Page: Wales sacking hurt, but it was not a complete surprise

Rob Page has admitted exclusively to Sky Sports that his sacking as Wales head coach ‘hurt’ – but it did not come as a ‘complete surprise’.

Craig Bellamy was named as Page’s successor of the national team this week, signing a contract until 2028.

Page, who had over two years left on the deal he signed in September 2022 after guiding Wales to their first World Cup since 1958, spent four years in charge, initially being given the role on an interim basis in November 2020 after taking over from Ryan Giggs.

The 49-year-old was then appointed permanently in September 2022 after the World Cup play-off final victory over Ukraine three months earlier and oversaw the team at two major tournaments.

The 49-year-old was contracted until 2026
The 49-year-old was contracted until 2026

But failure to qualify for Euro 2024 which coincided with a run of five wins in 22 games led to his departure last month.

“It wasn’t a complete surprise, if I’m being honest,” Page told Sky Sports. “That eased it a little bit. It’s never easy, of course not, it never is when you lose your job.

“I was disappointed. I was a supporter in the stands when I saw Ian Rush score the goal against Germany and we beat them 1-0. I was lucky enough to play, captain and then manage my country, which was the icing on the cake so I’m a very passionate, proud Welshman so of course it’s going to hurt when the job is taken away from you.

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Page was gutted for the players after the loss to Poland on penalties, as they failed to qualify for Euro 2024

“We had a plan when I signed the four-year contract. A few months into that there was noise about other managers being linked with it after two disappointing results and performances in June so it’s quite an emotional way to work but I’ve got some incredible memories that I will take with me.

“I know the supporters never liked me saying this, but after the retirement of [Gareth] Bale and others, Wales were and are a side in transition. We have to have some patience, lots of sides going through periods of transition – it is easier for bigger countries.”

Page took Wales to Euro 2020, where he led them to the last 16 of that Covid-delayed tournament, and the 2022 World Cup. Wales lost a Euro 2024 play-off final to Poland on penalties in March, before they were beaten 4-0 by Slovakia in a friendly after drawing with Gibraltar in June.

Rob Page
Page is now open to a return to domestic football

He continued: “Seven years ago, I got the job managing the Under 21s and I was grateful for that opportunity working with some great lads – players that I’ve been fortunate to see develop through to the first team.

“That’s why we had such a close group and a good environment with the staff I brought in as well, because I’d known the players for a few years. The bulk of the team is what I’d worked with for the Under 21s. I was then so proud to become the senior manager and the standout memory for me will obviously be the Ukraine game which took us to the World Cup.

“I worked with unbelievable players like Gareth Bale, Rambo (Aaron Ramsey), Chris Gunter, Joe Allen and Jonny Williams. For those senior players, I was more proud for them that we could take them to a World Cup. Incredible memories.”

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Sky Sports’ Geraint Hughes dissects the defeat to Poland as Wales missed out on qualification for Euro 2024

The retirement of Bale left a huge void within Welsh football with Page revealing that he only really fully appreciated what he brought to Wales away from his obvious playing talents once he was no longer part of the international set-up.

Bale’s ability to place all players at ease within the international environment, especially the younger players off the field of play, was invaluable for him and his coaches.

Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey have been Wales stalwarts
Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey were integral to Wales success

“It was an unbelievable achievement to get to the World Cup in Qatar and we did it with a group who were ageing at the time,” Page added. “Bale’s three goals got us there but without the rest of the team, he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to score and play at a World Cup as well so it was a massive team effort.

“When you’re out there, you need everyone firing on all cylinders and we didn’t have that. I was never not going to take Joe Allen, as he’d earned the right to play in a World Cup for everything he’d given to Wales.”

When asked what his future has in store, Page said: “I’m pretty open-minded if I’m honest. The stats are there and I’ve now got a lot of experience in international football.

Wales failed to beat Gibraltar in an international friendly
Wales’ failure to beat Gibraltar accelerated Page’s demise

“I’ve managed at a European Championships and a World Cup so I do enjoy that side of it but there is also an itch to get back into the domestic game.

“More importantly, whether it’s international or domestic, it’s got to have similar values and so the environment is key. It’s got to have the same belief in having a positive environment to work in.”

Page’s successor Bellamy is determined to banish the general perception of him as he steps into his first senior management role with Wales.

Dan James is consoled after missing a penalty to end Wales' hopes of qualifying for Euro 2024
Dan James is consoled after Wales’ Euro 2024 hopes ended

The former Wales captain courted controversy on and off the pitch during a colourful playing career that saw him win 78 Wales caps between 1998 and 2013.

Just days away from his 45th birthday, Bellamy spoke to the press this week about how his coaching experience at Anderlecht and Burnley has prepared him for a four-year Wales deal with the clear ambition of qualifying for the 2026 World Cup and Euro 2028.

So what advice does Page having for the new boss?

Bellamy has signed a four-year Wales deal
Craig Bellamy has signed a four-year Wales deal

“You’ve got to stick to the plan. If you’re emotional, and you make decisions based on whatever facts that are presented to you, it’s going to be a long, tough ride.

“I wish Craig all the best as I want what’s best for Wales, and the board and the chief exec feel it’s the right time for change. I would love to still be in the job, of course, but I’m not going to sit here and cry about it.

“I need to get on with it and look forward to my next challenge. I’m not sure if I was undermined. I can’t control anything that was outside of the environment that we created inside. That’s all I could control and focus on. What people on the board and the chief exec decide to do, I can’t control that.

“I wish I could show you some of the messages from the players and staff… it’s been incredible. That means the world to me as that means we were doing something right.”

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