Questions build for Wales manager Ryan Giggs as Euro 2020 campaign stalls

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'Any chance of putting one of those away?' - Ryan Giggs

When Ryan Giggs was unveiled as Wales manager in January 2018, he said the only way he would convince the sceptics would be by winning games.

The doubters were many; fans believing the often-absent Giggs failed to give Wales the commitment he offered Manchester United during a playing career which glittered at club level, but lacked the same sparkle on the international stage.

"As long as I'm winning games those questions won't come up," he said on his first day in the job.

Seventeen months and 13 matches later, the questions remain.

There have been reasons for optimism - an influx of exciting young players and glimpses of a new attacking approach - but those have been tempered by recurring deficiencies.

Giggs has lost seven of his 13 games in charge and, with two of those losses coming in the space of four days this week, Wales' bid to qualify for Euro 2020 has already encountered early turbulence.

As the former captain himself admitted in the wake of Tuesday's 1-0 defeat in Hungary, Wales have made it "really difficult" for themselves to claim one of the two automatic qualification places.

The result in Budapest followed a 2-1 loss away to Croatia the previous weekend, results that have seen Wales slump to fourth place in Group E, six points adrift of leaders Hungary.

So with scrutiny on Giggs and the future of their out-of-sorts talisman Gareth Bale, what next for Wales?

Raised expectations, familiar failings

It is now three years since Wales' historic, euphoric run to the Euro 2016 semi-finals and, while the afterglow may be dimming a little by now, they are still feeling the benefits of that golden summer in France.

An improved world ranking has given Wales kinder qualification group draws, while success has bred confidence for the new generation of emerging players.

But with that also comes raised expectations.

Having missed out on the 2018 World Cup despite starting that qualifying process as top seeds under Chris Coleman, Wales then finished second in their inaugural Nations League campaign under Giggs.

Those four games were a snapshot of the Giggs era so far: two victories over the Republic of Ireland - including a spectacular 4-1 triumph at home - but then two defeats against Denmark which served as a sobering reality check for the manager and his young side.

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Ashley Williams frustrated by Wales away form

And despite starting their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign as second seeds with an opening win over Slovakia, Wales' back-to-back losses against Croatia and Hungary would suggest Giggs and his players are struggling to learn from their mistakes.

Giggs lamented his side's poor finishing and defensive lapses in Croatia - as he had done in Denmark - and it was a similar story against Hungary.

The manager has pointed to injuries and some players' lack of match fitness as reasons for their recent failures, and there is no doubt he has had worse luck than his predecessors in that respect - with Aaron Ramsey's absence particularly keenly felt.

But the repetitive nature of Wales' defeats has also led some to question how much of the responsibility lies with Giggs, who is evidently learning on the job in his first permanent managerial role.

Wales still have time to turn this campaign around but, as Giggs said in Budapest, he and his players now have precious little room for error.

What next for Bale?

If ever there was an embodiment of the fading glory of Wales' recent success, it was the forlorn figure of Gareth Bale in Budapest on Tuesday night.

The 29-year-old is a Welsh icon, the country's record goalscorer and an inspirational player capable of winning games on his own.

It therefore feels like sacrilege to even contemplate questioning Bale's international prospects - but his recent problems at Real Madrid and his waning influence for Wales have prompted concerns about his future.

Before Saturday's defeat in Croatia, Bale had not played for six weeks having fallen out of favour with his club side, left on the bench and criticised by Real's fans.

Giggs was adamant that would have no bearing on Bale's international form and, although those tribulations in Spain are nothing new for the forward, Tuesday's loss to Hungary was the surest sign yet that Bale's troubles at the Bernabeu are beginning to take their toll.

He barely threatened from his starting position on the right wing, continued to struggle as he switched to a central role and his frustrating evening was compounded in the second half when he squandered a close-range chance that a fit and firing Bale would have converted in his sleep.

Wales forward Gareth Bale cuts a forlorn figure as Hungary celebrate victory
Wales forward Gareth Bale cuts a forlorn figure as Hungary celebrate victory

After the match, Giggs admitted it was "difficult fitness-wise" for Bale to have played two games in a short space of time given his lack of action with Real, but he rejected the notion that this was indicative of a wider malaise consuming the man who was once the world's most expensive footballer.

"I think we're starting to see the fall of an icon," says former Wales captain Kevin Ratcliffe.

"He's been our best player of all time but he's not been the same in recent seasons.

"Our last manager [Coleman] had one of the world's best players firing on all cylinders but he's not doing that anymore.

"Can he adapt? Does he want to work as hard as Cristiano Ronaldo did when he reinvented himself as a centre-forward?

"It's a big job for Ryan. Ryan worked really hard to adapt his game towards the end of his career, and he had Sir Alex Ferguson pushing him on. Can he do the same for Gareth?"

If Wales are to qualify for Euro 2020, Giggs must find a way of getting the best out of Bale - and he will need some help from the forward himself, who may have to leave Real if he is to prolong his career at the highest level.

That is one of a growing number of concerns facing Giggs who, like his team, is still a work in progress.

If he is to start winning games again and silence the critics, he needs to address those issues.

Otherwise, the questions will keep coming.