TORQUAY United’s latest signing, Cardiff City loan striker Rhys Healey, says that young players like him should jump at the chance of learning their trade at lower division clubs rather than playing Premier League or Championship Under-21 and Under-23 football.
The highly-rated Healey, 23, has spent time with Colchester United, Dundee and Newport County over the last few years, often in relegation scraps, and he has impressed wherever he’s been.
He has also made eleven first-team appearances for the Bluebirds, scoring once, and now former Torquay and Plymouth Argyle manager Neil Warnock has loaned him out to his old club in a bid to help them in a time of crisis.
Torquay is the lowest-level club that Manchester-born Healey has played for since his days as a teenager with Welsh Premier League club Gap Connah’s Quay.
Healey insists: “I’ve only been here two weeks, but I am still asking ‘How are these boys still down near the bottom of the league?’.
But he went on: “Through most of my career I’ve played with men, and I wouldn’t have changed that for anything.
“To me, Under-23 is false football. I played in the Welsh Premier League when I was 16/17 years old, and I took the elbows and the studs down the leg.
“It’s tough, but playing men’s football is vital and, once you’ve got your head round it, it really brings you on.
“You are better off playing with experienced pros, and against them, and learning your trade that way.
“I obviously spoke to my Gaffer [Neil Warnock] and he told me about Torquay, and I have got my friend Tommy O’Sullivan here, and I spoke to him before I came down.
“There’s no pressure on me – I have come here to play as many games as I can, hopefully score some goals and help Torquay out.
“As well as the older players, we’ve got quite a few younger, hungry lads coming through like me, and we’re going to be playing some of the biggest games the club will play for a while. That’s going to be great experience for all of us.”
Healey and midfielder O’Sullivan were both Academy scholars at Cardiff, before O’Sullivan was transferred to Colchester last year.
Many professional insiders have felt for some time that the Academy/ Under-21/Under-23 ‘ladder’ was not producing the players that the English game needs, certainly not in sufficient numbers, and the inclusion of those Premier League sides in EFL cup competitions has been an attempt to tackle that problem.
But it is telling when you hear a similar line from Healey, someone inside the system who feels exactly the same way.