The blunt Neil Warnock statement that's been proved wrong as Cardiff City plot new path

By Glen Williams

Neil Warnock did almost everything right during his brilliant three-year reign as Cardiff City manager.

He united the club with its fan base, assembled an exciting squad which achieved promotion to the Premier League and very nearly stayed in the top flight the year after.

He will go down as a legend in these parts and rightly so.

If there is one blot on his copybook, though, it is his record with bringing through youth in the Welsh capital.

The now Middlesbrough boss was quizzed on that aspect of his Bluebirds tenure a year ago, while speaking on BBC 5 Live, and his assessment of the youngsters sprouting through was pretty blunt.

"I was criticised a little bit at Cardiff about the under-23s," the former Cardiff manager said.

"But they just weren't good enough to get in the first team and I don't think they will be in the next few years."

READ MORE: Get the latest Cardiff City news, views, gossip and interviews right here

Since that statement, Cardiff have worked diligently to clear a pathway through to the first team for these young players and it's safe to say many of them have taken their chances.

The Bluebirds have not done much right so far this season, but promoting youth is certainly an area of the club which must be applauded.

This season alone, academy products Joel Bagan, Tom Sang, Ciaron Brown, Tom Davies, Tavio d'Almeida, Oliver Denham, Sam Bowen, Kieron Evans, Rubin Colwill and Mark Harris have all turned out for the first team.

Isaak Davies would have been given his debut, too, at the back end of last season. He was due to start against Rotherham on the final day of the campaign, but he suffered a cruel injury on the eve of the match.

Warnock often argued that the Professional Development League system was not beneficial enough for the youngsters. He said it was a useful tool to get players comfortable on the ball but claimed that, defensively and tactically, it was flawed. Instead, he preferred to send the rising stars out on loan to Cymru Premier clubs.

However, during Warnock's reign, Cardiff won the Professional Development League 2 South, the under-18s league competition, in April 2019.

The young Bluebirds played out a semi-final match against Leeds to decide who would go on to face Sheffield Wednesday in the grand final. In that team against the Elland Road outfit were a clutch of names which will now be familiar to City fans.

Joel Bagan, Isaak Davies, Sam Bowen and Kieron Evans all played, while Rubin Colwill was even on the bench.

They did, however, eventually lose the final against the Owls 3-2.

There were players Warnock liked. He gave Mark Harris his debut and before his exit two years ago he was quietly confident Joel Bagan had what it takes to push through, but the manager always favoured experience and that was of course a hindrance to the youth of the club trying to break into the senior setup.

No one is suggesting all of these players will now go on to be top Championship footballers, either. There are always a few who impress but then fade.

But given the number of youngsters who have been given their opportunity this term, there is enough to suggest that some will go on to have positive careers in the game.

Just this week, Ciaron Brown, Rubin Colwill and Mark Harris jetted off for senior international duty, while Joel Bagan, Sam Bowen, Isaak Davies and Tom Davies all played at youth level for their countries.

In an ironic twist of events, Warnock actually had a bid turned down for Ciaron Brown just this summer.

Given what has happened in the 12 months since Warnock made that claim, one would like to think that the landscape has shifted and a number of Cardiff youngsters have proven they have what it takes to cut it at this level in the years to come.

Naturally, some will drop off the radar, but many are beginning to hold their own, too. Colwill's match-winning double against Nottingham Forest, Bowen's recent displays and Harris' outings for Wales all spring to mind.

There is genuine hope that Cardiff can be more self-sustaining in the years to come.

As always, they will need experienced talent in and around them to coax them through, but the Bluebirds have the bones of a good young team sprouting through now. That has not been the case in recent years.

Credit must be given to the club for implementing a structure in which these young players can strive. Neil Harris was instrumental in that and Mick McCarthy has carried it on and is now reaping the rewards.

Those appointments within the academy, too, such as recruitment chief Kevin Beadell and head of coaching David Hughes, have helped with that as the club doubled down on their desire to force down the average age of the squad and ramp up its value.

Finally, the players themselves must be praised for showing they can make the step up to the first team. In doing so, they are quietly proving to the old first-team boss that they are good enough to make an impact and can save the club millions in the process.


What is inkl?

Important stories

See news based on value, not advertising potential. Get the latest news from around the world.

Trusted newsrooms

We bring you reliable news from the world’s most experienced journalists in the most trusted newsrooms.

Ad-free reading

Read without interruptions, distractions or intrusions of privacy.