It will be an “extremely proud moment” for the Welshman as he takes his hungry young squad to only the country's second EURO.
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Stand-in manager Robert Page, who earned the first of his 41 caps for Wales in 1996, compares playing and coaching, looks back at his managerial influences, and considers the "tough group" that lies ahead.
Harnessing inspiration from 2016's unforgettable campaign, the 46-year-old former defender wants the Dragons to "take each game as it comes" as they prepare to face seasoned EURO contenders Switzerland, Turkey and Italy in Group A.
How does it feel to manage Wales in a major tournament?
Yeah, it’s a very proud moment, of course. You know, I grew up in the Valleys [South Wales]. I played football as a schoolboy and then progressed through the youth age groups with Wales and then went on to play for the seniors. To now manage them is a dream come true, of course.
Managing and playing for Wales: how do they compare?
Again, [it’s an] extremely proud moment when you’re standing singing the anthem and you look up and see your kids in the stand; it brings a tear to your eye, absolutely. It will be no different now.
How important is Wales' first game against Switzerland?
Well, it is crucial; it’s the first game and you want to get off to a good start. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get off to a good start, but being competitive, being like we are as a group, we want to be successful, we want to do well. To do that, we want to give ourselves the best chance of doing well in the group, so that’s by winning the first game.
It’s going to be tough, of course. They are two tough fixtures in Turkey and Switzerland, and then we fly to Rome to play Italy. So it is a tough group, but again, we’ve proven in the past that we can compete against the best and we’ll give it a good go.
On the young players stepping up and handling the senior international stage
They’re great characters, first and foremost. I’ve worked with them through Under-19s and Under-21s, so I know them as people, as characters. I know they’ve got ability. And they’ve made that transition and step-up really smoothly, so that’s credit to them as well.
They’ve just got to be themselves. Yes, you’re playing against the best teams in Europe, but we’ve proven in recent months, certainly at the back end of last year, with topping [our group in] the Nations League and getting promoted and qualifying for the EURO, that we can compete against the best.
Wales' EURO 2016 achievement: extra expectation, extra pressure or inspiration?
An inspiration, I’d say, because Wales were very much the underdogs going into it and weren’t expected to get as far as they did in the competition. So we have to manage expectations, of course, with a different group of players, barring probably three or four still left from 2016. But in the main we’ve got a group of young players now that are hungry for success, doing well at club level. And we want to do well, we want to get through the group stage of course, and then take each game as it comes after that.
On memories of making his Wales debut against Turkey in 1996
I think I played the left side of a three, so I was completely out of my comfort zone that day, being predominantly right-footed and playing right full-back or right-side centre-back. But Bobby Gould gave me my debut and I'll forever be in debt for that, for him giving me my first cap. And they’re wonderful memories. I think it was the last game we played at the old [Cardiff] Arms Park as well, so it was a very special moment.
On the influence of his former manager Graham Taylor
I think in any management [role], man-management is key. I think he donned quite a few hats, Graham. He was a psychologist, coach, manager, sports scientist. He had a little bit of an influence on pretty much everything that happened, but the biggest thing for me was man-management, his dealing with each player differently.
And he did like to get on the pitch, as a hands-on coach, but first and foremost he was a manager. He knew when to get you on the grass, he knew when to take you for a pub lunch and a walk in the country park, he knew when to freshen your minds up in that way. So there were many different tools he’d use to get the best out of you, and I thought he was brilliant at that.
On earliest EURO memories
EURO ‘88, I’d say. We've been reminiscing about that with Albert [Stuivenberg, Wales assistant manager] with him being Dutch, so yeah, what a team they had then. Unbelievable. So it's been a phenomenal competition and, like I said, I've watched it over the years and to now be part of it is quite surreal.Get the official UEFA EURO 2020 app