Gavin Chesterfield will join the Bluebirds on November 14th, as the new Academy Manager...

Academy Manager Gavin Chesterfield reflects on a positive 23/24 campaign

After great progress for our Academy in the 2023/24 season, we caught up with Academy Manager Gavin Chesterfield. 

The campaign included moving to a new base, Academy products impressing at First Team level, as well as pushing players to play for older age groups to aid their development. 

Llanrumney base

On Tuesday, September 19th, the official opening of the new Academy base took place at Llanrumney. 

The signing of the lease marked a momentous occasion for the Bluebirds, whose Academy have since operated from state-of-the-art facilities in the Welsh capital.

Reflecting on the move, Gavin said: “Moving to Llanrumney has given us such a foothold back in the centre of Cardiff that has always produced players. More than anything, it’s given us a real shot in the arm, because it’s an indicator of the value that the Club places upon young players at our Academy. 

“It’s given us more flexibility in our programme. Previously, we operated across five sites at any time and that was difficult, but now being on one site, it’s given us more flexibility and has allowed us to be more creative. That can only be a benefit for the development of our players.”

Cian Ashford in action for Cardiff City
First Team debuts

City’s young prospects made an impression at First Team level over the course of the 23/24 campaign. 

Having made his Sky Bet Championship debut in our victory at Birmingham City, Cian Ashford scored the winning goal in his first league start against Southampton. 

In the same match, Raheem Conte and Luey Giles both impressed on their First Team debuts. Midfield duo Joel Colwill and Cameron Antwi, as well as defender Josh Beecher, also made their debuts during the campaign.

“It’s great to see for all the staff at the Academy, but also everyone who have been here previously,” Gavin added. “Everyone plays a part and we can be really proud of the dent that was made by our Academy. 11% of our First Team minutes in the 2023/24 season was made up by Academy graduates. We have designs to improve upon that massively. 

“It’s been a positive year and whilst I appreciated seeing players making their First Team debuts, scoring goals and playing well, it can’t be understated how inspirational it is for our current players as well. It has been nice to see our younger players connect with the players that have broken through. It gives our Academy an injection of added desire.”

Tanatswa Nyakuhwa in action for Cardiff City U18
Pushing age groups

The Academy’s strategy has resulted in players being given the opportunity to gain experience at a higher age group. 

With much of the U21 squad that began the campaign continuing their development through loan moves, many of the U18s squad have featured for the U21s. 

Furthermore, the U16s have been involved at U18s level throughout the season.

Commenting on players playing above their age group, Gavin continued: “With any strategy, things take time and we’re a year into this approach. It’s not unique, a lot of other clubs do that as well. We have to think differently and do things that suit us. 

“We are exposing players to aid their development, but we also have an understanding that players have different journeys. We’ve been really pleased with how the players have adapted to playing in older age groups this year and it will stand them in good stead going forward.”

Malachi Fagan-Walcott
Loan experience

The Academy have also utilised the loan market to continue players’ development and gain different experiences to that they have had previously. 

Players like Malachi Fagan-Walcott, Tom Davies and Eli King are just a few examples of individuals who have progressed their learning while out on loan. 

“We’ve had a lot of loans go out this year, probably more than we’ve ever had at any given time and that created an added workload, but we feel that we’ve got players coming back to us now that are far more ready for First Team football and closer than they were previously,” Gavin said.

“We think that the boys have had good experiences and exposure to the levels that they’ve been playing in. We consider each player’s needs and their style when we send them out on loan. It always comes down to what is best for each player and I think this year, we’ve had a lot of good fits between our players and their loan clubs. We’ve done some decent work in that area and we’re making coordinated decisions for our players.”

Ronan Kpakio
International stage

As well as gaining experience at Club level, the Bluebirds have also had great representation at international level. 

While City’s prospects have been involved with Wales’ U21s squad, there were also a trio of Bluebirds at the UEFA U17 European Championship in Ronan Kpakio, Jake Davies and Jac Thomas.

Gavin added: “The big thing we go after in our Academy is variety in our games programme. We can provide variety in-house in terms of the type of games and format they play, but then also the age group that they’re exposed to. There is variety in our training programme as well, as a lot of our boys have trained with the First Team to see the level. With our Day Release programme, we have U12s and higher training with our U18s to develop their understanding and making connections with the Academy. 

“The international experience is huge for us to continue that variety. It provides our players with exposure to play against some of the best players in their age group and we’re doing really well in that regard.”

Cardiff City U15
Claiming silverware 

It was a season of success, particularly for City’s U15s side, who claimed two trophies. 

Their campaign culminated in winning the EFL Floodlit Cup at Cardiff City Stadium, defeating Burton Albion in a fantastic final. 

“To see some of the sides that have earned silverware has been fantastic to see,” Gavin continued. “They’re great experiences for them. Along with success at different age groups in the Corey Price Cup for example, our U15s in particular have had a great season with two trophies, which is fantastic for them. 

Gavin Chesterfield will join the Bluebirds on November 14th, as the new Academy Manager...
Looking ahead

After a campaign of progress in the 23/24 season, Gavin concluded by offering an insight into the coming weeks. 

“It’s a very busy period for us now of going after our blueprint model, which is the term we use for our player development approach. It’s not just how we play football, because that’s what we call our game model. That is still in its infancy and we’re trying to objectify that and get some key metrics, which appraise what we do effectively. The key thing for us is variety.

“I love my role here and I’m addicted to it. We work for a fantastic Club and it’s a privilege to come in every day and see how driven the staff are to make our environment and players better. We’re not currently where I think we can get to, but each day, we’re taking steps towards that. At the moment, with the stability of our approach and the consistency of our strategy, the staff can be really proud of their efforts, but the best is yet to come.”