Most Cardiff fans are now aware that what started with an ambiguous, somewhat cringey, tweet from Al Arabi FC has now become a reality; Premier League or not Aron Gunnarsson will not play for Cardiff City next season.
It’s not breaking news, we are all now well-adjusted to the fact that very soon our Icelandic warrior will be moving onto pastures new, opting for the blazing hot sun and bottomless bank account that is Qatari football.
For those who aren’t aware of how this was announced, let’s cast ourselves back to the evening of March 18th when out of absolutely nowhere I, like many other Cardiff fans, were shocked to see a tweet by a random middle-eastern football team go viral amongst our channels.
— Al-Arabi Sports Club (@alarabi_club) March 18, 2019
Some unknown Icelandic bloke that wasn’t Gunnarsson said some random stuff about clapping with your heart which concluded with Gunnarsson stating (on what sounds like a WhatsApp audio message straight from the bog) ‘Al-Arabi… I’m coming.’ The whole of Cardiff’s hearts break at one fell swoop.
Most of you are familiar with what happened. Just like the Aaron Ramsey situation at Arsenal, we’re so caught up in the current campaign that we haven’t actually started thinking about who is going to replace him.
What Gunnarsson brings to our team is hard to come by. He’s an old-school ball winning midfielder who isn’t afraid to charge forward up the field, then make it back in time to defend the oppositions counter-attack, aided by his outstanding Nordic stamina. When I say ‘hard to come by’ I really mean it; this is a player who captained Iceland to their first every European Championship. People seem to forget how much of an achievement that is. Well, other than the whole country of Iceland, as Kev McNaughton explained in his VFTN article he’s “like superman over there.”
VFTN’s Paul Gronow stressed how difficult it is to come by a player who’s captained his international team in multiple international tournaments and, as far as Cardiff are concerned, Gunnarsson could even be our last.
Although he’s not our captain, he’s our leader in the middle acting as the anchor between the defence and midfield. This structure allows our creative midfielders such as Camarasa more freedom to roam and, well, do his thing. ‘The Guardian’ describes Gunnarsson as “ambitious, passionate, driven, and brings a combative style” to any team he plays in. Attributes like this made him a match made in heaven for Cardiff fans.
During his time with the Bluebirds no-one has ever questioned Gunnarsson’s passion and drive having racked up the best part of 300 appearances and has scored 25 goals; a decent return for a defensive-minded midfielder, no doubt. He’s also played in the Carling Cup Final and won two separate promotions with Cardiff and, of course, scored our first ever Premier League goal.
We can’t talk about Gunnarsson without talking about one of his best qualities: his throw-in. Growing up, he was an excellent handball player (his brother even represents Iceland in the sport) which gifted him with his notorious and freakish long-throw. There’s no question we’ve reaped the rewards of this as it essentially brings the same amount of threat as a corner kick, always causing a headache for our opponents.
The debate may go continue on social media as to whether he’s a one of Cardiff’s icons or not but, for me, someone who has given and achieved as much as Gunnarsson has to the Cardiff cause, it’s a debate not even worth bothering with. He’s a Cardiff legend.
Hopefully by this point you’ve established, like I have, how difficult of a task this might turn out to be. Unfortunately, it’s a reality that we have to face, and I’ve shortlisted two top targets in two different categories. This all depends on Premier League survival or not. First of all, if we were to survive the drop:
Ethan Ampadu (Loan)
The dreadlocked Welshman should be absolutely top of our list to go after. I cannot stress this enough. He’s the perfect replacement for Gunnarsson, and can even fill in at centre-half for us if needed. His chances of first team football will always be in danger at Chelsea, a club renowned for purchasing in talent rather than nurturing whatever promising youth players they have. Although he’s already making waves in the football world, a season-long loan with as much first team football as the guy wants is seemingly attractive to both Chelsea and Ampadu. There’s no doubt in my mind he could quickly become a fan favourite and will even help introduce a calmer, technical side to our passing game.
Another Welshman, but it’s not down to bias. I feel he’d be a great fit into our midfield and an extremely realistic target if we stay up. I can’t see him getting loaned out to a Championship side, so a bid for the rising star would be a great bit of business for Cardiff. He’s already a firm favourite at FC Twente, where their technical director described him as “a gift… I called him a present from Manchester City to us.” Some might say replacing Gunnarsson with an 18-year old would be risky but, like Ampadu, he plays like a seasoned veteran, and can match that anchor role that Gunnarsson has always brought.
Unfortunately, we have to face reality that we could be playing Championship football again next
season and, although the Championship is attracting better talent these days, our transfer target standards may need to drop significantly.
Huddersfield paid a then record fee of £8m for the Australian when they signed him from Man City, so it would be unlikely for them to sell him to a Championship rival for anything other than what they paid for him, if not a lot more.
In my opinion though, he’d be worth the investment. He’s genuinely two-footed, has great vision and precision, hard to get off the ball and acts as the conduit for most of Huddersfield’s attacks, as limited as they’ve been this season. As Huddersfield shot-stopper Jonas Lossl explained, “he is a leader in the way he plays.” Almost sounds like a certain Icelandic midfielder, doesn’t he?
I’ve always been a fan of the Norwegian. Still only 28, he’s got a history of scoring his fair share of goals, and after dropping deeper for Fulham they saw him relish the role and even still managed to get on the score sheet from a holding role. At Fulham, he managed to assert himself as a complete, well-rounded midfielder rather than the No 10 he made his name as at Celtic.
He scored 8 goals and 8 assists in 45 games in their promotion season. To me, that sounds like we can replace Gunnarsson with someone who can chip in a bit more as well. Again though, Fulham will want to keep hold of him for their Championship season, so a decent bid will need to be tabled.