Sheffield United defender's sliding-doors moment after Wales' World Cup joy

If his life had gone down a slightly different path, Rhys Norrington-Davies would be fresh out of university and beginning a career in architecture.
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Instead, the 23-year-old Sheffield United man is set to fulfil every child’s boyhood dream of going to the World Cup, after helping Wales qualify for Qatar 2022 with a tense play-off victory over Ukraine on Sunday afternoon.

Norrington-Davies was on the pitch as Wales ended their 64-year wait to reach the World Cup finals, after coming on as an injury-time substitute for Liverpool’s Neco Williams, with superstar Gareth Bale hailing the greatest result in Welsh football history.

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Barring injury, illness or a catastrophic lack of form, Norrington-Davies looks certain to be included in the squad former Blades defender Robert Page selects for the World Cup, which starts in late November.

Wales will join England, Iran and the USA in group B and as the champagne soaked into his skin on Sunday afternoon at a packed and raucous Cardiff City Stadium, Norrington-Davies could be forgiven for reflecting on his own sliding-doors moment that led him to that point.

“It could have been completely different for me,” Norrington-Davies told The Star. “I got accepted into Southampton University, depending on my A-Level grades, but then I was offered a professional deal by United.

Rhys Norrington-Davies has been called up by Wales: Cameron Smith/Getty ImagesRhys Norrington-Davies has been called up by Wales: Cameron Smith/Getty Images
Rhys Norrington-Davies has been called up by Wales: Cameron Smith/Getty Images

“At 17 or 18, it was more about education for me and concentrating on that. Although I hadn’t given up on football and I wanted to play as high as possible, it was a passion of mine and I just enjoyed playing.

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“I was part of the squad for the Euros [played in 2021] and that was a fantastic experience.

“I could have been finishing off my uni degree about now. But I’m glad I went down this path instead.”

A path well-travelled

Robert Lewandowski of Poland  is challenged by Rhys Norrington-Davies of Wales (Martin Rose/Getty Images)Robert Lewandowski of Poland  is challenged by Rhys Norrington-Davies of Wales (Martin Rose/Getty Images)
Robert Lewandowski of Poland is challenged by Rhys Norrington-Davies of Wales (Martin Rose/Getty Images)

The left-back was born in Saudi Arabia and also spent a chunk of his childhood in Kenya, his nomadic early life down to dad Patrick’s post in the British Army.

“It was a good upbringing,” he added. “I can’t remember much of Saudi Arabia, because I was very young when we went over there, but I have fond memories in Kenya.

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“My next-door neighbour from there is now back in the UK and I’m still very close mates with him, and I met up with the family recently.”

Norrington-Davies impressed football scouts after his return to Wales but after three seasons at Swansea City, he was released at 16. After studying A-Levels in geology, physics and maths, a university degree in civil engineering and architecture beckoned. Until United, via the Kinetic Academy programme, came calling.

Loan spells at Barrow, Rochdale, Luton Town and Stoke City prepared him for a long-overdue Blades debut, after the signing of a four-year deal until the summer of 2024, and the path well-travelled is a familiar one for Norrington-Davies.

Greater things, for both club and country, beckon for a level-headed young man with a good head on his shoulders – with the greatest honour of them all surely just over the horizon.