Not being offered a professional deal with a football club can be heartbreaking for a player to take.Joining a club at the age of eight and spending the next ten years working hard to get to a decent standard of football, doing everything you can to make a career in the sport you love, only be turned away and told you are not good enough. The experience itself can turn some naturally talented players away from the world of professional football for good. At Cardiff City, whether you break through to the big time or not, we make sure that we're there to offer you the right support every step of the way.
PROVING THE DOUBTERS WRONG
The transition from youth team level to the first team was smooth for some of the Cardiff City first-team side. The likes of Joe Mason, Robert Earnshaw and Ben Turner all went from academy sides to first team football within a short space of time.
But for new man Craig Noone, the journey into professional first team football wasn't anywhere near as clear cut. Noone was released from Liverpool's academy at the young age of eleven and joined Wrexham's youth side before leaving at the age of fifteen. He then prepared for a career outside of football by training as a roofer while moving around non league clubs - even roofing the house of Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard.
It was while he was playing for Southport that he was discovered by Plymouth Argyle who signed him in 2008 at the age of twenty. He impressed with the Pilgrims from the start and after three years with the club he signed for Brighton & Hove Albion. In three years Craig had gone from a roofer and amateur footballer to playing consistently in the Championship. Noone spent eighteen months as a Seagull player when Malky Mackay finally signed the player he had long since admired for Cardiff. Noone made real impression in his debut as a Bluebird against Wolves earning a penalty and generally causing the away side trouble. His story is the perfect example of why being released by a Club doesn't mean the end of a dream. Hard work very often pays off in the end.
PEAKED TOO EARLY?
At the age of just 17 years and 226 days old, right full back Ryan Green made his debut for Wales against Malta in 1998. This appearance made him the youngest player to ever play for Wales, beating Ryan Giggs' record by 95 days. Green's career though didn't emulate that of the Manchester United legends. After one further Welsh cap against Tunisia he never played for his nation again. He was released from his first club Wolves and after spells at Millwall, a one game spell with Cardiff City and Sheffield Wednesday he finally found some stability in the Conference with Hereford United.
Green made over a hundred and ninety league appearances for the Bulls in two spells in between playing for Bristol Rovers and scored the goal to return them to the Football League. He is currently back playing football in Wales for Premier League side Port Talbot Town. Although Green may not have spent a career in the top flight he has still enjoyed a fourteen year career in football.
THE UNLUCKY FISH
Cardiff City youth team player Nicky Fish's footballing career was tragically cut short at the age of just twenty one in October 2005. While travelling back from a reserve team match Fish, Lloyd Jenkins, Anthony Taylor and Stuart Fleetwood were involved in a horrific car crash where they had to be cut from the wreckage after being hit by an articulated lorry.
Fish spent a lot of time in intensive care and while he made a full recovery from his injuries it was advised he would never play professional football again and he retired shortly after. Although Nicky's professional career was cut short due to his injuries he has been able to get back into playing again at an amateur level; he signed for Welsh Football League Division Three side Bridgend Street in March 2012 with Nicky admitting he is just incredibly happy to be back playing football again.
NON-LEAGUE GOAL MACHINE
Stuart Fleetwood moved on from Cardiff to sign for Hereford United in 2006. Although he had a positive start with the Bulls he struggled with form in the Football League after a stomach illness resulted in him losing a lot of weight. Fleetwood returned to non league with Forest Green Rovers and it was here that his career really ignited scoring twenty eight league goals in just forty one appearances and this earned him a big money move to Charlton Athletic.
Unfortunately, Stuart's whole time with Charlton was spent out on loan. He returned to Hereford for a season before being signed by Luton Town for an undisclosed fee in 2011. It was back in the Conference again that Fleetwood started banging the goals in with eighteen goals in forty four games including seven goals in as many games at the start of the 2012/13 season. His goal scoring record in the Conference is rather spectacular with a ratio of one goal every two games.
AN INCREDIBLE RECOVERY
As Nicky Fish's story proves, football can be a cruel sport especially when injuries shorten the careers of talented players.
And it was nearly a case of one of the biggest talents lost when Aaron Ramsey faced Stoke City in February 2010. Caerphilly born Aaron has never been released in his career, in fact quite the opposite in his case. Aaron was still involved with the Cardiff City academy when he made his debut in the first team at just sixteen years old and a year later was signed by Arsenal for an undisclosed fee in 2008. All seemed to be going well at Arsenal for Aaron, his growth as a player was clear for all to see. He was making appearances for the first team, made his debut in the Champions League and was a crucial member of the Welsh national team.
But Rambo's footballing future was nearly taken away in a heartbeat. A tackle by Stoke's Ryan Shawcross caused a double fracture in Aaron's lower right leg, a possible career ending injury. With an injury like the one he sustained it takes a lot of mental strength to rehabilitate, though rehab he did and returned to the game quicker than anybody could expect starting a reserve game within nine months of his injury. To gain match fitness Aaron went out on loan firstly to Nottingham Forest before returning to Cardiff City for a month. While with the Bluebirds he assisted Craig Bellamy's winner against Swansea City in February 2011 - excelling during that month. Since his return to full match fitness he has managed to become a crucial part of the Arsenal team as well as the captain of Wales.
OTHER ACADEMY SUCCESSES
Aaron Morris spent three years with the Cardiff City academy, being released in 2010 and signing for Aldershot Town. He is still with the Shots and has made over sixty appearances in League Two over the last three seasons.
Joe Jacobson was once the captain of the City reserve side and made two appearances for the Bluebirds first team before moving onto Bristol Rovers. He has also had spells with Oldham Athletic and Accrington Stanley, last season he signed for Shrewsbury Town and won promotion to League One with the Shrews while playing alongside another academy graduate in Aaron Wildig.
Josh Magennis signed for the Academy back in 2007 as a goalkeeper even taking a spot on the bench for the first team in a League Cup game against Liverpool. In April 2008 though he was encouraged by Academy manager Neal Ardley to change to play as a striker as Ardley believed he would have a better chance of a professional deal as a forward, a point that was proven in April 2009. Magennis was released in 2010 and signed by Aberdeen and has gone on to make over fifty SPL appearances.
IT'S A FUNNY OLD GAME!
The start of a footballer's career can begin anywhere and last for twenty years or twenty minutes. Leaving an Academy can either be the start or the end of a career depending on hard work and sometimes luck. One thing's for sure, it's a strange game and you can never count your chickens in football.