10 – Jay Bothroyd from Wolves, 2008
It’s hard to picture Jay Bothroyd in a Cardiff shirt without also picturing Dave Jones on the touchline willing him to work harder. The Jones era was littered with talented players who were seen as ‘colourful characters’ and Bothroyd was probably the most talented of the lot.
Blessed with beautiful technique and a wand of a left foot, Bothroyd’s nomadic career finally found a suitable home at Cardiff and both flourished. He recorded a double-figure return and played at least 40 games in each of his three seasons with the club. He also got progressively better year on year, representing England from the second tier in his final year.
International recognition was probably the point of no return in terms of his Cardiff career and who knows what might have been had he not limped out of the play-off final against Blackpool in the 14th minute. He may have left rather frustratingly as a free agent, snapped up by Neil Warnock at QPR, but Cardiff certainly got their money’s worth for their £350,000 outlay.
9 – Graham Kavanagh from Stoke, 2001
When you consider how successful the grey players signed by Cardiff in recent years have been – Graham Kavanagh, Kevin McNaughton and Callum Paterson – you wonder why they don’t target silver foxes exclusively. Kavanagh was the first, looking and leading like an elder statesman.
Kavanagh arrived in the summer of 2001 for a cool £1m, a couple of months before his Stoke teammate Peter Thorne. He scored 15 from central midfield in his first season and led Cardiff to promotion via the play-offs in his second. A big-game player, he was brilliant against QPR at the Millennium Stadium and his free kick against Leeds in the FA Cup not only dragged his side back in to the game, but also remains one of the defining images in the history of the club.
Kavanagh also departed in dramatic fashion too. Financial necessity saw him leave in tears to join Wigan and was shipped off by helicopter. He’s up there amongst the greatest leaders the club have had in their recent history.
8 – Aron Gunnarsson, free agent, 2011
Aron Gunnarsson arrived as a free agent and may well soon leave as one too, but his impact during these seven years has been considerable: 259 games, 24 goals, 20 assists and more crunching tackles than you’ve had hot dinners. He’s been Cardiff’s hunter-gatherer for most of this decade now.
Gunnarsson has also been a great ambassador for the club with his heroics as captain of the Iceland national side and a period of unprecedented success in their history. He has drifted in and out of fashion over the years, having worked under many different managers, but the cream always rises to the top and he has always ended up back in favour eventually.
Gunnarsson may well have given Cardiff his best years and I’m sure no one would begrudge Gunnarsson what would be his last chance of a lucrative move, should he decide to use the World Cup as a shop window. Finding a suitable replacement would probably cost Cardiff a small fortune though and replacing the player might prove easier than replacing the man.
7 – Michael Chopra from Newcastle, 2006
Speaking of big-game players and colourful characters, Michael Chopra certainly ticks both boxes. A pain in the arse and a pest for opponents, but a supporter’s dream because he played at full throttle and always came up with the goods.
A lethal, natural finisher, Chopra plundered 22 goals in 44 games after arriving from Newcastle for £500,000. A year later, Sunderland were activating his £5m release clause, but Cardiff proved to be his happy place and he ended up joining the club four times, including another permanent signing, that eclipsed Peter Thorne’s record transfer fee.
Chopra scored goals against Swansea, Bristol City, Chelsea and Blackpool in the play-off final, a game in which he did not deserve to be on the losing side. There were 63 of them by the end. Cardiff had not had a pure goalscorer like him since the days of Robert Earnshaw and they have not had one since.
6 – Craig Bellamy from Manchester City, 2010
Legendary status was assured for Craig Bellamy when he dropped down a division on loan to aid his hometown club’s promotion push, a year after joining Manchester City for £14m. I’ve never known such fervor for a new signing in these parts and then he spanked in one of the best free kicks I’ve ever seen in my life on his debut, just to crank things up that little bit more.
Despite Bellamy’s 11 goals and 10 assists, Cardiff come up short and he headed to Liverpool, but returned permanently and helped finish the job. He said making the Premier League with Cardiff was his greatest achievement and that he was “honoured” to be a part of it all. He may not have had the impact that he would have hoped for in the top tier, but his remarkable career was winding down and with the injuries he’s had, he exceeded all expectations by still playing at 34.
Now firmly ensconced in the youth set-up, Bellamy is sure to manage Cardiff one day and may succeed Neil Warnock, if someone else does not snap him up first. There is no danger of how he fares as a manager affecting his legacy or standing at the club.
5 – David Marshall from Norwich, 2009
The greatest compliment you can pay David Marshall is that while Cardiff had him, it was a position they did not have to worry about. It took the club a long time to replace Neil Alexander, but the £500,000 Dave Jones paid Norwich for Scotland’s future number one was one of his very shrewdest investments.
Of course, it was not always plain sailing. It rarely is with goalkeepers, especially during a period as substantial as Marshall’s seven years with the club. He improved year-on-year though and that’s all you can ask. He got better at commanding his box, he saw off the threat of Tom Heaton and he saved his best for when Cardiff needed him most.
