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    Young guns update


    Young Guns by John Jones.

    I believe that I need to start by congratulating Cardiff, Newport and Swansea for being successful in retaining the places in their respective leagues. Cardiff, of course ended the season comfortably placed in a mid-table position but their early season form had made them strong candidates for relegation by many at that time. Newport and Swansea fans had much more of a nail biting scenario for the second half of the season and a much deserved well done is offered to all who contributed in providing a successful conclusion to the season. It is hoped that they all can achieve greater success next season with the help of as many Welsh qualified players as possible but that is very much in the future and all we can do for now is wait and see what eventually unfolds.

    Moving on to a nearer occasion that will hold our interest is the participation of the Wales U-20 team in the Toulon tournament which gets under way next week. The squad which was recently announced is, on the whole, one that contains the names of most that I suspected would be selected and seems reasonably strong. It would be considered even more so had Wilson and Woodburn been available but, of course, the need for them to be involved with the senior squad takes precedent. I cannot even begin to assess how they may fare in their matches, I do think that they will be competitive but also expect the opposition to be strong and so any involvement in the final-four games which is how, if I understand the format correctly, the champions will be decided after the end of the group games, is one that I would categorize as a major success. As a comment, one that is admittedly done from a perceived perspective as opposed to having observed their individual qualities, some of the players have had quite a successful season, one or two having exceeded expectations in the progress they have made. This is not true of all, one or two have maybe not continued at the pace they seemed to be making in previous seasons. The careers of the vast majority of players do tend to proceed in a manner where there are peaks and valleys encountered and so it is not necessarily a concern if they can get back on track to a situation that their potential indicated. Hopefully this group of young men can be inspired to try and emulate what their senior counterparts achieved in the same region last summer. Welsh fans will be delighted should that occur.

    Keston Davies, Daniel James, Connor Roberts and Joe Rodon (Swansea City)
    Although they were joined by others at times during the season, these four young men were the principal Welsh qualified players who were members of the Swansea U-23 team that enjoyed a very successful season by completing a league and cup double in the second tier of Premier League system for players of their age level. In addition, they progressed the furthest of the group of U-23 teams that were involved in the EFL Trophy competition. What the future holds for all those involved with the Swansea U-23 team is very difficult to assess, but I will give an opinion on this particular group of four. Keston has been an ever present or at least very close to it from what I remember of monitoring their weekly reports. Undoubtedly a defensive rock at that level of play, the question remains as to his ability to break into the Swansea first team. It is not intended as a slight on his ability and I believe that he certainly will have a successful career within the ranks of full time professional football, the step into Premier League play is a big one from any other level of football including the Championship and Keston may have the ability to do so. Whether the Swansea management team decide to evaluate his credentials in house or via a loan to gather further experience is only a decision we will know in the time ahead. Daniel has had the experience of being included in a matchday squad already and this must be an indication that he is not only talented but acknowledged to be so by the club. This season was somewhat disrupted by injury but he made a significant contribution to the success of the U-23 team.  Next season will most likely be a very important phase of his career for Daniel as he attempts to get some first team playing time under his belt. Connor did spend some time away on loan from the club and it was surprising that he was only sparingly used by Bristol Rovers when considering that he had a season full of accolades when loaned to Yeovil during the 2014-15 season. Another who will need a significant move forward in his career next season if he is to remain at Swansea beyond that time. Joe would possibly have played a similar amount of matches to Keston had he not missed some games when injured and so has proved himself very capable at U-23 level. He will face a career defining challenge in the coming season as he has previously been described as potentially a prospective first team candidate at the club. I did witness both he and Daniel when watching a couple of Wales U-21 games during the early part of the season. I was left with a feeling that I saw a competent display but not one where I could see a quality of play that was superior to other players on the field. Of the two, Daniel showed glimpses of having something above the norm. I will qualify this by saying that perhaps the standard I set for them to impress me was possibly very high. I am in a position where I am able to watch a great deal of Premier League football on TV but none from the leagues below except an occasional FA Cup tie that those teams are involved in. I will also add that I have been pleasantly surprised by what 2 or 3 players from that team achieved as the season progressed, another probable sign that my expectations were set to a maximum.

    All Premier League clubs will be attempting to recruit players to improve the standard of the squad in comparison to this season and Swansea may be a club with a high amount of activity in the transfer market as they will be determined to avoid the possibility of relegation as was the case this season. This could well make it even more difficult for these four to make the break through into the first team squad. As with any young player, they will need some amount of luck to get the chance to be preferred to an experienced player and we wish them every bit of it that can be produced in this way.

    Rabbi Matondo (Manchester City)
    Having been lured away from the Cardiff City Stadium in a move to the Etihad, no news that I could find was available about Rabbi for the past many months. He was most likely involved with the City U-16 side during this time but recently he appeared as a substitute for the U-18 team. Soon after this he was given a starting assignment in the team and shone brightly with a man of the match display. This was followed by another couple of starts as the season came to an end. He will certainly be one to watch out for next season as he could well be, along with Matt Smith a very important player as City will undoubtedly be aiming for another FA Youth Cup final appearance, determined to follow their 3 runner-up sequence with a lifting of the trophy at the conclusion of the competition. He does in fact have eligibility for a further 2 seasons as a youth team player but having proved to be a very exiting talent thus far in his fledgling career, he may well move on to a higher level of play before that time concludes, if he continues at his present pace of progression.
    This is almost certainly the last version of Young Guns for this season. At one point, I had hoped that I was going to view the Toulon tournament matches on TV and offer some comments after doing so. Unless I am very pleasantly surprised to find otherwise, a broadcast of the games does not seem to be available to me and so thats the end of that. I do intend to have the first Young Guns of next season available for you in the late July frame time and will try and make some additions to my own website in the meantime. As previously stated, doing this has been an enjoyable experience, one I believe will be repeated as next season unfolds. I will close by wishing the Welsh senior side all the very best for the upcoming match against Serbia. It is a very important match in the sequence of games that determine whether we will have the opportunity to cheer for Wales in a World Cup finals once more. They are up against a strong team which usually performs well in most games, particularly so on home territory as this will be. The Wales team will need to be at very near their best form to get anything other than a negative result. I wish all of you that travel to Belgrade a most pleasant journey and hope that you have an enjoyable experience throughout your time away from home.

    All the very best to you all over the next few weeks. As they say here, so long for now.

    Posted: Sunday 28th May 2017
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