Your moves to Manchester City and Schalke are well documented, but I was hoping to find out more about how you got in to football and how you ended up at Cardiff. You were born in Liverpool, so what age did you move to South Wales?
Around two-years-old, so I basically grew up in Cardiff. My dad got me in to football from an early age, probably from when I was about four and then I eventually signed for a team in my area called St Albans when I was seven. I played for them for a few months and did well, then Cardiff development picked me up and I was with them for a few more months. We then played a trial game against the ABC, which is like the level below the academy and I did well in that. I was only with the ABC for one training session before they moved me up to the academy.
You grew up in Tremorfa and I live nearby. My son plays youth football in that area and I’ve noticed from watching football at that level that outstanding players stand out a mile. Were you one of those that immediately started tearing through games, scoring loads of goals?
I did used to score a lot of goals to be fair! I was probably one of the better players. We used to play three games on a Saturday, then train on like a Monday and a Thursday. I played for St Albans for say six months when I was seven, then when I turned eight, that was when I was spotted by Cardiff. I was with the development side for about two months before that trial game.
So, when you’re in the academy, when do you play and how much do you train?
We were training about three times a week in Treforest, then when I got signed, games on the Saturday. As soon as I got signed, I had to stop playing for St Albans and that was hard for me because I was playing with a lot of my friends. It was good to be meeting new people and playing at a higher standard at the academy, but it was more fun playing for St Albans. Waking up on a Saturday morning, going to the game with my parents, my friends and their parents. At the academy, it was more serious.
By serious, do you mean more intense, with more riding on it?
At Under-9 level, you start to play big sides, like Chelsea and Arsenal. Other development squads. Playing like eight or nine-a-side.
Were you playing up front back then, or as an attacking midfielder?
I’ve always been an attacker, dribbling and shooting.
You were with the academy until you were 15. During your time there, was it all pretty smooth-sailing, or did you experience any knockbacks?
I had knee surgery when I was 14. I damaged the cartilage and meniscus in my knee and I was out for 10 months. It went when I made a turn, but I went in to a tackle before that which caused a bit of damage, but I continued to play and when I made a turn with the ball, I just fell backwards and lost the feeling in my knee. Sometimes I still feel it, but it doesn’t hurt and it’s all good.
Another thing I’ve noticed is that exceptional kids are expected to play a lot of football, with a lot of pressure and expectation on them. I’ve seen some fall out of love with the game as a result and I was just wondering if you ever felt that way, or were you one of those that just thrived on it and couldn’t play enough?
I’ve always loved football, but when I got injured, I missed playing so much. At that stage, I was starting to get Wales call-up’s and I ended up missing a whole year. I was mentally strong though and thankfully, I manged to pick up where I left off and if anything, started to do even better. I then got an England call-up and interest started coming in from other teams.
You were attending Llanishen High School at the time. Were you also playing for them, and were you invited to play for Cardiff School’s?
I played for Cardiff School’s and a few games for Llanishen, but more for Cardiff School’s.
At what age do club’s start advising you on your lifestyle; what to eat and how much to sleep?
I’m not sure what it’s like now, but when you got to 12 or 13, they started to advise you on certain things, but not to put pressure on you. When you get to 15 or 16, they really start telling you what to eat and stuff. Sometimes, when you get day release from school to train with Cardiff, you would have to fill out a form about what you’ve been eating. That was around the stage that I ended up leaving though.
At what point did Manchester City make their interest known? Was there lots of other interested clubs too?
When I came back from injury, we played a tournament, got through the group stages and played sides like West Brom, who we beat, and Chelsea, who beat us 4-3, but I scored two and made an assist. A lot of teams were watching that and from then on, Manchester City were interested, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal. A lot of teams. There was interest that whole year, but Man City were the most keen. I didn’t let it distract me, but a year down the line, I joined them.
I have an agent now who I’ve been with since I was 12 and he’s always looked out for me. He would go and meet clubs with my dad, like Manchester United and Liverpool. When they went to Manchester City, the programs they had, it seemed like the best place for me to develop. Growing up, I have always been an Arsenal fan, so I was always interested in them and being from Liverpool, I was also interested in them, but there was no specific team I wanted to join.
Did you ever train with the Cardiff first team or were you ever close to playing for the seniors?
No, I never trained with the first team, but Cardiff wanted me to stay, so there was talk about making the step up in the following year or so, but I never got that opportunity, unfortunately.
You’ve played through the age groups with Wales, but were getting interest from England and all these big clubs, you were also born in Liverpool. Were you always going to stick with Wales, or was there ever any temptation to switch to England?
It was always Wales because I grew up there, my little brother was born there. I just feel Welsh. I never grew up in England, so for me it’s always been Wales. I did go to an England camp, but I had always wanted to go to a welsh camp and when I got called up for Wales and couldn’t go because I was injured.
Out of interest, now you’re a professional, what is your preferred role?
I’ve always been an attacking player; left wing, right wing or striker. If I could pick one though, I would pick left wing. I don’t really mind though, either wing, number 10 or up front. For Schalke, I’ve played as a winger and a striker.
So, you’re back in training!
Yeah, we’re back in training now. Not full training with the whole team, just in groups, but with no body contact. We’re in eight groups and we’re social distancing, so passing drills and shooting. Stuff like that. Individual training in a way. we haven’t got a start date yet, but may find out next week.
How is Germany at the moment in terms of the lockdown? As I’m sure you know, it’s still just restricted to occasional shopping and exercise.
It’s not the same here as in the UK, as some of the shops are starting to open and it’s starting to get better.
How have you been spending your time during lockdown? Do you have your own place, or are you in shared accommodation?
I have my own place and I live alone, so it’s been tough. The first two or three weeks, we were not allowed to do anything and I haven’t been able to fly back home, so it was kind of boring. Now we’re training again, it’s a bit better.
Schalke have done a great job reaching out to Wales with their Twitter account and embracing the language. Did you have anything to do with that?
No, literally from the day I started they did that and that’s all their idea.
Do you speak Welsh?
No, but I’m learning that now too.
How is your German?!
I can understand more than I speak! I need to speak it more and this is the perfect time for me to learn. After this, I will probably go home and learn a few bits. I want to try and knuckle down now and speak it properly, rather than understanding, but speaking in English. At Llanishen, it was a big school so half studied German and half studied French, but I did French!