Just what is Kieffer Moore supposed to have done wrong for Wales?
I pose the question because for many it is utterly baffling how the big centre-forward, who helped revive Wales’ fortunes after Ryan Giggs discovered Welsh ancestry, finds himself out of the first-team picture as we head towards Saturday’s Euro 2020 opener with Switzerland.
Wales are without doubt a better team when Moore is there as the number nine. The facts and figures prove it, the evidence of our own eyes shows it.
He could perfectly knit everything together at the Euros, the pivot up top linking play and around whom Gareth Bale, Dan James and Aaron Ramsey can sprinkle their stardust.
Yet worryingly Wales’ stand-in boss Rob Page doesn’t appear to see it that way and Moore seems destined for a bench role in the tournament.
Plenty of Welsh fans are mystified by this. So am I. Not only does Moore offer so much to the side with his presence, next to Bale he is also the most likely to score goals for Wales in the coming weeks.
He is also brimful of confidence following the best season of his career when he has bagged 23 goals for Cardiff City and Wales. This, by the way, in a Bluebirds side who were awful for large parts under Neil Harris, offered Moore scant support as a lone striker – yet still he was Cardiff’s Player of the Year by a country mile.
Yet while Moore’s stock has gone through the roof at club level, with Wales it appears to have fallen.
For context about what Moore brings to Wales, we have to rewind to the summer of 2019 when Wales lost back-to-back Euro qualifiers in Croatia and Hungary, Giggs having tried a mix of Harry Wilson, James, David Brooks and Tom Lawrence as his centre-forward.
The balance of the team was so patently wrong, this writer called for a change of approach from Giggs. Knowing little about Moore at the time, my suggestion was Bale as centre-forward with the others running off him – or even, at a push and only grudgingly, Sam Vokes.
Whatever, Wales simply had to play with a target man. Expecting any one of Wilson, James, Brooks or Lawrence to perform the role was not only unfair on them, it also negated their own undoubted strengths.
To be fair to Giggs, he unearthed the prefect nine in Moore. The big man was an instant revelation, a new idol for Welsh fans.
Suddenly Wales started to look a proper team as he linked the play, won the headers, held up the ball, occupied defenders, took the bruising hits. Moore energised the more technically gifted and quicker stars around him, creating space for them with his presence and know-how.
Results instantly took an upturn. Moore scored the winner on his debut against Belarus, and bagged other key goals as Wales went on a streak of five wins, three draws and only a defeat to England in the next nine games.
He was beginning to look as indispensable as anybody in the team.
He was then suspended for a 1-0 win in Bulgaria last October – which proved to be Giggs’ last game in charge.
Enter Rob Page and exit stage left, in the games that matter at least, Kieffer Moore.
Page wasn’t with Wales when Giggs’ side lost those qualifiers in Croatia and Hungary, defeats which proved a change in formation was so evidently required.
But he did join the coaching set-up shortly afterwards and it’s hard to believe Page and Giggs didn’t discuss the Moore factor and what he brings to the team.
Even though Giggs wasn’t officially involved, we’re told his hand was still on the tiller in Page’s first few games in charge, thus we can’t just blame Moore’s sudden omission from the side as the decision of the new manager.
But as time has drawn on, and Page has put his own stamp on the team which he has every right to do, it’s become clear he prefers five at the back, Wilson as the false nine and no place for Moore.
Against Switzerland in Baku at the weekend, it’s more likely to be Ramsey than Wilson – an even bigger mistake, in my view, as Wales’ midfield playmaker needs to get on the ball facing goal and put in those probing passes that can release the likes of Bale, James and Moore.
Page has probably been emboldened with his new five at the back and no Kieffer approach after impressive competitive wins under his watch over Ireland, Finland and the Czech Republic.
That’s fair enough, results are everything at international level.
But Moore came on early in those matches and straight away Wales looked better for his involvement in the team.
So why his omission from Page’s starting XI?
Clearly Page wants to bolster his defence and that means extra numbers. That’s understandable to a degree, Wales lack the proven Premier League performers they had in Euro 2016 when Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor, Ben Davies, James Chester and Wayne Hennessey were getting plenty of top-flight football.
Maybe he is concerned Moore’s abrasive style of play runs the risk of incurring the wrath of continental referees at the Euros – although that’s not really a reason not to pick him.
Perhaps he thinks Wales are more likely to score adopting the alternative system.
But for many, the more (no pun intended) you look at this, the more Kieffer being overlooked baffles.
As well as being the lynchpin around which Wales’ forward play can flourish, Moore has goals to his name and is actually a very clever thinking and capable footballer with ball at feet. He offers way, way more than just being a so-called brute up top.
However, what’s not to like about his aerial prowess too? The inclusion of Moore gives Wales extra set-piece expertise – offensively and defensively. Many is the time he was the one clearing the ball from corners for Cardiff City this season.
With Moore, Bale, Joe Rodon, Chris Mepham and Ben Davies in their ranks, Wales could pose a real threat at set-pieces in the Euros. Make no mistake, plenty of goals will come from corners and free-kicks in the tournament and Wales have to be ready for their share.
Wales have produced a lot of excellent performances during the Giggs era, but the most perfect of the lot came under intense pressure in the 2-0 win over Hungary which clinched qualification.
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That night they played four at the back, two holding midfielders and Moore up top – Bale and James flying down the wing either side of the big man and Ramsey given a licence to thrill by joining them from the slightly deeper 10 role that suits him so perfectly.
Wales were utterly majestic and while two-goal Ramsey stole the show, Moore’s presence helped link everything.
There is absolutely no reason why Wales cannot replicate that successful template against Switzerland, Turkey and Italy in Group A.
Their chances of Euro success will be more enhanced by doing it.
Pob lwc Cymru.