Chris Mepham eager to lead from the back for Wales
The 21-year-old has only won six caps but is set to be Wales’ most experienced central defender against Azerbaijan on Friday.
Chris Mepham wants to fill the Wales leadership void left by the absence of captain Ashley Williams.
The 86-times capped Williams was left out of Friday’s vital Euro 2020 home qualifier against Azerbaijan following his summer departure from Everton.
Williams was unattached until he joined Bristol City at the end of August, prompting manager Ryan Giggs to drop the third most-capped Wales player of all-time.
Bournemouth defender Mepham is still only 21 with six caps to his name, but is ready to take on a more senior role at the back.
“Ash is a big miss, he’s a big voice around the changing room and is a natural leader,” Mepham said.
“It’s important we fill those shoes and I like to think I’ve got that personality who can be vocal. Pull people around and be that natural leader in the back four. I’m only 21 but I don’t think that’s a reason not to be vocal.
“There’s many leaders in the past who have led from a young age. I would like to be that person and that voice at the heart of the back four.”
Mepham has captained the Wales Under-20 and Under-21 sides, playing alongside Joe Rodon.
Rodon, also 21, is set to win his first cap against Azerbaijan and be rewarded for his outstanding form in Swansea’s climb to the top of the Sky Bet Championship.
Mepham also captained his previous club Brentford on one occasion.
“We had a weird system at Brentford where we didn’t have a selected captain,” he said. “Under Dean Smith there was a new person every week who would be captain.
“I got my chance away to Ipswich, it was a nice feeling and we drew 1-1. So I have experienced it before and hopefully I can get the armband again at some point.”
Wales entertain Azerbaijan – Group E’s whipping boys with no points from three games – in Cardiff playing catch-up, with this encounter marking the halfway stage of qualifying.
Giggs’ side trail leaders Hungary by six points, albeit with a game in hand, and are three adrift of Croatia and Slovakia in the race for a top-two spot.
“It’s a massive game now, a must-win,” Mepham said, reflecting on the back-to-back summer losses in Croatia and Hungary.
“We know we’re more than capable of getting a win on Friday. Hopefully we can do that and take that momentum forward.
“But we can’t look at it as a game where we can just turn up and beat them. It’s important we go into the game with the right mindset and get an early goal that will settle the nerves of the fans and the players.”