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The special words from Ryan Giggs which perfectly sum up Wales 100-cap warrior Chris Gunter

www.walesonline.co.uk

There are so many good things to say about Chris Gunter and lots of his ex-managers, team-mates and Welsh fans have rightly been vocal with them over the past 48 hours or so.

But perhaps the words of Ryan Giggs sum up better than anything what Wales’ 100-cap warrior brings to the party.

I asked Giggs about what he conceded were ‘hard conversations’ in telling the Euro 2016 old guard they were being dropped as he started a Wales youth revolution instead.

It meant a plethora of Wales stalwarts and strong characters seeing their pretty much guaranteed places in the team suddenly taken away from them, Gunter among the group.

In his case, it was because of the startling emergence of Swansea City defender Connor Roberts.

He was also one Giggs reserved some special words for.

“I explained to him that I just couldn’t ignore Connor Roberts’ form, the way he was playing for Swansea, and then subsequently with Wales,” said Giggs.

“But I don’t have a single word to say against Gunts. He has been fantastic, really stands out in XI v XI during training, doesn’t moan, I don’t need to say too much.

“Sometimes he’s really disappointed, which is fair enough, but he’s a good person to have in the squad.”

Wales’ Chris Gunter and Ryan Giggs

That was just under a year ago. On Saturday night Gunter, still not sulking, still not griping, still turning up for his country, captained Wales as he made a landmark 100th international appearance.

I remember Ian Rush once telephoning to pay tribute to the great Neville Southall as he broke Peter Nicholas’ Wales cap record in a friendly away to Estonia back in 1994.

“The fact Nev is doing it in a game like this sums up his commitment to Welsh football,” said Rush.

The same could be said for Gunter.

He has travelled the world with Wales, for competitive and friendly matches, never pulls out of squads – even when he knows he isn’t going to play.

It can’t be easy for Gunter to come away with Wales these days knowing Roberts and Neco Williams have jumped ahead of him in the right-back pecking order.

Those two are playing the games that matter during this international window, the World Cup qualifiers with Belgium and the Czech Republic.

Yet whether there was a friendly in between against Mexico or not, where he knew he’d get game time, Gunter would have turned up anyway to help the Wales cause.

To do his bit in training to help prepare the team, as Giggs describes, or to be prepared to play in case Roberts or Williams get injured.

His commitment to the cause is such that when Chris Coleman once left him out of a squad, presuming Gunter to be injured as he wasn’t playing for Reading, the player telephoned to ‘complain’.

That word is in inverted commas deliberately because, as Giggs points out, Gunter doesn’t moan. He was simply letting Coleman know he was in actual fact fit. So he came away with Wales – and played, part of an incredible 63-match streak when Gunter didn’t miss a single game for his country.

It was back in 2007 that John Toshack first picked a raw 17-year-old Gunter for his Wales debut in a 2-2 draw with New Zealand at the Racecourse.

You just sensed that was to be the beginning of a fabulous international career because this was a player who combined tenacious tackling with athleticism, speed and full-on commitment up and down the flank.

Chris Gunter ahead of his Wales debut against New Zealand in 2007

Three months before that Wales debut, Gunter was part of a nine-man Cardiff City team who had two players sent off against Leeds yet still hung on to grab a 1-0 win.

Gunter still remembers that game, played out in front of a rip-roaring Ninian Park atmosphere, when he and the rest of the depleted Bluebirds rearguard somehow stood firm under relentless pressure.

It was only Gunter’s sixth professional game and a tremendous learning curve for one so young.

That he stood up to that test, didn’t crack, was another indication this was a player going places.

Toshack continued to pick Gunter for Wales, even though Dave Jones started to leave him out for Cardiff, preferring experience to youth at the back.

But after Gunter shone in a couple of Euro qualifiers against Germany and Ireland, Jones’ hand was forced. He had to choose Gunter for the next match, a 1-0 win over Ipswich, and he kept his place thereafter before a £2m move to Tottenham.

Which is exactly how an Academy should work.

Wherever the game, whatever the occasion, Gunter has been there for Wales. In one year he played 66 matches for club and country. Under those circumstances it would have been easy to pull out of a few Welsh games, only this is Chris Gunter we are talking about.

The only shame is there was not a Cardiff City Stadium crowd present to give him the applause Saturday night’s occasion merited.

Nothing used to annoy Toshack more than Wales players pulling out of international duty. At an early Press conference he once cited a host of players from other countries who had won 100 caps or more and insisted this needed to be the aim for his new young crop of Welsh players.

“We’ve got to start doing what others do. There’s no bigger honour than playing for your country,” asserted Toshack.

Fully 14 years on, Gunter is the first to reach the century mark. He will be quickly followed by Wayne Hennessey and Gareth Bale.

Toshack’s dream – even demand – is being achieved.

For the time being, though, Chris Gunter is one of a kind. A trailblazer for the Wales men’s team.

www.walesonline.co.uk

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