Part two of our exclusive chat with Andy Legg, on his time in charge of Cardiff’s Under-23’s, his departure, his thoughts on the club’s youth development and what the future holds for him.
Two and a half years ago, you returned to the club to work with the under-23’s. What’s your view on the situation within the set-up? I know a lot of fans are desperate for a few players to make the breakthrough and for us to have one of our own again. It is poor for a club of our size to go so long without bringing someone through. What needs to change?
It’s a little frustrating really, because I’ve seen the talent, but it’s just not coming through. What makes it so frustrating for me is people saying that myself and the person I was doing it with, we’re not bringing talent through, but the players come up through the academy for eight, nine years before we get them.
They come from the Under-18’s and the two seasons I was there, we never got to pick what players came from that group. We were never asked what players do you think could make the grade. They were brought up to us by the academy manager, who had picked them.
The academy manager is in charge of the full academy. He’s seen those players since they were nine or 10-years-old. They then come from the Under-18’s up to us and from there we are expected to make them in to a first-team player within two or three months. I’ve taken a fair bit of criticism, but I think we improved players, yet obviously they didn’t get through to the first team for whatever reason.
Cameron Coxe did and he got one or two appearances, but I just I got frustrated with the comments when I left the club saying that I couldn’t bring any talent through. We can’t turn a player around in three months. We need time and we need to have a say in what players we thought were good enough to come up to us. I couldn’t get my head around why we weren’t asked what talent would come up to the Under-23’s from the Under-18’s.
At the start of the last season, we were told it was six or seven players coming up and we had a list of them. We weren’t asked did we want them. We were told these six or seven players were coming up and when they actually arrived, we had nine!
Do you also think there is a glass ceiling for all those players? Over the last few years, the club has been so focused on short-term success and getting to the Premier League, and now getting back to the Premier League, meaning there was no real clear path to the first team. Or was it a case that, unfortunately, the players were not good enough to make the step up?
I can only speak for the time I was there and I know for a fact that Neil would encourage players from the Under-23’s or Under-18’s who he felt was good enough to go and be part of the first team. Mark Harris was one and Neil thought a lot of Joel Bagan. Joel came up from the Under-18’s to train with Under-23’s and Neil liked the look of him. Neil would try and get these youngsters in to watch them train and play. However, in my last year, it was said to Neil and myself that the Under 18’s wanted to win the league and that’s why we couldn’t have the best of the Under-18’s up with us.
We’ve all seen the success with Swansea and their academy over recent years. It has been massive in their success. Do you think the club has been short-sighted and not focused enough on that? When you think about the revenue it can bring in and the buzz it can generate as well.
I think it’s a massively short-sighted thing. I think the club needs to have a look at their academy and scouting. I think probably four or five years ago, Cardiff used to be a better place to be than Swansea. I don’t know if they’ve lost the scouts or whether they’ve lost control of what areas they were getting players from. I’m not too sure. It’s something that needs to be looked in to because there is local talent out there in South Wales. I think Swansea were really forced into putting a gamble with the youngsters this year because of their financial situation, but it’s paid off for them. They have got the talent there.
There’s a big debate to be had about the under-23’s. When you speak to former professional players, they would like to see a shift and play in proper reserve team football rather than have the under-23’s. I understand you get some late developers, but for me, I came from non-league and I was playing against ex-professional players and some household names. I learnt a great deal and became better in that environment.
How do you feel about how you left the club? When you look back now, you see the club’s gone through a lot of changes in the youth set-up. Craig Bellamy is another one that left. How do look back on your time with the academy?
I’m disappointed to have left the club. I didn’t choose to leave, I was told to leave. It wasn’t my choice and I was sad to leave.
I look at the club now and Steve Morison is a football man who’s played the game, but how many working in the academy are ex-players or have experience in the game? I don’t think there is one apart from Morrison in the Under-23’s. You look throughout the academy and the managers involved with these kids; Is there many former football players there? I think that is what is disappointing for me.
What are your current plans for the future?
I took time out as soon as I left the club, so I’m now ready to look for any work. What I am going to do, I’m not too sure, but I love the game. I miss the game and I love being involved. It doesn’t matter at what level. Whether it’s youth football, Under-23’s, amateur or professional matches. I just love the game, would like to stay in it as long as I can and hopefully I’ll get back in soon.