This article is part of the Guardian’s Euro 2020 Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organisations from the 24 countries who qualified. theguardian.com is running previews from two countries each day in the run-up to the tournament kicking off on 11 June.
On the November night in 2019 when Wales qualified for the European Championship, the match-winner, fresh from joining Juventus from Arsenal a few months earlier, was Aaron Ramsey. The architect for his first goal was Gareth Bale, the Cardiff boy who became a galáctico at Real Madrid, but his second stemmed from a clever jab by Kieffer Moore, whose route to the biggest stage has been a little more scenic, taking in spells at Torquay and Truro, for whom he played part-time while working as a lifeguard and personal trainer.
Five months after Wales won hearts at Euro 2016, Moore was treading water in non-league football, deemed dispensable by Forest Green, who sent him on loan to his home town club, Torquay. Before that, there were unsuccessful trials at Exeter and Leyton Orient.
Moore made a splash at Torquay – scoring five goals in four games – so much so they were on the verge of signing him permanently in January 2017, until Mick McCarthy, then the Ipswich manager, made a beeline for the striker. A £25,000 deal was agreed. Two days later, Moore was in the directors’ box at Portman Road, putting pen to paper before Ipswich’s 3-2 victory over Blackburn. Tom Lawrence, left out of Wales’s 26-man squad, scored twice.
Moore is more than a target man. The 1.96m (6ft 4in) striker is deceptively quick, agile, two-footed and a wily presence, as was clear for the awareness he showed to tee up Ramsey’s second goal against Hungary, on his fifth cap. He has scored five goals since his debut against Belarus 18 months ago. “For my size, people don’t think I can do what I can but I’m a good mover,” he said last year. “I can run with the ball, I can run the channels and cause a nuisance.”
This season he became the first Cardiff player to score 20 goals in a league season since the late Peter Whittingham in 2010. “We could do with a replica of him,” McCarthy said in February.
Until Dave Bowman, Ipswich’s director of football at the time, became aware of Moore’s availability, they were primed to move for Oli Hawkins, then of Dagenham & Redbridge. Hawkins was another striker who had moonlighted as a makeshift centre-back. At Yeovil, for whom Moore played against Manchester United in the FA Cup, he was occasionally used as a defender – “it’s always a position I felt he could be comfortable with,” said his manager, Gary Johnson – but after his release, he signed for the Norwegian side Viking, where he played alongside the Millwall and Iceland striker Jon Dadi Bodvarsson. It was an intriguing move but game time was limited and he returned home before joining Forest Green.
Twenty-four hours before he signed for Torquay, he made his debut for England C, a team comprising non-league players, in Tallinn. Ethan Pinnock, now of Brentford and a former Forest Green teammate, and Jamal Lowe, now of Swansea, also featured in that game.
Moore’s rise earned him a Wales call-up while at Barnsley but there was a time when a move to China was mooted. Plans to explore his Chinese ancestry were also put on hold.
The Devon-born striker, named after the actor Kiefer Sutherland, qualifies for Wales through his maternal grandfather, Raymond, who hailed from Llanrug, near Caernarfon, the scene of many a childhood trip. Proving his eligibility was another thing, though. “There was a lot of back and forth because we couldn’t find my grandfather’s birth certificate,” Moore said two years ago. “My mum was searching everywhere, scrambling around the attic, everywhere; the whole family looking for it. We had to send for a copy but we had to get more information and there was a lot of paperwork involved.”
Moore made 11 substitute appearances for Ipswich and did not start a game inthe Championship but the move put him in the shop window. Suddenly any fall was not quite so big. He excelled on loan at Rotherham in League One and was sold to their local rivals Barnsley. His prolific form led to Wigan pay £3.75m, plus add-ons, for the striker before financial troubles meant he joined Cardiff last summer for half that.
The 28-year-old has taken each step in his stride and Ryan Giggs quickly recognised he could get the best out of others by building his attack around a focal point. Qualifying was a team effort but Moore’s breakthrough transformed Wales’s frontline and he is a firm favourite among a section of supporters.
But had it not been for that 28-day spell at Torquay, that included a hat-trick, including two headers, against Solihull Moors, and the move to the second tier with Ipswich, he almost certainly would not be flying to Azerbaijan on Monday as Wales’s No 9.
“I slowly made my way up [the divisions], slowly made my way down and slowly made my way back up again,” he said. “I spent a lot of time in non-league. My path has been very different to a lot of players. It has been a very special journey.”
Ben Fisher writes for the Guardian.
Follow him on Twitter @benfisherj.
For a tactical guide of Wales click here.