The Wales midfielder Joe Allen has declared in the aftermath of the nation’s incredible journey to the semi-finals of the European Championship that the achievement must not be a one-off, but change the entire course of the nation’s football story.
The Football Association of Wales – who have organised a homecoming event at the Cardiff City Stadium where tens of thousands of fans are expected to greet Chris Coleman’s players on Friday evening – have secured £15.1m in prize money by reaching the semi-finals, compared with England’s £9.6m.
A third of the money will be divided among Chris Coleman, his staff and players – 60 individuals in total. But there are also plans to invest much of the remaining £9m in 3G pitches, with League of Wales to be the hubs for those resources and becoming community football facilities in the process.
Allen, who has spent the last 11 years progressing through the country’s under-17, 19 and 21 ranks, said there must not be another long wait to be represented at a summer tournament.
“We have to use this experience as a springboard,” the 26-year-old said. “We don’t want this to be a one off for Welsh football. We want this to be what inspires us to do it again and again. With the quality we have got in the team, the set-up we have got, we are confident we will do that. We all know how long the wait has been, it’s been very long.” Wales will rise to 11th in the FIFA world rankings, two places above England, despite their 2-0 defeat here to Portugal.
The players took an unprecedented two hours to emerge from the Stade de Lyon dressing room and head out of the stadium on Wednesday night and Allen looked as desolate as any of them after a performance which did not hit the levels they had displayed against Belgium in the quarter final.
The players had been taking in everything that they had done, the Liverpool player said. “It’s remembering, despite the disappointment of going out, just what we have done here. The effect we will have had back home. We are hoping that this story and journey we have been on will change Welsh football forever.”
Allen’s Liverpool future is now unclear, with the possibility that he may move back to Swansea. “That’s something I haven’t even thought about to be honest,” he said.
As the players head off for Cardiff from their Brittany base today, midfielder Joe Ledley is bound for Ibiza, where he had already made plans to marry his partner Ruby May on Saturday. It was clear that the experience of playing against Cristiano Ronaldo had left him less than enamoured with the Portuguese.
Asked why it had not happened for Wales against Ronaldo’s team in Lyon, Ledley said: “I’m not sure [why] but they were two crappy goals. To be fair Ronaldo’s shot was useless. Normally he hits them from there but he scuffed the cross for a tap-in.
“With the header the guy can leap but apart from that he didn’t really do anything in the game. For us it was just one of those days at the office. We had it against England where we deserved to get something out of it but against Portugal it just didn’t happen. We want to achieve better things than this and hopefully we can do that with the World Cup. That’s the aim.”
Of Ronaldo, he said: “He’s one of those players who frustrates you. He’s never in the game compared to Gareth [Bale]. He’s always in the game, always on the ball, always wanting it, always dribbling and always trying to do something. But that’s football, there’s nothing we can do about it now.
“You can’t disagree with his ability. He’s a fantastic player, one of the best in the world. But we just had one of those days where things he did came off. We were missing key players but that’s just the bite of the cherry – we want more of this. We want to achieve better things than this and hopefully we can do that with the World Cup. That’s the aim.”