“Sometimes I just have to remind people how inexperienced Ben is. He has been so good, there’s a real danger he is just taken for granted and you forget his age.” Michael Laudrup on Ben Davies
My hometown club, Merthyr Town FC, play in the Evo-Stik Southern Football League Division One South & West. The club is quite well known in non-league circles and has a great ground for the level of football they play at – Penydarren Park. When I’m back at home I always try to go and watch Merthyr Town play and whilst home for my holidays over the summer months of last year, I made such a trip to Penydarren Park to watch Merthyr Town take on the U21s of the team I support, Swansea City. I was looking forward to seeing the future of Swansea, but in all fairness Swansea were dire yet somehow defeated a plucky Merthyr Town 3-2. This was to be the first time I would ever see Ben Davies play and I have to say he was quite anonymous. Little was I to realise then, that the left back would go onto be one of Swansea’s stars of the upcoming season.
During the summer months, the nation was gripped by the 2012 London Olympics. Not exactly the highlight of everyone’s Olympics, but naturally I took a keen interest in the Olympic football especially with Team GB having several Swansea players in the squad. Over the competition Swansea left-back Neil Taylor really shone and many people, who may have missed his excellent performances for the Swans over the 2011-12 season, began to take notice of the young North-Walian. There was no chance of anyone displacing Taylor as Swansea’s first choice left back. However, in the Swans second home game of the season, Taylor fell victim to a Craig Gardner challenge which broke his ankle and ruled him out for almost the entirety of the season. Swansea’s fans mourned the loss of one of their key players. There was a further sense of panic as the injury had occurred the day after the transfer window had closed and Swansea had very little cover in full back areas – fans called out for an emergency loan signing, yet forgetting the 6 minute cameo a young full back had made only a week before.
Ironically, Davies replaced Taylor as a substitute in Swansea’s first home game in a 3-0 win over West Ham, as Laudrup looked to rest Taylor following his summer of Olympic football. Regardless of such a brief appearance on his debut, the line “That young kid Davies did well when he came on for Taylor” could be heard around Swansea post match, as fans reflected and dissected their accomplished 3-0 victory over the Hammers.
Davies had been with the club though the youth ranks and the teenage defender even spent a spell playing for Danish club Viborg FF on route to earning his first professional contract for Swansea. Neath born Davies signed his first professional contract with the club in the summer of 2011, just as the club were about to embark on their maiden season in the Premier League. Davies would never make an appearance in the Premier League under Brendan Rodgers and instead he would be prevalent in the club’s reserve team throughout the 2011/12 season, where he impressed nonetheless. July 2012 would see Davies awarded with a new two-year contract just as Swansea’s Laudrup era was kicking off. I doubt Laudrup could have envisaged then the impact Davies was to have on the histroy-making season the club was about to embark on.
Following Taylor’s unfortunate injury, Laudrup headed straight into the free transfer market and bought the former Twente full back Dwight Tiendalli. In Swansea’s first Taylor-less game, a trip to Villa Park, the fans were expecting to see the new Dutchman in the starting lineup, but Laudrup gave Davies a huge vote of confidence by placing him in the team for his first ever senior start. Since that day Davies has been virtually unmoved from his left back role, partly due to the excellent performance he put in at Villa Park that afternoon (I even singled him out for praise in my blog about my trip to Villa Park that very day).
Of course, Neil Taylor had also very much secured himself as the first choice left back for the Welsh national team since his ascendancy from Wrexham to Swansea and into a top class Premier League full back; however, Davies has also seized Taylor’s spot as Wales’ first choice left back and made it very much his own. Having not made his debut for the Wales national team until September 2012, Davies now finishes the 2012/2013 season with 5 full international caps to his name. Taylor is going to have a hell of a battle to reclaim his first team berth back next season that is for sure – for club and country.
Ben Davies featured in our list of 100 Best Young Players to Watch-out for in 2014. He was at #21 in our list of defenders. See the entire list here.
Style, Strengths & Weaknesses
The exciting thing about Ben Davies is that he seems to get better week by week. The few early signs of weakness he displayed are already ironed out by the young Welshman, undoubtedly thanks to his unerring desire to improve his game. I’m sure Davies would have been well aware that a slip in performance and work ethic would have seen Taylor reclaim his first team spot on returning to the squad; not forgetting that Tiendalli was a Dutch title winning full back who was impressing with his sporadic starts and appearances from the bench and who was ready to take his place at the first sign of a dip in form. That dip in form was never to come. Perhaps the greatest quality Davies has demonstrated throughout his maiden season is his unbelievable consistency. Swansea fans could quite easily count how many mistakes the young Welshmen has made this season on one hand – in fact, probably on 1 or 2 fingers. This more impressive when you consider that despite his age and inexperience, Davies has featured in 43 games for Swansea this season and has shown little to no sign of burnout. Davies has almost become a reflection of Laudrup’s persona: whilst Laudrup is calmness personified on the touchline and in front of the media, you will not find a calmer, more composed character on the field than Davies.
It is now a compulsory factor at Swansea City that to play for them you have to know how to pass the ball – accurately and a lot. Despite his inexperience, Davies easily settled into the ‘Swansea Way’, thanks to his years in the youth ranks where the young prospects are now coached to fit in with the club’s playing ethos (a legacy of the Roberto Martinez era). Davies finished the season with a highly commendable 83% pass accuracy (1267 completed passes out of a staggering 1525 passes) with the majority of his passes being forward passes – a sign of the tactical shift at Swansea from the Rodgers era to the Laudrup era.
The area where Taylor supposedly trumped his younger compatriot was in going forward and attacking from the full back position. Taylor demonstrated in his first two seasons at Swansea that he was a potent attacking threat from left back with his speed and excellent crossing ability. As for Davies, early signs were that he was a far more defensive-minded full back than Taylor with the youngster still looking tentative about surging forward. However, as the Christmas period approached, Davies had developed into an attacking threat. Although maybe not as a accurate a crosser as Taylor, Davies found himself regularly marauding into the opposition’s half to link with the attack. Davies’ runs forward became a crucial factor to the Swansea game plan as Laudrup converted Swansea’s attacking line into a more narrow and penetrative shape; the full backs, Davies and Rangel, were essential for the team to provide any sort of real width. By the season’s close, it was hard to decide who was the more impressive attacking full back: Davies or Taylor. The youngster has come on massively.
In recent interviews, Laudrup has further demonstrated how highly he rates Davies by stating that he believes that Davies could go on to be a top class centre back and claiming that that’s where the youngster should be playing further down his career path. Laudurp hailed the defender’s excellent game-reading abilities and the aforementioned coolness he possesses as the traits that could distinguish him as a future top flight centre back – obviously not mentioning his all round technical ability.
Remember, this lad is not even 20 yet! Surely, there’s even more to come from Ben Davies.
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