Cardiff City CEO, Ken Choo, has spoken in detail regarding the Club’s current development policy and the structures in place for nurturing and unearthing future talent.
Cardiff City’s Development/Under 21 squad underpins the first-team group, acting as an essential link between Academy football (U9-16) and senior level. Under the principals of EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan) that have been in situ since the start of the 2012/13 season, the DVP/U21 group are able to play regularly at a competitive level, tailored to their stage of development.
The Bluebirds won the Professional Development League Two (South) in 2013/14, having come runners-up the previous year.
Monday’s 1-0 victory over Hull City saw them move up to second spot in this year’s table and marked their tenth game without defeat. With three games remaining, another end of season Play-Off spot looks to be well within grasp.
But as Ken discusses, the onus in 2016 and going forward is on finding first-team talent through a number of means that could, at some stage, curtail results. In his words, it’s about incurring ‘short term pain, for long term gain.’
“We have had a thorough revamp of our Development level structure during the last twelve months,” Ken notes. “Kevin Nicholson took over as U21 Manager back in February 2015, whilst Michael Johnson came to the Club as his assistant last summer. They are employing our strategy of keeping the development group fluid – sourcing good loan moves for some of our best prospects, working with our core to improve current levels, whilst bringing through some of our more advanced U18s into DVP/U21 football.
“We’re delighted with the way the young players are progressing and to see that coupled with their fine form as a core group is hugely encouraging. Monday’s win against Hull puts us firmly in the hunt again this season – but at this level of football, it’s about finding the right balance between on-field results and long-term development.
“Naturally, by sending our youngsters on loan we are cherry-picking from the Development group. This may affect on-field results at times, but we don’t see results as the most important aspect to Development football. Yes, you want to develop a winning culture at youth level which we’re doing, but that can’t be at the expense of player development.
“This season, we have some excellent examples of what leaving the core can do for young players. Tommy O’Sullivan – the FAW Young Player of the Year for 2015 – is an example of young man who is continuing to flourish having enjoyed time at Newport County.
“David Tutonda has returned from a successful loan spell with York City, his second loan spell having spent time at Newport last year. David is now getting the experience of training with our senior squad, having added physicality to his technical qualities whilst on loan. The feedback from our coaches here has been very encouraging.
“Rhys Healey has scored goals for Colchester United in League One and Dundee in the Scottish Premiership, having played for us against Chelsea in the Premier League in 2014. Thomas James is another fine talent who made his senior debut in that game. Ben Wilson has played for us in the Capital One Cup and has experienced regular football at AFC Wimbledon in League Two this season.
“The fluidity of DVP/U21 football, the pragmatic necessities to it and the very literal sense of managing that group is essential. There are no short-cuts at that level, it’s very much about time and patience, but I’m extremely confident that we are on the right road to ensuring that we see young, local talent emerging at first-team level in the near future.
“This fine on-field form is great to see. But it’s even more important that we see it in conjunction with a plan that will give our young players the very best chance of becoming first-team regulars.”
SCOURING THE GLOBE
Another part of the Club’s Development level strategy relates to an aggressive recruitment policy – targeting youth from across Europe to complement the existing group.
Joe Ralls is now flourishing in the senior setup having joined the Bluebirds from Farnborough in 2010 as a sixteen year old. Indeed, the amalgamation of recruitment close to home with further afield is something Ken has been keen to cultivate.
“We’ve established that Development football needs to implement a clear pathway from Academy football to first-team football,” Ken reflects. “Functionally, this requires time and patience, sound management and good use of the loan system; but in conjunction with this, there must be a recruitment strategy in place that ensures we have a regular flooding of new talent into the current pool.
“Again, I must highlight some examples of where we’ve recruited young players from further afield. Jordan Blaise signed professional terms with us following a summer trial period having previously been with FC Girondins de Bordeaux, whilst Marco Weymans – the Belgium Under 19 captain – is somebody we have high hopes for. At just eighteen, Marco’s temperament and ability is impressive and we’re excited about the path he could take.
“The aggressive recruitment strategy is possible because of the explicit, tangible pathway we’ve forged between the three levels – Academy, Development and First-Team. As has been documented, Russell Slade and I had to clear the decks in terms of having thirty-eight first-team players on the books when he became Manager in October 2014.
"Eighteen months on and we have a much more credible senior squad size, that has a knock-on effect at age levels. We feel that our younger players now look at the senior squad as being somewhere they could break into – something that would have looked extremely difficult during the period of us having thirty-eight senior players on the books. Was it likely that they were going to break into the senior setup back then? Conceivable, but very unlikely.
“Of course, with the prospect of DVP/U21s moving up to senior level – or out on loan in search of experience – this opens the door for our Under 18 players to experience DVP/U21 football. It’s about creating that space and allowing the system to function in a healthy manner.
Rhys Abbruzzese and Jamie Bird are finding their feet with the DVP/U21s – both still Under 18 players but who have signed professional deals with us. Those are just two names to keep an eye on in the coming eighteen months or so.”
Ken highlighted his commitment to Development football and the greater obligation on the Football Club to nurture tomorrow’s talent for optimum results, adding finally: “In a nutshell, we may sometimes sacrifice short-term gains at times so as to build a future for the Football Club from within.
“If we don’t allow players to spend time away on loan – where they can learn from the temperament of senior professionals, experience a full stadium and manage professional expectations – then they can stagnate. If we focus on a core and don’t look outside of that for new and fresh talent, then we’re being naive.
“It’s important that our supporters know what our development strategy is. Results are always welcomed, but it's key that they come as part of an overarching strategy.”