If Wales are to enjoy success at this summer’s European Championship, it seems certain they will need a big contribution from their ‘Welsh mafia’ contingent.
Gareth Bale, Ben Davies and Joe Rodon spent last season together at Tottenham Hotspur and gave themselves that nickname.
The trio are vital to the prospects of Robert Page’s side – and will hope their summer goes better than their club campaign did, with next Saturday’s group opener against Switzerland in Baku looming.
Last season was supposed to be a big one for Spurs, with Jose Mourinho in charge and the return of Bale on a season-long loan part of a strategy to send them to the next level.
Things didn’t quite work out. They finished seventh and a 13-year trophy drought continued. Mourinho was sacked and has yet to be replaced.
Now Bale – back at Real Madrid, for the moment at least – Davies and Rodon must put a disappointing season behind them.
They should have little issue doing so, such is the pride the Wales players have in representing their country.
It is a love that has made an impression on Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, France’s World Cup-winning captain, who faced the trio in Wednesday’s friendly in Nice – a 3-0 win for the hosts.
“Welsh players put in a lot of effort when wearing the jersey of their country,” he said. “The national jersey creates additional motivation in them.”
Goals, assists, but not many minutes
The return of Bale, a Tottenham icon, last September was greeted with glee by the club’s fans.
In terms of the numbers, he more than did his bit. He scored more Premier League goals (11) than he started Premier League games (10).
He was Spurs’ third-highest scorer and his mere presence on the pitch created more space and opportunity for Harry Kane and South Korea’s Son Heung-min – who Bale declared in March was the Wales mafia’s honorary fourth member.
Often blighted by injury, Bale was fit and available for almost the entire campaign. So the question, which Spurs fans asked all season, was why did he not feature more?
The answer, ultimately, was Mourinho.
The manager never seemed to trust Bale fully, often opting for the extra defensive industry of Lucas Moura, Erik Lamela or Steven Bergwijn as the four-time Champions League winner sat on the bench for game after game.
Bale seemed to fall completely out of favour with Mourinho after Spurs’ 2-1 derby defeat by Arsenal in March, before playing regularly at the end of the campaign after the manager was sacked.
He ended the season having scored 16 times and with a better goals-per-minute ratio than any other Premier League player, averaging one every 83.9 minutes.
“All it took was for me to be playing games. I knew that. I think a lot of people knew that,” Bale said.
“It was just game time. Once I was given the opportunity to keep playing and get my actual Premier League fitness up, it felt natural that my form would be back and I’d start scoring.
“It was no surprise to me, it just needed to happen.”
Bale has been non-committal over his future, with the departure of Zinedine Zidane and appointment of Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid perhaps making it more likely he will spend the final year of his contract back at the Bernabeu.
A return to Spurs – who are still posting about Bale on social media as if he is their player – is also possible. He has not completely ruled out retirement, though that rumour has been rubbished by his agent.
Bale, who has said it would “cause chaos” if he revealed his future plans, says he will speak to Real Madrid’s new boss once the Euros are over.
“I know Carlo Ancelotti is a great manager,” Bale added.
“I get on with him really well, we had some great times in the past. He’s returned to Real Madrid and he’s a great guy.
“We had a great time together at Real Madrid and I’m sure he’s going to be amazing in charge there.
“But I’m still in the same boat and haven’t thought about it too much. I’m concentrating on our preparation now and what’s going to happen in the Euros. I’ll sort the rest of it after.”
A surprising lack of appearances
Tottenham’s most recent Welsh signing, defender Rodon, will – fitness and suspension permitting – likely play every minute of the Euros for Wales, such is his importance to the national side.
Signed as one for the future on transfer deadline day last October for £11m from Swansea City, Rodon made just 14 appearances for his new club in all competitions.
That would not be shocking news on the face of it – Rodon was cup-tied in the Carabao Cup and was not selected in the Europa League squad – but his lack of game time came in a campaign when Spurs’ defence was their biggest issue by far, as they failed to establish a trusted, first-choice pairing.
Rodon fell out of favour under interim boss Ryan Mason, but feels the tough-love treatment he got from Mourinho will help him establish himself at Tottenham in future seasons.
“I felt he did it with me for a reason,” Rodon said when asked about Mourinho’s approach.
“It’s been a tough year, ups and downs, but I thought he handled me very well.
“It’s made me way better, mentally as well, and it’s going to benefit you moving forward.
“Everyone wants to play games of course, but sometimes it doesn’t go that way.
“You have to pick yourself up, keep going and hopefully get your rewards at the end of it.”
Rodon feels training with players such as Kane has improved his game more than regular minutes in the Championship would have.
“Every player would like to play more minutes,” he added.
“But I got to train every day and work hard with some top players. It’s been a great eight months’ experience for me training with the Tottenham players.
“Training with top players only makes yourself better as a player individually.
“Harry is one of the best strikers in the world. But it’s not just Harry – there are a lot of good players in that Tottenham squad.
“Going into that environment would improve any player and it was great to get a feel of that.”
A Spurs future in a new position?
For Davies, like a certain Tottenham striker, a seventh season at the club has just been completed.
While Kane’s desire to leave has been well documented, Davies could well be set for a positional change at Spurs, rather than a change of club.
Davies has previously offered an alternative to more attacking left-back options such as Sergio Reguilon and Danny Rose before him, but his days as a full-back or wing-back could be finished, according to his national team boss.
The 28-year-old, highly valued by Mourinho, is unlikely to compete with Reguilon and Ryan Sessegnon for a wing-back or rampaging full-back role in the near future, with his future looking more likely to be as a left-sided centre-back.
He played for Wales in their last pre-Euros friendly against Albania as a centre-back in both a back three and a back four and has increasingly featured in that position for his club.
Wales interim manager Robert Page, whose side face Turkey and Italy after Saturday’s game against the Swiss, believes that could be an ideal position for Davies.
“He can play in a back four and can play left-sided centre-back, he can play left-back, he can play left-wingback and he can play left of a three,” he told BBC Sport Wales.
“I like him as a left of a three in build-up absolutely. Even when we play a four sometimes we still get him on that left-hand side.
“I think his quality on the ball is excellent, he is a very good defender, reads the game and is a good communicator, so he ticks a lot of boxes.”