Hal Robson-Kanu: West Brom striker reveals reason for Wales return

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Sport Wales
Robson-Kanu wants more Wales memories

Hal Robson-Kanu has reversed his decision to retire from international football - but insists it is not merely to play for Wales at Euro 2020 as he commits himself to future qualifying campaigns.

The West Brom forward wrote his name into Welsh football folklore by scoring a sensational goal in the Euro 2016 quarter-final win over Belgium.

But two years later he made himself unavailable for selection, citing family commitments and the mental and physical toll of spending time away with Wales as reasons for his decision.

Now in his first interview since making himself available again, the 30-year-old explains why he feels ready to return.

Robson-Kanu reveals that he told Wales manager Ryan Giggs about his availability before the team secured qualification for Euro 2020, refuting any suggestions that this summer's competition was his incentive.

The 44-cap forward, who is enjoying the most prolific season of his club career, also says he will attend Wales' matches as a fan if he is not selected in the squad.

"Regardless of what happens in the summer, I'm looking forward to giving Ryan the opportunity to select me in the next campaign," Robson-Kanu tells BBC Sport Wales.

"It's certainly nothing to do with the qualification. Before I made the decision, qualification had not been achieved and I 100% would have been available for qualifying fixtures in March [if Wales were in the play-offs].

"From my perspective, the boys who have got the nation there have done fantastically well and 100% deserve to be on the plane going to the Euros.

"But you know what football's like. No-one will know what could happen in the back end of the season - there could be injuries and suspensions. Having an additional player available should hopefully benefit the nation.

"I've always given my best every time I've walked on to the pitch and, without doubt, it's where I've played the best football of my career.

"Regardless of what happens, I'll be supporting and I'll try my best to get to some of the games either way."

'Decision to retire gave me sleepless nights'

Robson-Kanu is in the form of his life having already equalled his highest goals tally for a league season, scoring seven so far to help West Brom climb to the top of the Championship.

That has prompted a clamour from some for the former Reading player to be recalled to the Wales squad, while others believe Giggs should stick with the players who secured qualification for Euro 2020.

Robson-Kanu has not played for Wales since a World Cup qualifying loss to the Republic of Ireland in 2017 and, having since been spared the additional physical demands of international football, he believes he is in the best shape of his career.

While he is glad to be in a "better place" psychologically as well as physically, however, Robson-Kanu admits it was a wrench to retire from Wales duty in the first place.

"We [West Brom] had just been relegated from the Premier League and coming into the Championship it's an additional eight games in the season," he adds.

"My wife was pregnant with our third child and I think the season when we went to the Euros I was away for 60 plus days over the course of the year.

"It's a massive commitment and one that I'd done for 12 years going through the youth ranks at international level.

"Mentally, as a player and a person, sometimes you have to take a step back and do what's right for you and those around you.

"It was a really tough decision, a lot of sleepless nights around it, but one in the end which allowed me to get back into a better place to be able to concentrate on club football and get that back to where I wanted it to be."

Robson-Kanu opted to retire in August 2018 and he praised Giggs for his support during the decision-making process.

"He was phenomenal. I had a number of conversations with him about the decision. He knew where I was mentally and he was fantastic," Robson-Kanu says.

"He said 'Look, you've got to do what's right for you but at the same time the door will always remain open'.

"It definitely made the decision a lot easier because it was a very difficult decision in itself, so massive thanks to Ryan for that."

Convincing the sceptics

Hal Robson-Kanu
Hal Robson-Kanu returns to Wales' home, Cardiff City Stadium, with West Brom on Tuesday

Qualifying for Euro 2020 felt like a moment of acceptance for Giggs, who had struggled to win over Wales' fans since his appointment in January 2018.

Their belief was that, during his playing career, Giggs was not as committed to Wales as he was to his club Manchester United.

He still may not have converted every Welsh supporter but, having recovered from a poor start to the campaign to clinch Euro 2020 qualification, the former captain is now held in much higher esteem.

It can take time to convince fans, and Robson-Kanu might encounter some resistance as he aims to restore the cult hero status he enjoyed among Wales' followers.

Naturally, some of them may wonder if Robson-Kanu has only returned because there is the chance of playing in another major tournament.

But as far as the player himself is concerned, he believes he has no case to answer.

"Yeah, of course, that is inaccurate," Robson-Kanu says firmly.

"Being available and saying you are available for your nation is a good thing and it's something you have massive pride about.

"Being in a better place mentally now, I thought it was an important decision to make. I'm just looking forward to the future."

Recreating Euro highs

While Robson-Kanu has his sights set on future campaigns, he seems to accept it might be difficult forcing himself back into Wales' squad for Euro 2020.

Wigan striker Kieffer Moore emerged as an unlikely star in qualifying, while Stoke's Sam Vokes has been a regular in reserve and Giggs also has the option of moving Real Madrid forward Gareth Bale into a central role.

But Robson-Kanu likes a challenge.

He made his debut in 2010, in the midst of a fallow period for Wales as they languished outside the top 100 of the world rankings.

The team rose to historic new heights at Euro 2016 and, now he is back in contention, Robson-Kanu wants to help Wales recreate those golden moments.

"It's a fantastic platform to play on and, anyone playing at that level, it's all that you dream of as a kid," he says.

"When I look back on the competition, weird as it may sound, the goals I scored don't rank as a highlight - it was more what we did as a team, what we did for the nation, and those are the memories which stick in my head.

"When I made my debut when I was a 21-year-old, we were ranked 112th in the world.

"We went through a lot of difficult periods over the course of that time and it made us stronger as players and a group, and ultimately it allowed us to have the success we had.

"It's now given a platform for the nation to build on. There's a level, a precedent, set there now, which anyone coming into it has to adhere to."

Top Stories