Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey were shepherded past journalists by the Wales FA’s head of PR, Ian Gwyn Hughes, and when the team bus pulled away, both players remained an enigma.
Ramsey had not publicly discussed the World Cup once out here and Bale did so only to fulfil FIFA obligations, before or after the country’s three matches.
Bale did tell the BBC that it wasn’t over for him. ‘I’ll keep going as long as I can and as long as I’m wanted,’ he said. ‘We have a (European) qualification campaign starting in March. I hope to be involved, yes.’
Gareth Bale is closing in on the end of his international career after World Cup elimination
Wales boss Rob Page will get more control over future squad’s once current legends retire
Strange to say, perhaps, after a desperately disappointing tournament in which Bale and Ramsey’s struggles dominated the Wales narrative, but they should still be ‘wanted’.
A Euro 2024 qualification group with Albania, Latvia, Turkey and, first up, Croatia, with two spots available for the Germany finals, will be a different world to this kind of intensity. The aura these two players create and the tone they set are reasons why they should be persuaded to stay, as a new generation is brought on.
Bale seems sick of the media, palming away a TV camera which was shoved in his face as he walked from the bench to the field at the end of the loss to England, but his team-mates find his love of the Welsh camp utterly infectious.
Managing these two superstars cannot have been easy for Rob Page, whatever he may say to the contrary. Page has been their boss in name alone, these past two weeks. It is why there was no way he would have made one or both of them impact substitutes against England, as many Wales fans had wanted.
Bale appeared dismissive as he shoved a camera to the side after Wales’ loss to England
Midfielder Aaron Ramsey has also entered the twilight of his international career
Now, he should have the licence to use them as he sees fit, even though he does not emerge from this tournament with his own tactical credentials hugely enhanced.
It will not happen, but Wales would benefit from 33-year-old Bale bringing his skills home to Cardiff. Had he signed for Cardiff City last summer, rather than Los Angeles FC, he would have had the benefit of the Wales FA’s sports science and medical teams being based in the same building as his club.
This has been a huge asset to the potential next Welsh jewel — Cardiff City’s Rubin Colwill, whose physical progress has been affected by growth spurts.
But Colwill is a major talent. There was symbolism about the 20-year-old replacing an exhausted Joe Allen after 81 minutes against England. He is the one the Welsh FA are most excited about.
Cardiff City youngster Rubin Colwill (left) is tipped as a major talent for the Welsh national side
Others coming through include Swansea City midfielder Oli Cooper, 22, Birmingham City midfielder Jordan James, 18, and 17-year-old Luke Harris, the midfielder who made his Premier League debut for Fulham last month. Harris and James were both brought out to Qatar, for the major tournament experience.
Perhaps the next Wales model will be more similar to a country like Switzerland, whose team is greater than the sum of its parts and does not have superstars.
Every one of these next prospects will be hoping that Bale and Ramsey do play on, giving them the chance to sit alongside their heroes in the dressing room.
The same goes for Nottingham Forest’s Brennan Johnson, who replaced Bale on Tuesday —another one for the post-Bale era.
Nottingham Forest winger Brennan Johnson is another star tipped to shine in a post-Bale era
‘I would like to see what this young lad can do,’ Ian Rush said of him this week. ‘He’s going to be some player this one, he’s great.’
Burnley’s Connor Roberts said he did not know whether Bale and Ramsey would play on. ‘I am not sure,’ he said. ‘You would have to ask them.
‘The next achievement will be not only to get to a World Cup, but to get out of the group stages. We might have to wait a while. Or we may not have to wait too long.’
Rob Phillips, the hugely respected BBC Radio Wales journalist, offered the shrewdest perspective.
‘Sometimes it’s important to remember where you have come from,’ he said. ‘For most of my working life, covering Wales has been a story of heartbreak and disappointment. Now I have commentated on Wales in three major finals, including a World Cup. A privilege I shall always cherish.’
Bale is currently Wales’ top appearance maker (111 caps) and top goalscorer (41 goals) ever