Chris Gunter: Reading's Wales defender has sights set on Euro 2020

By Gareth VincentBBC Sport Wales
Chris Gunter aiming to impress for club and country

Chris Gunter concedes that Ryan Giggs may be more drawn to Real Madrid than Reading as he monitors his squad ahead of Euro 2020.

But Wales' most-capped male player is back on the radar and has sights set on another memorable summer with his country.

This has already been a season Gunter will not forget.

The hope is that he can turn it into a campaign to remember.

Having endured a spell in exile at the club he has served for eight years, Gunter has returned to the first-team picture at Reading under fellow Welshman Mark Bowen.

As a result, his chances of playing a key role for Wales this summer - just as he did at Euro 2016 - look much greater than they did a couple of months ago.

"Everyone connected with Wales is really excited," Gunter tells BBC Sport Wales.

"It will be another fantastic summer, but at the moment it seems a long way off."

Chris Gunter
Chris Gunter's most recent Wales cap came in the friendly win over Belarus in September 2019

Gunter's reluctance to look too far ahead is understandable.

After all, nobody anticipated the problems that came his way in the early part of 2019-20.

Gunter is a model professional with more than 500 club appearances to his name as well as 96 international caps.

Yet the 30-year-old's CV counted for nothing as he was cast aside by then Reading boss Jose Gomes in pre-season.

Gunter was told he could find another club and forced to train with Reading's under-23 squad, as was another senior Royals player, Garath McCleary.

"We were in a different changing room and all that type of stuff," Gunter says.

"Walking past the first team every day and going to train with the under-23s is not nice, but it helped that Garath was there. We would help each other through.

"It was just a case of keeping your head down, keeping your mouth shut and getting on with it and always having faith that things could turn."

Gunter had played under Gomes in the second half of last season, but was frozen out this term until the Portuguese was sacked in October.

Having made a first appearance under Bowen in November, he will hope to feature in an 11th successive league game at former club Cardiff City on Friday night.

Chris Gunter
Reading have lost only three of the 11 Championship games Chris Gunter (L) has played in this season

The imminent return to fitness of fellow right-back Andy Yiadom may mean Gunter faces a battle to keep his place, but a corner has been turned for a player who on social media earlier this month referred to "much rubbish spoken and written" about him in 2019.

"I tend to stay away from social media and different comments, people's views and stuff, but you'd be lying if you said certain things were not highlighted to you or sent to you by your mates or your family," Gunter explains.

"Things are being said by people who are not in the club and they couldn't be further from the truth.

"When I finish I will be able to look back and say whether it was going well or not, I always applied myself the right way and you knew what you were going to get from me every day."

There was interest in Gunter last summer but no move was right, hence he opted to battle on at the Madejski Stadium.

That decision paid off following Gomes' exit, with Gunter now getting the game-time required to challenge for a place in the national team.

Giggs tends to prefer players who are match sharp, with Swansea City's Connor Roberts filling the right-back berth for the majority of the Euro 2020 qualifying campaign.

Roberts is favourite at this point to start the tournament on the right flank of Giggs' rearguard, while teenager Neco Williams is making a case for inclusion in the squad thanks to some very promising performances at Liverpool.

Yet the experienced Gunter is unconcerned about competition in his position.

Chris Gunter
Chris Gunter started in every game at Euro 2016 as Wales reached the semi-finals

"You just need to focus on yourself," he says. "We have got competition right through the squad which is fantastic for the manager and the country as a whole.

"It's a really exciting time for the country and having more people playing well gives us a better chance not just for the summer but the years ahead."

Qualifying for a second successive European Championship was a triumph in itself, but Giggs' team have a hard act to follow after Wales' glorious run to the semi-finals four years ago.

"I think we would all take anywhere close to that," Gunter adds.

It could be that the summer brings a landmark for Gunter, who is four appearances away from becoming the first man to win a century of caps.

Yet he is not counting.

"It's fantastic if you get a number of caps or get praise personally but, having experienced some really good times in the team, that's a lot more satisfying," Gunter says.

"I think anyone would swap their caps to have a summer like we had a couple of years ago, or those nights when we qualified or those really big nights when we enjoyed some huge games."