Instagram: @gabebiancheri_

Gabriele Biancheri and the Bluebirds academy graduates who left without a debut

After a Brexit rule change, there are concerns for the future of Cardiff City academy’s best

WHEN the news that Gabriele Biancheri was set to leave Cardiff City for Manchester United this week Bluebrds fans could be forgiven for asking ‘who?’.

Biancheri, aged 16, is yet to make an appearance for Cardiff’s first team but is set to follow former Bluebirds academy boss, David Hughes, from the Welsh capital to Manchester United.

The highly-promising forward is set to sign a professional contract with the Red Devils on his 17th birthday in September.

Hot on the heels of that move came the news that another academy prospect, goalkeeper Lewys Benjamin, is linked with a move to the blue half of Manchester.

These types of early-career departures may become a more regular occurence following post-Brexit rule changes which mean that clubs can no longer sign under-18s from Europe.

Instead, higher-up clubs are scouring domestic academies for talent and that means there are concerns from fans over what the future might look like if the Bluebirds struggle to keep hold of their best talents at such a young age.

The Cardiffian takes a look at this future, as well as what happened to three academy graduates who moved on without making an appearance for the club – and might have come in handy during the team’s current predicament.

Rabbi Matondo

Tremorfa boy Rabbi Matondo made the journey from Cardiff to the North West to link up with the academy at Pep Guardiola’s Man City.

He was reportedly the fastest player at the club, beating the likes of Leroy Sane and Kyle Walker to the title in end of season sprint tests.

It has all been a bit stop-start for Rabbi since leaving Man City.
Instagram: @rabbimatondo

While there, he earned a Wales call-up at the age of 18 before being selected for the squad for the rearranged European Championships in 2021.

Matondo left the Etihad in 2019 for a reported fee of up to £11 million form Bundesliga side Schalke, without making a single first team appearance. His career has been stuttering since the move after struggling to hold down a starting place.

Loans to Stoke and Cercle Brugge have had mixed results with his form in Belgium earning him a summer transfer to Scottish champions Rangers where he has since made 21 appearances, including five in the UEFA Champions League.

His pace and dribbling ability would come in handy for a Sabri Lamouchi system which often relies upon tricky wingers who possess these qualities.

Tom Lockyer

Another former City academy boy who has made it to a major tournament with Wales, Tom Lockyer, slipped through the net after being deemed ‘too small’ to play at centre-back in 2011.

Lockyer’s carved out a respectable career for club and country. Instagram: @tomlockyer

The now-six foot one inch tall defender soon joined Bristol Rovers and has since carved out a solid career in the EFL, making made over 350 appearances playing for the likes of Rovers, Charlton Athletic and now Championship side Luton Town.

He made history as part of Wales’ first World Cup squad in 64-years as they made it to Qatar in 2022. It was back-to-back major tournaments for 14-time-capped Lockyer after previously joining Matondo at Euro 2020.

The 28-year-old has been ever-present for Luton this season and in another world would have slotted nicely into the void left by Mark McGuinness’ loan departure during the first half of the season.

He will be hoping to make Cardiff rue their decision to release him with a strong performance tonight.

Andrew Hughes

Ex-County man Hughes has established himself at Deepdale.
Instagram: @mrandrewhughes

Cardiff-born Hughes was released from the City academy in 2007 at the age of 15 before being snapped up by Newport County. He went on to make over 140 appearances in an eight year spell at Rodney Parade.

A move to Peterborough followed in 2016 before he left after two years to move to Preston North End, making over 160 appearances since.

Although Hughes is yet to feature for his national side, he is undoubtedly an important part of the furniture at Deepdale.

The defender, who can play at left back or on the left side of a back three, is the sort of player the Bluebirds could probably do with as they scour the transfer market for a player in his position.

What do recent departures mean for the future?

Of course with the benefit of hindsight, a case might be made against the original decision to let the likes of Matondo, Lockyer and Hughes depart.

But in reality, football does not work like that. It pays no attention to what-ifs. And it is the hundreds of appearances made lower down the football pyramid by the latter two, after suffering rejection at a young age, that ultimately shaped their careers.

Going forward, the club can only focus on making sure that players of even higher talent than the likes of Lockyer and Hughes remain in-house at the Vale training complex or at the new academy facilities in Llanrumney.

Gavin Chesterfield has a battle on his hands to make sure the club’s talented youngsters make it as far as the first team before being snapped up by elite clubs. Credit: Cardiff City

In order to get them to stay, players must be convinced that there is a genuine route to the first team. It was only in November that Hughes’ replacement, Gavin Chesterfield, talked of such plans for the club.

“In the long term, the ideal vision is that we’re a productive academy producing players for our first team, but if not then we’ll see players go on to make livings from the game and experience all the joys that football has to offer,” he said.

While the latter will certainly be true for the likes of Biancheri and Benjamin if they reach the heights and riches of a top-flight career, it leaves cash-strapped Cardiff City in a fight to sell a project worth staying for to their prospects, one which transcends the pull of the elite clubs.

With the club not currently in a position to be spending large fees on ready-made talents for the first team, it is perhaps as important as ever that it achieves this and continues to promote from within, continuing the recent precedent set by the likes of Isaak Davies, Joel Bagan and Rubin Colwill.

If the club are to back up Chesterfield’s desire to strengthen the route between academy and first team, then more must be done to ensure that players see CF11 as the best place for their development.