Neil Harris is at the forefront of a Cardiff City Academy revolution.
The Bluebirds manager is delighted the Championship club are looking into upgrading the Academy to category one status – and have appointed a former Wales international to take charge of the under-23 development team.
Steve Morison, an English-born striker who qualified for Wales because his grandmother was from Tredegar, is the new development coach,
Morison played under Harris at Millwall, and the Bluebirds boss is looking forward to working with him once again.
“Steve has great leadership qualities,” said Harris.
“He was my club captain at Millwall and he’s been qualified with his A Licence coaching badge and doing his Pro Licence for a period now.
“Steve has always wanted to coach and he knows what I want, how I want to work and my thought process in terms of bringing young players through.
“We want a pathway, to show a club philosophy that I believe in. Young players, if they are good enough, get the opportunity to come through.
“It should excite the fans. They ultimately want to see Cardiff City fans playing in the first team. They want to see homegrown players.
“We aren’t going to see four or five of them in the first team next season, but in two or three years’ time, we might get to that scenario. That has to be the aim.”
Cardiff currently have a category two academy and it would cost around £3m extra a year if they move to the top level.
“It takes a lot of planning and a lot of investment,” said Harris.
“That becomes a board decision. Would I support that? Of course. It gives you the avenue to recruit players from a greater distance and the programme becomes bigger.
“It’s a huge investment. Ultimately, the question is what’s best for our club to get players in the academy in the first team?
“You have to balance off the investment, have the right structure within the club, the right amount of coaches and the right facilities to train.
“It’s not a simple decision. It does take time. We are in the process with the board and the academy to make decisions like that. But getting the coaching set-up correct, as we have, is a huge step forward for us.”
Swansea City have been category one over the last four years, bringing through players like Dan James (now at Manchester United), Oliver McBurnie (Sheffield United) and Ben Cabango, the Cardiff-born defender who has broken into the Swans’ first team.
New under-23 manager Morison, who will work alongside interim coach Tom Ramasut, was in charge of his first development match when the young Bluebirds won 3-2 against Bristol City thanks to goals from captain Laurence Wootton, Mark Harris and Sion Spence.
The fixture was rearranged for Tuesday evening at Cardiff City Stadium after it had been postponed because of bad weather on Monday.
“It’s always nice to win, especially at Cardiff City Stadium,” said 20-year-old Wootton. “It was great to grab the first goal as well.
“I saw the ball scrambling around in the box, but didn’t think I was going to score. I tried to toe it against their goalkeeper in the hope that the ball would run loose for somebody else to score, but it went in.
“The new manager (Morison) has already brought a lot to the boys – a real passion for the game and a grit we all needed in the changing room.”
“The lads were really good and there are a lot of exciting times ahead,” said Morison. “There were lots of positive performances and the third goal from Sion Spence was different class.
“I’m really pleased that Sparky [Mark Harris] scored because he worked incredibly hard and his goal is one you get when you work hard, closing the goalkeeper down and scoring. It was excellent.
“We could have been better at the end and should have won 3-1, but gave them a chance and they nearly scored an equaliser as well. That’s all a learning curve.
“There is lots to work on, both individually with the players and as a collective because there are plenty of things people can do individually to make themselves better players.”
Cardiff went ahead through Wotton just before half-time, while Bristol City equalised through right-back Opi Edwards, who curled into the bottom left corner from the edge of the penalty area.
Harris put Cardiff in front again on 52 minutes and Spence scored from 25 yards with 19 minutes left, firing into the bottom right corner.
Louis Britton pulled one back, but the Bluebirds defended solidly to earn the win.
The next match for Cardiff’s under-23 team is at Charlton Athletic on Monday, February 17, while their next home fixture sees Watford come to South Wales on Monday, March 2 (1pm)
Cardiff City u-23: Matthew Hall, Cameron Coxe, Brad Smith, Tavio d’Almeida, Trystan Jones, Jack Bodenham, Sion Spence, Laurence Wootton (capt), Mark Harris (C Davies 90), Tom Sang (Shamar Moore 81), Ntazana Mayembe (Kieron Evans 56). Subs not used: Ryan Pryce, Warren Burwood (gk).
Bristol City u-23: Wollacott, Edwards, Webb, C Pearson, H Smith, Towler, Harper, JE Taylor, Britton, Hinds, Rees. Subs used: Scott, S. Pearson, Bell.