With Wales qualifying for their first ever European Championships and their first major tournament since the 1958 Sweden World Cup it looks like it’s the dawning of a new era for Welsh football.
Dean Saunders is 4th in the list of both goals scored and appearances for Wales and played in a side which also included Ian Rush, Gary Speed and Ryan Giggs. However even with players of this calibre the Dragons never managed to make it to the finals of any competition.
Saunders had a very impressive career as a player playing for Derby, Liverpool and Aston Villa he even travelled abroad to play for European heavyweights Benfica and Galatasaray. Since his retirement in 2001 he has managed at Doncaster, Crawley and Chesterfield.
Dean who has won the FA Cup, League Cup and challenged for the inaugural Premier League title with Aston Villa says the failure to qualify for a tournament with his national side is something that still bothers him today.
“Looking back on my career it’s the one regret I have never making an International tournament with Wales.”
“We had all the potential and we were extremely close on year but Paul Bodin missed a penalty hitting the bar against Romania and it meant we never qualified.”
Dean remembers the day with great accuracy and admits it was one of the most painful experiences in his career. A penalty with half an hour remaining which would have earned Wales a spot in the 1994 FIFA World Cup however defender Paul Bodin rattled the crossbar and Wales were made to suffer again.
Gary Speed was one of the best players in a talented Welsh side and Saunders roomed with him every time they were on International duty.
“He was a great lad Gary and we miss him dearly he was a top player and a top professional every night before he went to bed he’d do 200 sit-ups no matter where we were.”
Along with Gary Speed, Ian Rush and Ryan Giggs also played for Wales in the 1990’s alongside Saunders.
“Obviously Rushy was my partner for Liverpool for a spell as well and I loved playing with him we had a special link.”
“Giggsy was the most talented player I’ve ever played with his touch and ability to dribble was second to none.”
However even with four of the best players in the English divisions at the time Wales still never managed to muster up a successful qualifying campaign.
“Maybe it just wasn’t to be for our generation but the new generation are more than making up for it.”
Chris Coleman has built on the work of Saunders’ close friend Gary Speed in moulding Wales into a real force in world football proven by impressive results against the likes of Belgium,
“Chris has got them playing some good football but more importantly he’s got them playing for each other something that maybe we didn’t have as much.”
However Saunders is a little pessimistic saying that they only have a chance of getting through the groups if their two main men perform.
“At the end of the day if Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey play well we’ve got a chance but look at all the goals we’ve scored in qualifying Bale or Ramsey have been involved in near enough everyone.”
Now on the other side of the touchline, but currently unemployed after his dismissal from Chesterfield in November, Saunders isn’t sure if Wales would ever be an option.
“They’ve come knocking before and I didn’t want to I just don’t see myself as Wales manager yet I would love to manage in the Premier League however.”
Even with his ambitions as a gaffer there is no doubting that if Saunders could rectify one thing as a professional footballer it would be the fact he never graced an international tournament with his beloved Wales.