Had Marshall not been in the form of his life during Cardiff’s Premier League season, it could have got really ugly. Despite Cardiff finishing the season bottom, he still made the Sky Sports Team of the Year and won Cardiff’s Player of the Year award. After 280 games, he joined Hull for £5m, which was a blow despite the sizeable sum received. Fortunately, there was no void this time as Neil Etheridge swept in and managed to fill Marshall’s substantial gloves. I can pay him no greater compliment.
4 – Sol Bamba, free agent, 2016
Sol Bamba is Cardiff and Cardiff is Sol Bamba. I can’t recall a Cardiff side so in the image of one player. Very much Neil Warnock’s on-field lieutenant, their father/son relationship is one of my favourite things about the current side. When Bamba lost his head at Ipswich, it was Warnock that was in his face, trying to talk him down from the ledge. When Cardiff won, Warnock seems to save his biggest embrace for Bamba.
Having led a rather bizarre, nomadic career, Bamba saw his Leeds contract cancelled and waited for Warnock to find a club before signing with him. Cardiff were already well stocked in terms of centre backs and his signing seemed rather unnecessary, until you saw him in action. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve been missing until it suddenly appears and that was certainly the case with Bamba. Marshalling the defence from day one, barking orders, offering encouragement and leading by example, it immediately became his team and Cardiff have never looked back.
It’s hard to fathom why Bamba has not had a more celebrated, prosperous career – and then he has one of those games when he looks like he’s been on the sauce, all uncoordinated and erratic. Those games, however, have been very few and far between. Mostly, Bamba has been imperious and is probably Warnock’s finest signing. The Premier League will be a better place with him in it.
3 – Kevin McNaughton, free agent, 2006
Like Callum Paterson, Kevin McNaughton found moving from his native Scotland to South Wales so stressful that he immediately went grey overnight. He got over it though and went on to become one of Cardiff’s most beloved players. A free transfer when he arrived from Aberdeen, he immediately made the full back berth his own and barely relinquished it for seven of the nine years he spent at the club.
Super Kev was a gem. He always put his body on the line and was often left limping for the cause. He’s the sort of player that passes unrecognised by opposing fans, but is cherished by his own supporters. Like David Marshall, he’s the sort of the player that you don’t need to worry about. You know exactly what you’re going to get, a seven or eight out of 10 performance every time.
The one image of Cardiff’s first promotion that has since been immortalised is of a jubilant McNaughton held aloft by supporters. What it meant to him was etched all over his face and that’s why we love him so. He is us on the pitch, how we would like to think we would be in his position. Maximising our potential, giving everything and loving every minute. A brilliant signing, an amazing servant and a great ambassador for the club.
2 – Danny Gabbidon from West Brom, 2000
Swoon. My favourite ever Cardiff player, Danny Gabbidon was just poetry in motion. Every inch the modern centre back, he was comfortable in possession, had a turn of pace and great reading of the game. Equally adept at full back, it was not uncommon to see him drop a shoulder and saunter forward if he felt the need. Just a real class act.
Signed from West Brom in September 2000 for around £500,000, his fine performances resulted in international recognition and he seamlessly made the step up. He earned promotion with Cardiff via the play-offs and soon looked too good for the second tier too. Sam Hammam awarded him a new deal in 2004 and stated: “I want to make Danny Gabbidon a cornerstone of Cardiff City FC, I see him as the absolute future of this football club personified,” having given him “the most lucrative contract ever offered to a Cardiff player.”
Like most Cardiff players from this era, Gabbidon was eventually sold to balance the books, departing for West Ham with close friend and fellow centre back James Collins. Gabbidon excelled at Upton Park until injuries began to bite. The world really was his oyster and it was awful to see his fitness fail him when he was at the peak of his powers. He returned to Cardiff for a swan song during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s brief reign and like Robert Earnshaw before him, did nothing to either enhance or diminish his colossal standing at the club. We were just lucky to have him while we did.
1 – Peter Whittingham from Aston Villa, 2007
Who else? Not only Cardiff’s longest-serving player during this period, but also comfortably the most influential. Simply put, Cardiff played more football with Peter Whittingham in the side.
A mid-season arrival in January 2007, for a relatively meagre £350,000, Whittingham was pivotal in one of the most tumultuous and exciting periods in Cardiff’s history. A new ground, an FA Cup final, a League Cup final, a play-off final, promotion, relegation, a rebrand… Whittingham was one of the few constants.
So laid back, he was virtually horizontal for most of it, Whittingham’s set pieces and deliveries defined Cardiff. When his legs could no longer take him up and down the left flank, he reinvented himself in a deep-lying quarterback role and remained just as influential. He never angled for a move, despite plenty of suitors, as he was content at Cardiff and probably couldn’t be bothered with the aggravation of packing.
Whittingham’s personal accolades exceed those of his club, making the PFA Team of the Year on three occasions and he was also selected in the Football League Team of the Decade. At Cardiff, it is a surprise that he was only voted as Player of the Year twice. Despite Cardiff’s success since he left last year, I still miss him and it’s a shame that he did not get another year and go out on a high.
Hopefully Whittingham will still get a testimonial and the chance to say goodbye. It’s the least he deserves.
Header image: Jon Candy