Andy Ritchie: Wales and Foxes show the value of team spirit

Wales' Gareth Bale and fellow team-mates applaud the fans at Euro 2016.
Wales' Gareth Bale and fellow team-mates applaud the fans at Euro 2016.
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With Wales reaching the last four of Euro 2016, a lot of teams – England included – will be looking to them for lessons.

Why is it that a country like Wales, with such a small population and nothing in the way of a track record in international tournaments, left so many other sides behind?

It’s not only England who should be asking that.

Holland, Russia and others – the success of the Welsh puts their own performance into a pretty negative light.

I can’t quite put my finger on the exact reason but when I look at Wales and when I compare them to England, I keep coming back to the issues of team spirit.

I’m not saying the England camp didn’t have any spirit.

That’s the easiest accusation to make when things go wrong.

But there’s been a proper buzz about the Welsh.

They looked like they were living the dream and they acted as if they wanted the tournament to go on forever.

They’ll certainly remember it forever.

In contrast, England have this tendency to seem a bit joyless; to look as if they’re struggling to take much pleasure from the experience of being at a major finals.

They seem weighed down by something. Pressure, expectation, a lack of confidence?

It’s hard to say. But in reality, the party never really got started for England. Wales were at it from the very start.

There’s no doubt at all that Chris Coleman had a plan and because he tailored it so well to the squad he had and the limitations he was faced with, it worked extremely well.

But spirit is key.

I still think spirit was a massive part of the reason why Leicester City won the Premier League last season.

Without it and without the unbelievable belief which came from God-knows-where they’d probably have finished a fair way off the pace.

Leicester have some very good players – Mahrez, Kante, Vardy. They also had a goalkeeper in Kasper Schmeichel who stayed in form from the start to finish.

That was an equally big factor. But they have players who, on paper, don’t match up to others in the Premier League.

I reckon Claudio Ranieri would openly admit that other managers in England have ‘better’ squads than him.

But Ranieri had a plan and his side had confidence in it. That, to me, seems like the lesson of the Euros too.

Where England are concerned, it seems to me that they have to find a way of making these tournaments less of an ordeal.

I read a lot in the press about the difference between the environment they encountered around England’s training camp and the environment they found at rival training camps.

With England, everything seemed to be strict, serious and controlled. You can’t talk to him, they won’t discuss this, we’re not doing that, we’d rather you weren’t here.

That’s all very well if you can back up your attitude with results, but when you’re getting turfed out by Iceland in the last 16, you start to look and sound a bit above yourself.

I accept that Iceland, and Wales for that matter, were free of any serious expectation, but both camps came across as very inclusive.

The Iceland coach’s attitude was basically ‘we’ve nothing to hide so I don’t mind how much you watch us or which of the players you speak to’.

The word I’m looking for is ‘relaxed’. So many other sides find a way to look relaxed on these occasions.

England always end up seeming stressed to the max.

From time to time I hear it said that the press in this country don’t help. All I’d say is that maybe England get the coverage they deserve. I know fine well from my time as a manager that if you’re obstructive or prickly with the media then they do you few favours in return.

That’s not a complaint on my part. It’s human nature.

No-one is going to fight your corner or try to dig positives from the negatives if you’ve spent a lot of time blanking them or keeping them at arm’s length. It’s counter-productive and it only ends one way. So to me, a bit of a culture change is needed.

I’m not going to slate the players in terms of ability because there are talented lads in the England squad.

They dominated their games in the group stages and you can’t tell me that there was no team spirit as they celebrated the last-gasp winner against Wales.

But togetherness?

I’m not sure England really had it in the proper sense. That’s something to take from the performance of the Welsh.