When Connor Roberts is not on the pitch, there is a good chance you will find him pottering around in his garage, a designated workshop where hitting the woodwork brings great pleasure. Last weekend, hours after struggling to sleep following victory in the south Wales derby, the Swansea defender was putting the finishing touches to a mud kitchen, a Christmas present for twins. “I can be in there for hours on end doing bits and bobs, ‘potching’ almost, ” he says. “I have a bit of OCD, so everything has to be perfect. Once I’ve finished, I have to clean up and everything has to be away nicely.”
Other carpentry creations include a dining table for one of the club’s physios, desks, dog bowls, birdhouses and wine caddies. He insists there have been no DIY disasters yet – “at the moment I stay in my lane,” he says, grinning – but, down the line, it is a passion the 25-year-old plans to pursue. “I’d love to have my own business once football finishes and maybe have a couple of guys working for me and dabble in it. There is a lot to learn until then so that is on the back burner for now. On the bus when I go to away games and people are watching Netflix, I watch YouTube and try and learn how to do stuff because I’m no pro with it all and there’s always stuff to learn.”
Frankly, it is hard to envisage many footballers settling down to watch the Repair Shop, Homes under the Hammer or Escape to the Chateau DIY. His double life, born from enjoying design and technology at school, has led to some humorous exchanges. In October, while on international duty with Wales, Roberts did his best to assure an Essex-based joiner that his order for a hardwood mallet was genuine. “I messaged him off my football Instagram [account], and there are no photos of me doing woodwork on there, saying: ‘Believe it or not, I do a bit of woodwork on the side, I’m not taking the piss or anything, what are the chances of getting one of those made?’”
Another time, when ordering his pride and joy – an iron-branding stamp that spells his name – confusion reigned. “I messaged someone asking: ‘How much would it cost?’ A few moments later he had obviously been scrolling down my page because he sent a photo [I posted] after we qualified for the Euros. He asked: ‘Do you know Gareth Bale?’” Not that Roberts has managed to flog any bespoke pieces to Bale yet. “I might take something to the next Wales camp and charge him triple the price,” he says, laughing.
Roberts is Swansea’s jack of all trades. Three years ago he won the Premier League 2 alongside Joe Rodon, Daniel James and Oli McBurnie. He has proved an attacking force from wing-back – only Norwich’s Emi Buendía, a No 10, has created more chances this campaign – but is also part of the Championship’s meanest defence. Swansea have 10 clean sheets from 18 matches, a tally it took them 32 games to reach last season. Unsurprisingly, Roberts’ post-match heat maps are a sight to behold. “We get the stats after every game and I think every game this season I’ve run the furthest out of everyone in my team and the opposition, so I’d probably go as far to say I’ve run further than anyone else [in the league].”
Wednesday’s trip to Derby will be Roberts’ 25th game since September for club and country. He has not missed a minute of league action this season. “It baffles me when, after a few games, players say they need to rest for weeks. You only get a certain amount of time on this planet and in football, so rack up as many minutes, as many goals, as many assists and as many good performances as you can and when it is all said and done you can look back and have no regrets. Some of the boys do say to me: ‘It’s mad you play every game, and in the 90th minute you’re trying to make the opposition box, and then you go home and spend three hours hammering in stuff in the workshop.’”
Roberts grew up in the Dulais Valley near Neath, down the road from Ben Davies, with whom he played rugby. Next summer he will likely play alongside Davies, formerly of Swansea, at Euro 2021, five years on from watching Wales reach the Euro 2016 semi-finals at home and three years on from making his debut against Uruguay in China. “After that game Ben said: ‘Isn’t it mad that two boys out of the Welsh national team come from within five minutes of each other?’ I’m from Crynant and he’s from a place called Seven [Sisters], villages that are right next to each other.”
Roberts is engaging and easy-going but a perfectionist. He joined Swansea at the age of nine and, in his mid-teens, a conversation with the then club captain, Garry Monk, about sacrifice led him to be teetotal. “I’ve never tasted it, I feel it has no benefits to anyone’s life really. It just costs money; it might make you feel good for 10 minutes but then after it you might have a hangover or you’re being sick everywhere. I’d rather spend my money on new tools and enjoying myself that way,” he says, with a broad smile.