Shock call-up James Lawrence reveals how he got involved with Welsh national team
He’s played in Belgium, England, Netherlands and Slovakia, but now James Lawrence has a new country he can call home; Wales.
The 26-year-old was a surprise call-up to the Wales squad last week, having never represented Wales at any age group.
Wales assistant manager Albert Stuivenberg watched the defender and passed his judgement onto Ryan Giggs. Giggs has put his faith in his report from the Dutchman and has given Lawrence a chance for the upcoming fixtures against Albania and Denmark.
It was, however, the Lawrence family who got in touch with the Football Association of Wales about, possibly representing the Red Dragons which kickstarted things.
Lawrence revealed: “My dad got in touch with the Football Association of Wales and he said, ‘he’s eligible to play for Wales so why don’t you have a look at him?’
“I think playing for a high-profile club like Anderlecht, that obviously helped playing regular football there and with the scouting.
They came and watched me this season and some games last season. That’s how it came about, they decided I was someone worth calling up.”
The Oxfordshire-born defender who can also play in midfield commented on his new surroundings: “I can’t say it’s too different from everywhere else that I’ve been. I’ve been to a lot of countries and had to adjust to new things, so this is another step for me.
“It’s been really good so far with the training camp and meeting up with all the players.”
On Friday, Wales host Denmark at the Cardiff City Stadium and Lawrence could be in line to make his debut in a promotion deciding match.
Lawrence’s family will be making the trip to South Wales, in the hope that he makes his first international start.
He has followed in the footsteps of players like Ashley Williams, Ben Woodburn, James Chester and Sam Vokes, as players who were born in England, but chose to play for the country across the border, Wales.
Each player has made the effort to sing Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, as they try to integrate into the Welsh national team setup.
Lawrence said: “I think my whole family is going to be coming up. It’s a huge deal and they’re all very proud.
“I haven’t spoken to her yet but I’ve had the Welsh anthem on and things like that. I’m starting to learn and hopefully I’ll do that.”
Lawrence who qualifies for Wales through his Haverfordwest-born grandmother admitted he had never stepped foot in Wales before this week; as he linked up with his new international teammates.
He hasn’t ruled out travelling to the west of the country to experience what his grandmother’s place of birth is like, aiming to embrace his Welsh roots.
“She’s coming up to Cardiff on Friday to see the game, to see me again. I think she’s looking forward to coming back for sure.
“I’ll have to have a word with her about a future trip.”
Lawrence’s upbringing has seen him in the youth academies of Arsenal and Queens Park Rangers, but his story is similar to those of British players like Daniel Crowley and Jadon Sancho, who have earned their trade abroad.
After being released by Queens Park Rangers, his mum took up a job up in Amsterdam. Lawrence joined the well-respected footballing academy of Dutch giants Ajax.
He was in the same youth team as Christian Eriksen, who could be lining up against him on Friday evening.
But, in the last few years, success with Trencin in Slovakia has been the making of Lawrence, winning the Slovak Super Liga and Slovak Cup twice, as well as having experience in the Europa League and Champions League qualifiers.
His experience in Belgium with new club Anderlecht, as well as the success in Slovakia, will be helpful in dealing with the challenge of international football, Lawrence believes.
“I’ve learned a lot from my time abroad; very different styles of football and different mentalities as well.
I’ve played a lot of players who have played internationally. It gives me a good insight into how other countries in Europe play football. Technically, I feel I’m well set.”