I can’t quite believe it, but it’s eight years ago today that marks a special date in the calendar. The day Cardiff sacked perhaps one of the most divisive managers in their history.
If you walked around the Cardiff City Stadium on a match-day and took a survey of ‘Was Dave Jones a good manager?’ you’d probably get a mixed bag of results. Jones was very much marmite while he was at Cardiff and even more so now. Why? Perhaps because we’ve been blessed with two managers who’ve guided us to the Premier League since then.
But would we be where we are today if it weren’t for Jones?
Quite possibly the main reason Jones has a blended reaction amongst the Cardiff fans comes down to the fact he was the resident curmudgeon. The Prince of Mope (after Morrissey). Anyone who was unlucky enough to sit through a Dave Jones press conference during his time here will tell you that it was an arduous process.
He could win the Champions League with Cardiff and he’d play down the occasion, let alone the South Wales Derby – which didn’t sit right with us at all. We wanted a bit of passion, especially when it came to playing Swansea and now that we’ve experienced the likes of Malky Mackay and Neil Warnock, Jones almost seems like Eeyore from Winnie the Poo.
He was sarcastic, he was blunt and he once told a group of journalists that he hoped they had a terrible journey home. He just seemed like he thought being a football manager was less of a luxury and more like taking the bins out on a rainy day.
Though many journalists who knew Jones before the child abuse allegations (of which he was undeniably cleared of, just to add) have stated he was nearly a different man beforehand. There’s no denying the weight that would have on a person and his demeanour is almost excusable when you take this into account.
However, as he stated to the late and great Steve Tucker in a personal letter, he simply saw his role as a manager to “always give an honest opinion to questions, even if the answer given was not what people always wanted to hear.” Which, although fair, wasn’t the right course of action all the time. After the embarrassing play-off semi-final loss to Reading we didn’t want to hear, “We dust ourselves off and go again.” No, Dave, rip in to our underperforming players and tell us things will change!
It was no surprise after this response to see Jones given the sack. It was one tired response too many for the fans and the club. It was just a rare sight to see Jones cracking a smile and that lack of charisma simply rubbed off on us, only redeemed time and time again by how electric we sometimes played underneath him.
Jones is Cardiff’s fourth longest serving manager in a long list of names and in the six years he managed us, we sometimes played the most positive and attractive football I’ve ever seen Cardiff play in my life. We were careful but dangerous. Aided by some of the greatest defenders & attackers our club has ever seen, we were capable of hurting teams on the counter attack with flair, pace and clinical strikers, which some would argue have been few and far between since he left.
Jones was an old fashioned manager tactically, always opting for two strikers when he could in a simple 4-4-2 formation. Very much a fan of creative players, Jones got the best out of players in a similar vein to Warnock. He managed to do what no-one else could and bring out the best in the likes Jay Bothroyd, Peter Whittingham, Michael Chopra and Jason Koumas who have all gone down in history with this club. All thanks to Jones. He even managed to convince Man City’s player of the season Craig Bellamy to join us, a transfer that sent shockwaves around the world of football at the time.
Unfortunately for Jones, he will always be known as the nearly man. As exciting as the brand of football was during his time, when push came to shove and when it mattered he seemed to lack the ability to get his players over the finishing line, missing out on the Premier League dream when it all seemed so close on multiple occasions.
Some argue Jones’ best achievement at the club was the 2008 FA Cup run where we lost to Portsmouth in the final. Although it was a great achievement, that game was also the best example of Jones’ worst ever tactical decision during his time at the club. A decision which is one of the factors aiding to the divisive opinion on his ability to fail at the last hurdle. The decision to not start Aaron Ramsey. As great as the football he got us playing, he quite simply couldn’t make the right decisions when the pressure was on.
It’s a real shame, as the six years he was in charge was some of the happiest times supporting Cardiff for myself and many others. The season we had Bothroyd, Chopra, Whittingham, Bellamy and Chris Burke was Jones’ greatest ever chance at proving himself, but he quite simply couldn’t do it. After all those early years of uncertainty and certain liquidation, he almost deserved it.
As I look back now, it seems only yesterday he left the club. Eight years. He may always be one of our most divisive managers, but whether you like Jones or not, you can only feel he helped pave the way for the success that Mackay and Warnock have enjoyed in the years that followed.