You worked with all of the academy graduates that have broken through this season. All of them have impressed and I just wanted to ask you about each of them in turn.
Kieron Evans had a taste of first-team football and impressed in his brief cameos, but others have overtaken him in recent weeks.
I first saw Kieron when was playing for the Under-12’s and Under-13’s. He was technically very good with both feet. He could drop a shoulder and go by people, but sometimes held on to the ball too much. He played the game for himself, which is not how I believe a player should be playing. If you use your team, it will make you a better individual. When I was working with the Under-18’s, I brought him in and played him at a young age. He was probably about 15 or 16 and played in the number 10 position. I wanted to teach him the game and being patient. When you get the ball, you’ll be in a better position where you’ll have more impact. I actually offered him a YTS contract early. I have a lot of time for him, he’s a good kid and I spoke to him a few days ago. I told him that he now needs to become a regular and that needs to be his target from now until the end of the season. You’ve played one or two games and that’s great, but how do you become a starter?
Sam Bowen has had a few games in central midfield and he did not look at all phased. He was very composed.
I love Sam as a player and he was my captain. You realise how good he is when you’re with him. The little movements he makes, he plays on a very high wavelength. He could go and train at a club like Liverpool and would have no problems. The better players he plays with, the better he is. The one thing I will say is that I think he’s playing too safe at the moment and I’ve told him that. Take the responsibility and stop relying on other players because you’ve got too much ability. What you’re seeing from him at the moment is only a fraction of his ability. He can control games, he can see passes and balls around corners, he can see the big picture and gets everything tactically. He needs to take responsibility, but that’s normal for a young kid. It took me seven or eight games. I was just keeping it simple and that’s not me. When he gets rid of this injury, he’ll be fine because his football IQ is very high.
Joel Bagan probably broke through first, but he looked a little bit tentative and found it tough.
Joel is an interesting kid. I brought him in from Southampton and he was a left winger, who could also play the number 10 role. He was such a good footballer, but I didn’t see him as a tricky winger and I didn’t see him in the pocket, on the half turn. We were playing pre-season in Italy and told him I was going to play him in a back three. He was shocked because he had never played there before, but I told him not to worry about it because his defending would improve and we would get his positioning right. I promised him he would have more of the ball than he had ever had before. I knew he could break the lines with his passing and there’s not many that can do it. He has the quality to put disguise on it as well. He was outstanding and he’s a lovely kid. He’s an exceptional, intelligent footballer, so he can defend headers and launch it down the channel, but if you want to play and hurt the opposition, he can do that too.
Isaak Davies has come through recently and has made a real impact. He looks like a young Craig Bellamy!
Isaak has always been impressive, from the age of about 13. He’s quick, menacing, brave and he can finish, but he can improve by not trying to hit the leather out of the ball. I was playing him with the youth team at 15 and he scored something like 23 or 24 goals. I wanted to play a high press and his intensity was brilliant. That kid is a warrior and his heart is massive. He’s got exceptional touch, will play on the shoulder and look to stretch people. He does what defenders don’t want.
I remember playing him and he kept feeling his thigh. His high-intensity stats were incredible, but I would ask if he was OK and he would say he was fine. This went on for about six weeks, so I got him a scan and he had a grade three strain! He was playing with a serious thigh injury and was still brilliant. That just shows you how hard he is. I wished he had told me, but I was blown away. When he asked for the number 39 shirt, his mum sent me a message just to let me know that Isaak only wanted to wear 39. What a kid. I was over the moon with him and I still am now.
Rubin Colwill is this season’s breakout star. He’s a big lad with incredible technique, but his decision making sometimes lets him down, but he’s always brave enough to keep trying things.
Decision making is just his age. Its normal and he will get better at that. If you give he ball away, so what, get the ball again. It’s a five-yard sprint and it will save you 30 yards. If you back off, you will have to run further. At least he’s willing to try and you don’t score goals unless you’re willing to take a risk. Rubin was young and very talented. He was running games at 11 and 12, then he got to about 16 and it was a struggle for him. He grew so much that his body wasn’t able to do what his brain wanted to do. He was gangly and his coordination went.
You could see his frustration, but I used to tell him not to worry because I knew he was going to be a top player. His dad understood it, we had to be patient. I didn’t want to play him in the youth team because I didn’t want to stress him and his body needed to develop. He’s still developing. We played a youth team pre-season game at West Ham and won 7-1. Their coach asked who our number seven was and said ‘wow, he’s going to be a top player.’ I didn’t play him week in, week out though, just here and there, hen I would bring him back out. What he had at 11 and 12 was always going to come back, but we had to make him and his parents aware that we were playing the long game. If we didn’t, he might have fallen out of love with the game.
Rabbi Matondo was the one that got away, when your old team Manchester City swooped in for him.
I had a lot to do with Rabbi and I really liked him. He went to school opposite my old school. He was living in Tremorfa and I was born in Splott. I had a real soft spot for him and it would be hard not to. In training, he was technically and tactically hopeless. We would do drills that he would destroy, but as soon as that whistle blew… wow. That was not the same player. With his speed, he was menacing. He had Sion Spence with him as well, another one that got away. You couldn’t contain them. Sion is one of the best youth players I’ve ever seen. From midfield, he scored about 26 goals in my first year. He was immense and won games on his own. If you put Rabbi through on goal, he could finish as well.
Manchester City came in for both of them. The difference was that Sion’s parents wanted him to stay. I know the guys at Man City and if I had said no, they would have accepted that. Russell Slade was the manager at the time and he was looking to try and get loan players off the back of it, but Man City do everything properly and never did anything behind your back. It was a no go with Sion because we wanted him to stay and he wanted to stay, but Rabbi was getting in to trouble in school and the longer he stayed here, we thought there might have been a problem. We had to be fair to him and if we wanted him to make it in the game, then it might be a good idea if he goes with Man City to give him the best chance of making it as a footballer.
People might think we’re mad for saying that, but why are we in this game? Why do I work with young players? To hopefully get them in to Cardiff’s first team, but also to get them a football career somewhere. If I can make you a professional player, that’s incredible, but the greatest satisfaction I get is if you leave as a better person. The money for Rabbi was good and I don’t think the club were particularly disheartened, but if I had thought he had a better chance of making it here, I would have fought to keep him. It wouldn’t have been the right decision though.