Rubin Colwill may have been named Cardiff’s Young Player of the Year, but for our money, Tom Sang is their real find this year. Making the step up to the Championship, while mastering a new position is no mean feat and Tom has taken it all in his stride. He thoroughly deserved his new deal and caught up with VFTN recently to talk about his career to date.
Firstly and most importantly, how are you? How is your toe ligament injury?
It’s good thanks, it’s coming along. I’m in a boot and I had an operation last Tuesday, but there’s no pain anymore. I’m going to see the surgeon tomorrow and hopefully get the boot off. Then I’ll be up and running with the rehab, which hopefully should be no more than six weeks, but I’ll definitely be back for pre-season.
How did it happen?
In the Brentford game, the ball dropped in the box and I cleared it with my left foot. As I cleared it, someone was coming in for a shot at the same time. My foot has followed through and hit their shin. The impact hurt, but normally you get up, jog on and its fine, but I could feel the pain and I knew I couldn’t carry on.
I’m interested in your road to Cardiff. I know your dad Neil played professionally. Were you always going to be a footballer?
With my dad being in the game, I would say I had an upper hand in terms of knowledge on the technical side of football and being around clubs. I did hours and hours of training sessions with my dad and I think that helped a lot. I probably started playing at around four or five. My whole life basically. When I was very young, I started playing for a team that were a year older, so it was much tougher.
At what age did you join Bolton and how did you end up joining Manchester United?
We had clubs all the time asking if I wanted to come for a trial, but my dad didn’t want me to do that too early and make things too serious because he wanted me to enjoy my football. We made the decision around 12 or 13 to go to a trial at Bolton and I got signed there for two years. After that, I got released. I then had a lot of issues with growing pains and I was out of football for about 18 months. I barely played at all before speaking to a scout at Manchester United, who we initially spoke to when I was much younger and I ended up staying there for four years.
Who were your peers there?
I was a year or two older than Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams, but I trained with them plenty of times, plus the likes of Angel Gomes and Tahith Chong. Training with people like that is really good, but at the end of the day, you want to prove you can do the same.
How did you find your first loan spell at AFC Fylde?
Coming towards the end, when I knew I was going to be leaving United, it was one of them where, by Christmas, I wanted to get out and experience some men’s football. I ended up going there and it felt like they were only taking me because I was a kid from Manchester United. At the time, they were top of the league and flying, with no intention of me having a big part, so it was a really poor loan and I didn’t get anything from it, but it was an experience you can draw things from.
You were released by Manchester United in 2019, which is a situation a lot of young players have to go through and must be very difficult. Was it a case there where you suffered from not being one of the chosen few?
I wouldn’t say that at all. The club is full of really good people, they give everyone a chance and the coaching staff want the best for you, even if you’re at the bottom of the group. When I first got there, I was behind in certain things, but they put the work in with you and its one of the best places you can be for a developing footballer.
How long was it between your release and joining Cardiff? How did that move come about?
I ended the season at United and the following pre-season, I came on trial to Cardiff and after a few weeks, I signed. My dad is an agent, so he has contacts. The first club he contacted was Cardiff and James McCarthy said he would have me in for a look. I signed for the Under-23’s because I was 19 and a third-year professional.
You made your debut for Cardiff against Reading in the FA Cup last season. That must have been a real thrill.
It was unbelievable. I absolutely loved it. That was only about six or seven months in to being at Cardiff, so to make my debut was a big achievement. There were fans there at the time too, so I loved it.
How did you find working with Neil Harris? Were you in and around the first team throughout his time there?
I joined under Neil Warnock and I would go over with the first-team for some training, but when Neil Harris came in, that was when I started getting chances with the first-team because there was a lot more integration with the Under-23’s. When he first came in, we had an in-house game and training sessions. I worked hard and took my chance.
Neil Harris was really good. I was playing as an attacking midfielder, which is different to where I’m playing under the gaffer now and I enjoyed being in that environment every day. I was learning from the first-team lads because the jump at a club like Cardiff is really big, but the staff and lads are class.
You started the season on loan at Cheltenham in League Two and that was your first experience of regular first-team football. How did you find acclimatising to playing at that level, with senior players?
I really enjoyed it. I played there as a number 10, but had I gone in there as a right wing back, I probably would have played a lot more games. I didn’t really get the minutes that I wanted, but I did play in about 14 games, which was really good for a first proper loan. It was a half-season loan because my contract at Cardiff was ending in the summer.
You broke into the team recently as a right wing back, having previously played as an attacking midfielder. Had you ever played right back or wing back before?
Not really. I hadn’t played at wing back before, aside from the odd game at United in friendlies and occasionally for the Under-23’s here, so its not a position where I’ve had many games, but I’m learning a lot every day.
Do you prefer playing as a wing back? It seems a natural fit for you and you’ve really taken to the role. You have a very attacking interpretation of the position and it’s clear that you have experience of playing in midfield.
I think I do prefer playing wing back now. I think I’ve got a lot of attributes that suit the position and my energy helps in 1v1 defending. On the flip side, I really like to get forward and put in crosses.
Mick McCarthy recently joked that you’ve found a new position. Was it a challenge adapting to a new, different role, while at the same time adapting to a new level of football and playing regularly?
It’s exciting and new. Opportunities like this don’t come around often, so you’ve got to make the most of it and live your life around it. For me, it’s just about trying to relax, enjoy myself and keep getting better.
How have you found working with Mick and his staff?
Working under the gaffer and TC, I’m absolutely loving it. There’s a lot of togetherness in the side and the energy is really positive. For a young lad like me coming through and trying to improve every day, it’s perfect.
Congratulations on your new contract. It’s thoroughly deserved and it must be great to finally have that security.
Thank you. I’m absolutely buzzing. I’ve never had more than a one-year contract, so it’s good to have two years at a club like Cardiff. It couldn’t be better for me really.
It’s been a long, hard season. Are you looking forward to the break? I imagine you’re already looking forward to next season?
For me, the focus now is getting over this injury and being ready for day one of pre-season. Hopefully I can start my rehab as soon as possible and then I can’t wait to have a few weeks off and get back going again.