Back in March Joe Ledley spoke to the Palace matchday programme about how much he was looking forward to going to Euro 2016 with Wales, however a fractured fibula put his participation in the tournament in jeopardy.
However he has bounced back from that setback and Chris Coleman has confirmed he should play some part in the competition. Here we look back at his quotes from a few months ago with Euro 2016 just around the corner.
“I’m very excited because it’s new to us all,” he said. “A few of the boys chat on WhatsApp and we admitted that we have no idea what it’ll be like. We can’t crumble under the pressure, we have to stay solid as a nation and thrive under it. It’ll be a very proud moment when we step onto that pitch and represent our country in a major finals.
“When I first started playing for Wales it was nowhere near as high-tech as it is now, I don’t even think we had a fitness coach back then! Everything changed when Gary Speed came in and Chris Coleman has taken it to the next level, so things have improved massively.”
Those behind-the-scenes tweaks have allowed a golden generation of footballers the chance to make Welsh sporting history. A fantastic start to qualification snowballed and resulted in just one defeat in 10 games, including a famous victory against a Belgium side then ranked number one in the world, allowing the underdogs to clinch a berth in France this summer with a game to spare.
With excitement levels already at fever pitch, they reached immeasurable levels when the draw pitted Wales in a group alongside the old enemy England. While seemingly three million people attempted to clinch one of the 41,000 tickets for the encounter in Lens, Ledley admits to initial trepidation about meeting their neighbours but his Palace teammates have been helping to change his tune.
“To begin with I was pretty gutted because I didn’t want too much hype as it was our first tournament,” he said. “But when you look at it, it’s going to be a remarkable occasion as it’s a derby game and both teams will be going at it so it’ll be interesting.
“No-one has been trying to take me out in training or anything like that, to be fair they’ve been winding Macca [James McArthur] up the most as Scotland are the only home nation that didn’t qualify so he’s had most of the stick!
“Yohan [Cabaye] bought me and Wayne some French aftershave after we qualified so that was nice! He’s told us all about the stadiums we’ll be playing at and said we’ll enjoy it, and he knows his stuff so it’s been good to tap into his experience. He said it’s going to be massive so I’m looking forward to it.”
With Ledley, Hennessey and Jonny Williams virtually nailed on to be involved there’s a strong Palace flavour to the Welsh squad, and when you take into account their manager was voted into the club’s centenary XI then even the staunchest Eagles and Three Lions supporter will be hoping for good things for Coleman’s side, as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of English success.
On his national team boss, Ledley said: “He’s brilliant, I love Chris. He’s a fantastic manager who believed in myself and Joe Allen in midfield and hopefully we’ve repaid him. He gives us confidence and doesn’t treat us like children, such as telling us what time we have to be in bed by. He is one of the lads too as he likes getting involved off the pitch, plus the training is good.
“It’s become a club atmosphere rather than one where you just meet up for 10 days, stay in your rooms apart from training and don’t speak to anyone. All the boys get together for a coffee, or when we’ve finished eating everyone stays to chat. That’s what you need when you’re away from your family, but most of us have grown up with each other for over 10 years and we know each other inside out so that helps with the banter.”
That team spirit reached a crescendo when qualification was mathematically achieved despite a defeat in Bosnia. When results elsewhere confirmed the 58-year albatross could be removed, an outpouring of relief saw Ledley enthusiastically showcase some rather energetic dance moves, much to the hilarity of his teammates.
In the final dead-rubber against Andorra in Cardiff four days later, Aaron Ramsey’s goal celebration saw him grab Ledley from the bench to re-enact the routine, and he won’t rule out dusting off the shapes once again should Wales achieve their aim of getting out of a tough group.
“Rambo said if he scored he was going to do the dance with me but I didn’t believe him, especially as I wasn’t starting. Then when he scored and started heading towards me I thought ‘oh here we go’ and he dragged me from the bench so I had to do it! It warmed me up a bit so I didn’t have to stretch off down the sides of the pitch!
“It was all a good laugh, and hopefully we’ll see it again in France. If we can get through the group stage then anything can happen. First of all we need to be realistic and aim to do that, and then we’ll see.”