Ever since the arrival of Neil Warnock at CF11, Cardiff City’s fortunes have generally been on the rise. That may seem a strange statement given that last season ended in relegation, but surely no one would argue the club isn’t in a far better position than it was when he arrived.
Given this, I have been loathe to criticise the Bluebirds’ messiah. I mean, who amongst us hasn’t made a mistake or two on life’s meandering highways? That doesn’t mean that he is beyond reproach though and whilst in general I support all of the decisions he has made thus far, there is one area that causes me great concern.
Cardiff had the lowest average possession in the Premier League last season; just 39.1% for the season. When you realise that six of every 10 passes made in a match were by the opposition and Cardiff only had the ball for 35 minutes of a 90 minute match, it really brings it all home.
Possession doesn’t always equal success, of course. The other two relegated sides fared better, but still finished below Cardiff in the table. Huddersfield were ranked 14th of the 20th teams with 47.1% possession and Fulham were ranked a mighty 9th with 49.2% possession.
However, when you consider Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool (winners of all the major trophies in Europe this season) averaged over 58% possession each, an equally strong case can be made that possession wins prizes. Here’s where Cardiff under Neil Warnock fall down.
Warnock’s strengths lie in a siege mentality. He is at his best when his back is against the wall and he finds himself in the trenches with ‘his lads.’ Warfare is Warnock’s mantra and he doesn’t care how he wins, only that he wins.
Cardiff under Warnock have developed a style that involves passing to the wide players as quickly as possible and flooding forward on the break. The main aim is to ensure the football finds its way in to the opposition penalty area as quickly as possible and ball retention is not high on the menu.
Having established that possession wins prizes and that Warnock’s ethos doesn’t appear to include ball retention, the logical next step would be for Neil and his coaching staff to make their most important signing so far. Maybe they need to bring in some coaching staff that can teach the playing staff a new play of playing.
The footballing world has moved on. You’ll find tika-taka in League Two on occasions and it’s time for Cardiff to embrace this brave new world, especially when you consider that Warnock is only going to be around for one more year regardless.
The club need to employ some coaches to instil some confidence in the first team. We all saw how well Cardiff can play in last season’s victory at Old Trafford, so the current playing staff CAN do it. The coaching staff need to equip the playing staff to meet the challenge of possession-based football head on. This could be far more important than any new player this pre-season and it would also give the club the foundation it needs to succeed going forward.
We all know Warnock is coming to the end of a successful career, but can he put the building blocks in place to secure Cardiff’s long-term future?