Grandson of Leeds United legend John Charles intent on helping Wales become a future international force

It is somehow fitting that, as Wales stand on the brink of ending a 58-year wait to play at a major tournament, the name ‘Charles’ features once more in Welsh football.

Leeds United's John Charles, waving goodbye as he boarded a plane for Rome at London Airport.

Huddersfield winger Jake Charles, grandson of Leeds United John Charles, is part of the Wales Under-21 squad in Denmark which today is attempting to plot a way to their own European Championship in 2017.

But, like all Welsh footballers right now, Charles’s sights are also on Euro 2016 and the prospect of Wales lining up at a major finals for the first time since his grandfather was arguably the best player in the world at Juventus.

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Wales need a point from their final two qualifiers, away to Bosnia-Herzegovina on Saturday and at home to Andorra on Tuesday, to make it to France next summer for Gareth Bale to really become the John Charles of his generation.

Charles died in 2004 at the age of 72 but Jake, who was only eight at the time, is in no doubt as to what Wales reaching a major tournament for the first time since the 1958 World Cup would have meant to his grandfather.

“My grandfather was a very proud Welshman and he would have been extremely proud to see Wales where they are now,” said Charles.

“It has been such a long time since we’ve qualified for anything, but it’s strange that you can see the same things now as to when my grandfather was playing.

“He was the greatest player back then, and now Wales has got Gareth Bale who is such an icon.

Gareth Bale has led Wales to the brink of qualification of Euro 2016.

“He has got people excited in Welsh football like my grandfather did and has driven the country on to be part of a major tournament.”

Some 56 years before Bale became the world’s most expensive player in moving from Tottenham to Real Madrid for £85.3m, Charles wore the tag of British football’s costliest player.

‘The Gentle Giant’ almost doubled the previous record when he joined Juventus from Leeds for £65,000 in 1957 but he proved a huge hit in Italy, winning the league three times during his five-year stay and scoring more than 100 goals.

In a senior career spanning more than 20 years, in which he was never booked or sent off, Charles scored nearly 400 goals and was equally adept as playing centre-half as well as centre-forward.

In 1958, he helped Wales into the quarter-finals of the World Cup - the only major tournament in the nation’s football history.

Charles missed the 1-0 defeat to Brazil after being injured against Hungary in the previous game, but he was sounded out later by a teenage Pele, who had scored the winner, and handed the Brazilian’s number 10 shirt.

“I was only eight when my grandad passed away so I don’t have too many memories,” Jake Charles said.

“But you see some of the footage and how good he was as a footballer and you’re proud to call him grandad.

“It’s a bit of added pressure being a young footballer and people saying, ‘That’s John Charles’ grandson’, but the way I look at it is if I’m half as good a player as he was then I’m going to have a good career.”

The 19-year-old Charles made his Huddersfield debut at the end of last season and, having been capped for Wales from U16 to U19 level, won his first U21 cap as a substitute in last month’s 3-1 victory in Luxembourg.

Time might not be on his side to make Chris Coleman’s senior squad in time for France should they get there, but Charles says his ambition is to emulate his grandfather John, uncle Mel and cousin Jeremy and play for Wales.

“Wales showed an interest in me from a very early age, it was a no-brainer to be involved in international football and I was proud to play for them because of my grandfather,” he said.

“I’ve seen Under-21 team-mates Harry Wilson and Gethin Jones involved with the seniors and you think to yourself, ‘yes, it’s a reachable goal’.

“The Welsh coaches are always telling you the pathway to the senior squad is there and it’s about putting on performances to show you are good enough to make that step.”