Cardiff ended the season with an unexpected flourish, beating Manchester United, albeit a shadow of the former titan, in their own backyard. It was deserved too, as Cardiff created a multitude of chances with a free-flowing front four of Kenneth Zohore, Josh Murphy, Bobby Reid and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing. It was great to see and bodes well for next season, but there was also an element of frustration. Why did it take Neil Warnock so long to throw some caution to the wind?
Well the short answer to that is because Warnock is conservative by nature, and I’m not talking about Brexit. Put it this way; I doubt Cardiff would have produced this sort of performance if they had still had something riding on the outcome. It’s not the first time he has been accused of unnecessary caution either. At Leeds, where he managed between 2012 and 2013, he baffled fans by favouring the tried and tested over the exciting and unpredictable. Sound familiar?
Warnock set the tone by favouring former Welsh workhorse Steve Morison over fan favourite and goal machine Luciano Becchio, claiming he would go on to be a ‘legend’ at the club. Morison instead tanked and went on to be one of those former players that you heckle when they return to town. He also favoured stalwart Michael Brown over Ross Barkley, who he had acquired on loan and was one of the most exciting prospects in English football.
He has since reflected on Barkley, who he returned to Everton early, offering that: “He’s got so much talent, but he’s young and like a lot of young players he lacks a bit of discipline on the pitch. That means you have to be careful where you play him. He’s not good at taking responsibility off the ball and his concentration wanders, so if you play him wide, or in a midfield two, you can very quickly find team-mates are getting outnumbered as he doesn’t track back.”
“He’s best playing behind a front man, but that was difficult for me at Leeds as I had Ross McCormack and that was his best position too. McCormack was the No 1 man at Leeds so it was hard to leave him out for a teenager on loan, but when I played one of them wide it didn’t suit either of their strengths.” Not that former Cardiff favourite McCormack was exempt from Warnock’s apparent aversion to flair either.
McCormack, like Becchio, was a proven source of goals, but too often found himself on the outside, looking in. With frustration building on and off the pitch, Derby were the visitors on April Fool’s Day 2013 and McCormack emerged from the bench to find the back of the net. His celebration involved him running to the bench and screaming “FUCK OFF!” to the bench, while punching the air. Leeds still lost, Warnock was subsequently dismissed and infuriated supporters by bemoaning a lack of quality in the final third.
Suffice to say, Cardiff fans view Warnock in a far more favourable light and rightfully so, but there are an uprising of grumbles. Substitute Becchio, Barkley and McCormack for Zohore, Reid and Murphy and many of the same complaints retold here can be easily recycled. Cardiff did as well as anyone could have hoped in the Premier League, but the nagging wonder is whether they could have been that bit better because it may have made all the difference.
All managers have their strengths and weaknesses. Warnock’s positives by far outweigh his negatives, but it’s unrealistic to expect him to become expansive and attack-minded as history suggests it’s not in his DNA. It may not be in Cardiff’s either, but no one really cares to admit it and that might explain why they both compliment each other. It may not necessarily bode well for Bobby Reid and the like though because the grafters will seemingly always win out over the artists.