Chris Mepham backs Gareth Bale to lift Wales
Gareth Bale’s new lease of life at Real Madrid will help Wales revive their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign according to defender Chris Mepham.
Bale cut a frustrated figure when Wales suffered back-to-back defeats to Croatia and Hungary in June, the forward putting in two below-par performances as speculation raged about his future in Spain.
The 30-year-old fell out with Real manager Zinedine Zidane and was on the verge of moving to the Chinese Super League in July until the deal collapsed at the last minute.
It was feared that Bale would subsequently struggle for game-time at the Bernabeu under Zidane.
But he has started Real’s first three league games, and on Sunday ended a scoring drought stretching back to March 16 with a brace in the 2-2 draw at Villarreal.
“It’s good to see Gaz back out on the pitch performing,” Mepham said ahead of Wales’ crunch Euro 2020 qualifier against Azerbaijan in Cardiff on Friday.
“He had a lot of speculation over the summer and it’s good he has that focus back. It was difficult when he wasn’t getting the game-time at Madrid.
“He probably came away with Wales and that was his moment to shine and, unfortunately, he didn’t contribute with the goals everyone around him needs.
“When we lost the two games in Croatia and Hungary I saw him in the dressing room afterwards. He was devastated, as we all were, but it just shows how much it means to him.”
Wales can simply not afford to slip up against Azerbaijan, who have yet to pick up a point in Group E.
Ryan Giggs’ side trail leaders Hungary by six points, albeit with a game in hand, and are three adrift of Croatia and Slovakia in the race for a top-two spot.
But Giggs has been boosted by the form of his attackers, with Bale, Harry Wilson, Daniel James and Tom Lawrence all among the goals this season.
“It’s been difficult for Gareth having that pressure you on every game, to be the person to get the goals,” Mepham said.
“That’s why it’s good to see other lads chipping in – Harry Wilson, Brooksy (David Brooks) when he was in the squad and Daniel James.
“Hopefully that takes the pressure off Gareth and we have got good attacking options on Friday.”
But Mepham says he is not getting involved in the debate over who takes Wales’ free-kicks – Bale or Wilson.
Bale is Wales’ usual free-kick taker – and has profited from plenty of dead-ball situations for club and country down the years – but Mepham’s Bournemouth team-mate Wilson has scored 11 goals from the outside the penalty area since the start of last season.
That is the most of any player in the top four tiers of English football in that time and many of them have been free-kicks, including his August goal of the month winner against Manchester City.
“It’s a conversation I don’t want to be involved in!” Mepham said.
“Both of them can create that moment of magic. Harry scored last week against Manchester City and he has done it many times, but then so has Gaz.
“If I am betting man I would have money on Gaz bullying the younger lad out of it!”