Joe Ralls has made the transformation from midfield rookie experienced professional footballer – and he’s still only 23-years-old.
Former England under-19 international Ralls has proved doubters wrong along the way and is in manager Neil Warnock’s plans to play his part in a Bluebirds assault on promotion.
He has made 139 first team appearances, scoring 12 goals, and has every reason to thank former Cardiff City Academy manager Neal Ardley for his support.
Ardley, now in charge at AFC Wimbledon, said yes when others said no.
There was, he says, a stunned response from Cardiff youth team coaches when Ardley declared: “I’m going to sign Joe Ralls.”
He had seen something in Ralls, then aged 17, during a trial match, saying: “There were a couple of passes he made in that game which caught my eye.
“I decided to sign Joe and offered him a pro deal. People around me were saying: ‘really?’, but he showed enough for me to give him a chance.
“Not everybody had seen the two passes which showed me he had quality, but we paid a small fee for him and brought him in.”
Ralls has made the most of his opportunity and says: “I must be one of the longest serving players now. Gunnar (Aron Gunnarsson) and I talked about that the other day. It sounds funny to say it.
“Joining the Bluebirds changed my life.”
Ralls went out on a season-long loan when Cardiff were in the Premier League, having made one start when Malky Mackay’s Cardiff were promoted.
“This is the best squad I’ve been involved with and the boys are eager to get on with it now,” says Ralls.
“Promotion is the aim, of course, and we have a manager who has done it before. He knows how to win matches and he knows how to get promotion.
“I feel we have a successful season ahead. The squad is strong enough.
“There is a lot of competition, particularly for midfield positions, but we all have to expect that. There must be competition if we are to be successful as a group.”
The big break for Ralls came when Mackay asked Ardley: “Help me out with three of your best youth players.”
Cardiff had eight players away on international duty and Ardley sent defenders Deji Oshilaja, now playing for Wimbledon, Mamadou Diallou, who was released at the end that season, and Ralls to his squad.
Ralls went on from the subs bench and helped City win 3-1 at Oxford’s Kassam Stadium, a victory which sparked Cardiff’s run to the League Cup final against Liverpool at Wembley Stadium.
Tonight (Monday), at AFC Tavistock, Ralls will play in Cardiff’s second pre-season friendly.
He played 45 minutes in Cardiff’s 1-0 win at Taff’s Well and said: “It’s good to get back.
“We weren’t too focussed on our style of play. For us boys out there it was more about getting onto the football pitch and getting those minutes. Tactically we weren’t looking at it too much.”