place for him as an option off the bench as an extra man up front when chasing a goal, or a straight swap in a one-up-front tactic.
In terms of what he can add to the team, Doidge would appear to have a greater claim for a place in the squad than Dylan Levitt, the 19-year-old central midfielder who has made one senior appearance for Manchester United in a dead rubber Europa League game and will surely be down the pecking order in the middle of the park.
Is there still a chance?
At 28, Doidge’s international hopes may not be as bright as they might be were he six or seven years younger but it’s worth noting that Robson-Kanu turns 32 in May and won’t be around forever.
Fellow forward Kieffer Moore – also 28 and just a couple of weeks older than Doidge – was only handed his debut in May last year.
There have also been plenty of players who made their international bow in the latter stages of their careers.
Former Everton and England midfielder Leon Osman was 31 when he was first called up; ex-Bolton striker Kevin Davies was 33 when he won his one and only cap for England in 2010 while Steve Savidan – the epitome of a “late bloomer” was handed his one and only France cap at the age of 30 after spending the bulk of his career in the second and third tiers of French football in a career path not too dissimilar to that of Doidge.
What now for Doidge?
Being overlooked could, of course, have a positive effect on Hibs as well as the player.
Doidge is the kind of character who will get his head down and step up his training and performances in a bid to make the next squad.
With the Easter Road side starting the season strongly and strike partner Kevin Nisbet already on the goal trail as well, all the signs are there that Doidge will continue to flourish in green and white.
If he continues to perform well and find the net for Hibs and help the Capital club maintain a position in the upper reaches of the Scottish Premiership then it will become increasingly harder for Giggs and his coaching staff to justify his continued omission.