Cian Ashford

Academy | Young Bluebirds representing Club and Country

With a return to Club football following another exciting international break for Wales across the age groups, Academy Manager Gavin Chesterfield discusses the importance of the young Bluebirds' experiences gained on both the domestic and international stage.
Tom Davies

With young Bluebirds travelling far and wide to represent Cymru in recent weeks, Gavin began by sharing his thoughts on recent call-ups, and why the relationship between the Academy and FAW benefits players and staff alike. 

“Firstly, it’s fantastic to see Wales thriving on the international stage," said Gavin. "I’ve seen first-hand the work that goes into developing players at national level. We’re all a product of our daily behaviours and to be fair the work that goes on is fantastic. I’m extremely proud of our young players and the role they play in that. 

"We’ve got a substantial representation across all age groups and we’ve very proud of that, and with some of our staff supporting in both leading and backroom roles, it’s really important. Our aspiration is for our players to be exposed to the highest levels possible, and international football is a significant step up, so it’s good that our players get that level of stretch at specific points during the season. 

“It was fantastic to see the U17 side qualify for the European Finals. Dane Facey, our Head of Coaching, is a prominent member of staff and is doing fantastic work, while Jonny NortheastYuma Shibamoto and Nicolaus Yeung are also doing good work for Wales, so it’s a real team effort. 

"Our Welshness goes a long way, and for us it’s really important to support our players when they’re away from home, and while we understand it’s a good stretch for the players, we have to understand that the Academy is a place where staff to continue to develop and grow as well, and all while working at the cutting edge, which is what we want for Cardiff City. 

“In years gone by, the games programme has been a huge stretch, where Wales have played a regular list of countries. This is a fantastic experience for them, but this year it’s been a little bit different in the variety that’s been offered. James Rowberry, who of course spent many years as a First Team coach for Cardiff City, led Wales’ U16 side to play Mexico, the Czech Republic, Saudi Arabia and Japan. 

"This is important because the players get a new kind of test, with all of these countries likely setting up very differently. It shows how important variety in a games programme can be and enlightens the boys to see how everybody is fighting for a career in football, all around the world. International exposure means that players are constantly looking to raise the bar and increase their consciousness of where they are currently and where they want to be."

Wales U19

Above: Young Bluebirds Dylan Lawlor, Luey Giles, Troy Perrett, Dakarai Mafico and Cody Twose line-up for Wales U19, with a number of them having played in last year's UEFA U17 European Championship.

Continuing, Gavin explained: “If you look at the lads who are becoming scholars next season, the bar is significantly raised yet again. They’re driven well by Tom Hutton as our Lead U18 Coach, and they’re preparing themselves for a life in professional football, which is quite an unforgiving industry. These experiences where they get exposed to a wider variety of game style prepares them for that scholarship, but also the hope is for things further down the line as well.

“The truth of the situation is that between the Club and the FAW we’re all working together to help these players to develop, and it makes sense for us to work in synergy with the FAW with this is mind. It’s not just about the on-field performance; we have to understand that these players are developing as young people as well. It’s life enriching, travelling off the beaten path and sampling different cultures. 

“Naturally, from an Academy perspective our focus is to get the players through to our First Team. The games programme that they benefit from by adding in international experiences to their normal Academy experience certainly adds value that we cannot underestimate.”

Cian Ashford and Rubin Colwill warm up together pre-match.

Concluding, Gavin discussed the significance of the experience gained during international duties, and how it translates to a return to Club football, where development is key as our young Bluebirds make the steps up the age groups. 

“It is about exposure," he continued. "There are times this season where the U21 side has not always had the best results, but there’s a strategy there. Ultimately our goal to get as many players as possible through to the First Team. We get no promotion for winning the league, so we’ve made the conscious decision to make strategic choices with our young players. 

“We’ve got young players now in the U21 set-up who are getting that exposure; that can only be good for their development. It gets them closer to the First Team, so for us it’s about getting those players the exposure they need when they’re ready, but for that they need a level of adaptation, which takes time. If you couple that with our loan strategy, we’ve got a lot of players out to sample senior football with the hope of forging careers in the game. 

“We’ve had several prominent young players playing for higher age groups despite their age, for both club and country. We believe in the path we’re taking, and there may be some pain along the way, but ultimately, we’ve got our eyes on the prize in the long-term.”