The summer of 2016 will forever be acknowledged by fans as the golden chapter of Welsh football, a summer steeped in untampered excitement and one that evokes a sense of wistful nostalgia to members of the Red Wall.
Yet, only four members of Wales’ starting eleven that beat Slovakia last month were present in Euro 2016. In fact, the remaining players all had fewer than ten caps entering the game, with six of Wales’ ten outfield players aged 23-or under.
Indeed, the transformation between Chris Coleman’s heroic team in 2016, to the youthful and exuberant side that Ryan Giggs has established has transpired far sooner than most Welsh supporters anticipated. One player who has been at the heart of this sudden evolution is Bournemouth’s David Brooks.
Since emerging with Sheffield United last season in his first full campaign of senior football, the Welshman’s rise to acclaim and stardom has been meteoric. Despite only registering eight goal contributions – three goals, five assists – in 33 Championship appearances for the Blades the last term, his unspoiled talent and immense potential secured his move to the Premier League with Bournemouth. A decision that has been wholly vindicated for both player and club.
To date, the 21-year-old has contributed towards 12 goals (seven scored, four assists) in 25 league games for the Cherries, yet his game is far more rounded, and his influence extends beyond the remit of recorded statistics. Firstly, his versatility is a valued asset, Brooks can play in most advanced positions, but he’s particularly adept when situated in the number ten position.
Stylistically, he’s reminiscent of a young Juan Mata, a player gifted with tremendous dribbling qualities, a cunning eye for a pass, and the necessary application to assist or score in the final third of the pitch. Brooks can utilise space well, and he’s particularly adept at beating opponents and drawing players out of their positions.
While he is widely recognised for his attacking contributions, and rightly so, Brooks, valued at £18 million by Transfermarkt, has adapted well to the physicality of the Premier League, and his display in Bournemouth’s 1-0 EFL Cup defeat to Chelsea in December evidenced his fearlessness and willingness to retrieve possession.
As is commonplace amidst most talented players, David Brooks makes the game appear so simple in its progression. Whenever the Welshman is in possession, one senses that he’s capable of influencing the game positively. This was exemplified in his most recent international outing for Wales against Slovakia, where the opposition was continually exhausted by their unavailing efforts to limit his influence. His role in the game’s only goal was telling, a smart interchange with Harry Wilson, before advancing up the field inadvertently provided Daniel James with the opportunity to score the decisive goal.
Even against more esteemed opponents, such as Spain, the 21-year-old created Wales’ only goal in a 4-1 loss in October, with Brooks producing a delightful outside-of-the-boot cross to present Vokes with the opportunity to score. For a player of his relative inexperience, he has only made 70 senior appearances; he flaunts considerable potential and varied skill set.
In an age, where the premium placed on homegrown players is exponentially increasing, one can envisage that a player of Brooks’ supreme talent will soon arouse the interest of elite-level teams. Such has been the Welshman’s importance to Bournemouth this term, his endeavours were rewarded with a lengthy contract extension in March, despite having only joined the club during the summer.
Naturally, there are aspects of his game that require further attention, such as his decision-making in the final third. That said, the promise, ability and enterprise that Brooks currently demonstrates are intoxicating.
In the space of 18 months, Brooks has emerged from the periphery of the international picture with Wales to becoming one of their most integral players, and perhaps, their most valuable prospect. If the succeeding phases of his career mirror the trajectory of his infant years as a senior footballer, then we could witness the Welshman develop into a genuinely top-level player.
His place on the shortlist for the PFA Young Player of the Year award is just reward for an exceptional season.