Prem clubs keep tabs on rising stars
PREMIERSHIP clubs have been alerted to the progress of Cardiff City’s youth academy.
Everton have made two strong bids for full-back Chris Gunter, while Birmingham City and Blackburn Rovers have been watching other Cardiff young guns closely.
Joe Ledley is a former academy player who has made his mark at first team level, while Darcy Blake and Aaron Ramsey are youngsters with loads of ability being nurtured by Dave Jones and his coaching staff at senior and academy levels.
Recruitment is a major part of the Cardiff City plan for the future and that was never better shown than the success in signing Aaron Ramsey on scholarship forms.
Newcastle United were among the Premiership clubs keen on Ramsey, but the Welsh-speaker from Caerphilly opted for the Bluebirds.
And he has already played first team football, the youngest player ever to appear in a first team match for City at the age of 16 years 123 days last season.
Matt Smith, who will sign his senior professional contract in September, is another academy product who has the ability to break through, while City have signed up seven players on first year academy contracts.
They still have room for more, but the first years already confirmed are Ramsey, right-wing Rhys Kelleher, Dean Hudson, Craig Mason, Travis Wheatle, James Bloom and Josh Magennis, a goalkeeper from Northern Ireland.
Cardiff City’s youth academy has now been running for four years and has received rave reviews from the Football League on both football and the crucial education side run by Steve Ellis.
Lee Robinson is the academy manager and there are eight full-time staff in all backed up by a team of part-time coaches who all hold Uefa badges.
Paul Compton is head of recruitment, Geraint Twose the youth team coach with assistant academy manager Mark Neville in charge of schoolboy players aged between seven and 11-years-old.
A key factor in the whole system, though, is that Bluebirds manager Dave Jones takes a keen interest in the academy.
“We are one big team,” said academy manager Robinson. “Everybody is involved and we all meet to look at how things are going. That helps tremendously.”
Former Cardiff City defender Scott Young runs Cardiff City’s Football in the Community programme.
Young’s team work from the grassroots up, with junior clubs and schools, and pass on those who look most promising to the advanced development centres throughout South Wales.
More than 100 young players are involved in Cardiff City’s academy.
Head of player recruitment Compton, along with chief academy scout Graham Pulling, lead the team of scouts who scour Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan, Merthyr, Caerphilly, Rhondda, Swansea, Rhymney Valley, Hereford and Worcester, Swindon, Oxford and more.
“We watch thousands of players and we are constantly improving links with schools and junior clubs,” said Robinson.
“We are bringing in players through our growing relationships with junior team coaches throughout South Wales.
“And if any young player is recommended to us we pass names on to the coaches in their area and we have every one of them watched.
“Each time a report is written up and we truly believe there is not a player in South Wales who could make it that we don’t know about and have watched.”
The Bluebirds have been criticised in the past for missing out on players like Craig Bellamy, who joined Norwich City, Gareth Bale, who signed for Southampton, and Mark Delaney, who went to Manchester United as a teenager.
All three were known to Cardiff, but the club’s youth development programme was not the professional set-up it has become.
It remains difficult to attract players to Ninian Park when Premiership clubs move in and that was underlined when Ramon Caliste from Cardiff joined Manchester United and Liverpool, while Newcastle were among the clubs chasing hard for Ramsey.
That was a battle Cardiff City won – and Jones has shown he will give young players a chance with Ramsey, Gunter, Blake, Curtis McDonald and Joe Jacobson all handed a first team debut over the last couple of seasons.
The key then is for the young players to establish themselves. That’s the test for Ramsey, Gunter, Blake and maybe more over the next couple of seasons.
CARDIFF City’s youth academy are off on their own pre-season tour in July.
The first team squad are going to Portugal, where they play two matches, and the under-18s have a similar schedule in Scotland.
The young Bluebirds will leave on the same day as the Coca-Cola Championship squad, Monday, July 9, and stay away for a week.
City’s academy matches will be against Motherwell and either Celtic or Rangers.
The Academy scholars
(date of birth, December 27, 1990)
Midfield player from Caerphilly. Welsh-speaker Aaron, a pupil at Ysgol Gyfun Cwm Rhymni, was wanted by Premiership clubs including Newcastle United, but opted to join Cardiff City’s academy. Captained Wales under-17 team and is youngest to play first team football for Cardiff City at 16 years 123 days.
(dob, October 13, 1990)
Right winger from Trelewis in the Rhondda. Born Caerphilly. Former Cardinal Newman School pupil, the same school Robert Earnshaw attended.
(dob January 6, 1991) Forward from Miskin, Mountain Ash. Wales under-16 international. The son of former Pontypridd RFC and Wales international Jonathan.
(dob, March 1, 1991) Centre-half from Neath/Port Talbot. Former pupil at Dwr y Felin Comprehensive School, Neath. Wales under-16 international.
(dob February 2, 1991) Forward from Newport.
(dob, August 15, 1990)
Big, commanding goalkeeper from Belfast in Northern Ireland. Lives Bangor, County Down.
(dob, August 11, 1991)
Left-back from Thornhill, Cardiff.
(dob, March 4, 1989)
Defender who joined Cardiff City from Millfield School in Somerset. Home town Street, also Somerset.
(dob, August 26, 1990)
Forward from Swansea. Wales under-17 international.
(dob, April 17, 1990)
Winger from Bridgend. Wales under-17 international.
(dob, August 9, 1990)
Goalkeeper from Barnsley.
(dob March 23, 1990)
Tall, 6ft-plus athletic defender from East Ham, London. Has played , a pupil at for City reserves, a late developer and rated by Cardiff City a born leader.
(dob July 12, 1990)
Left-back or centre-back from the English midlands. Schools cross-country champion, previously on Aston Villa’s books as a schoolboy, from the age of nine to 16. Celebrates his 17th birthday during July.
(dob, January 10, 1990)
Midfield player from Strabane, Northern Ireland. An under-17 international for his country, having played in their European championship qualifying group matches in Portugal.
Three players, Zak (Zakaria) Evans from Hereford, Tyrell Webb from Cardiff and Rafeeq Kaid from Cardiff are on extended schoolboy forms.