Bobby Gould launched Robert Page’s Wales journey 25 years ago and fully expects the ‘Quiet Man’ to make a noise at Euro 2020.
Centre-half Page was playing in the third tier of English football at Watford when Gould responded to the disaster of losing 7-1 to Holland in a World Cup qualifier by handing him his Wales debut against Turkey in December 1996.
It said much about Page’s strong character that he lined up in an unfamiliar left-back role following Wales’ Eindhoven embarrassment a month earlier and helped Gould’s side keep a clean sheet in a 0-0 draw.
Nearly a quarter of a century on and interim boss Page has stepped into the breach again, leading Wales into the delayed European Championship with manager Ryan Giggs on leave from his post.
“When I first called ‘Pagey’ up he did not push himself forward,” recalled Gould, who spent four years as Wales manager between 1995 and 1999 after winning the FA Cup at Wimbledon.
“You expect that from young players and we had a group of big personalities and players in our squad – Neville Southall, Gary Speed, Mark Hughes.
“He looked overawed at first because you could sense all his dreams were coming true.
“I called him the ‘Quiet Man’ because he did not say a lot at the time, but you could tell he was tough.
“He captained clubs that he played for and that says a lot about his personality. He had an inner belief to succeed.”
Rhondda-born Page was only 23 at the time of his Wales debut, but he was already the captain of Watford.
Former England manager Graham Taylor had given him the armband in the summer of 1996 and Page led the Hornets to the second division title and into the Premier League the following season.
Page went on to skipper Wales in a 41-cap career and played over 550 senior games for Watford, Sheffield United, Cardiff, Coventry, Huddersfield and Chesterfield.
“I was never one for videos, I wanted to see players play for their clubs,” Gould told the PA news agency.
“I went to see ‘Pagey’ at Watford quite a few times and liked what I saw.
“He was rock solid and I gave him his debut against Turkey because I believed in him.
“After we lost 7-1 to Holland I went to Turkey to do some scouting before we played them. I was standing by the Bosphorus on the water’s edge and thought ‘Do I jump now?’
“We’d had a good hiding, but all I could think about was keeping a clean sheet in the next game.
“‘Pagey’ will be like that at the Euros, that’s what he’ll be thinking of – to get Wales off to a good start.”
Wales, ironically, have not played Euro 2020 rivals Turkey since Gould’s colourful reign, a crazy 6-4 defeat in Istanbul which came eight months after Page’s debut.
Page’s squad flew to Baku on Monday to prepare for Saturday’s Euro 2020 opener against Switzerland.
Wales stay in the Azerbaijani capital to play Turkey before heading to Rome and a Stadio Olimpico date with group favourites Italy.
“It’s a tough group,” said Gould, now 74. “It (qualifying) depends on how you start and getting some momentum.
“I had my turmoils with Wales but I’ve always wanted them to succeed.
“The one thing that hasn’t changed is the love that Welsh players have for wearing the jersey and they’ve got some good players.
“It’s been a difficult time (for Welsh football), but ‘Pagey’s’ got more than 25 years knowledge as a player and coach and he’s nobody’s fool.”