In the final part of our Dave Jones interview, he discusses some of the iconic players he brought in during his time in charge and how he was able to get the best out of them
The signing of Craig Bellamy is probably the most stunning transfer of the club’s modern era. How did it come about, how were the club able to fund such a deal and what was he like to manage? What changes when you bring in a player of that calibre, temperament and reputation?
I lived on one side of the village and Craig lived on the other. We often bumped in to each other and he was having a bad time at Manchester City, so we sat down and he needed to come back to Cardiff for a year. There was no way we could afford what he was earning, so we had to think outside the box to think how we could make it work and that’s what we did. We were happy that we had brought in a quality player. Bellamy is the ultimate pro and he expects things to be done properly, otherwise he becomes the biggest moaner in the world. He never moaned though because the club was always run professionally. Maybe we stayed at a four-star hotel when he was used to a five-star, but he wouldn’t have come to the club if it wasn’t run that way.
I think we were unfortunate with Craig, in that he got injured and was a big loss to us. The football club during my time always had to sell players, every window, and that’s how we survived. We would always take two steps forward, but then have to take a step back because someone would want one of our best players. When you think about the players that we brought in and had to sell, imagine if we had got to keep some of them.
Robbie Fowler was not quite as big a deal because he was no longer in his prime, but again, how did that deal come about and what were your expectations for that signing?
I bumped in to Robbie in a restaurant when I was on holiday in America. I asked him what he was doing and if he would fancy coming to us. We signed him with Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and Trevor Sinclair, who were all world class players at their peak. They raised our profile on a global stage and we were suddenly getting invitations from all over the world and that’s why we played in the Algarve Cup. There were some big players in that dressing room.
The first week we had Robbie in, we were doing shooting practice and everyone was in awe. I remember us playing a game at West Brom away where Robbie and Jimmy destroyed them. At times, you could see and admire what they were capable of because they had played at the top of the game. Their finishing was next to none. If you bring in players of that ilk, that is how someone like Aaron Ramsey was able to come in to the first team and learn so quickly.
The problem is, when you have a long standing injury like Robbie had, when you address that, it puts the strain on somewhere else and when you get older, those injuries are harder to get over. I think 10 years or more of getting battered every day caught up with him and he just couldn’t shake it off. You could see the disappointment in his face that he would think that he had got there and then something else would go. That happens to a lot of older players and it’s a shame because we didn’t see the best of him.
Michael Chopra proved to be a great player for Cardiff, a real big game player. Why did you keep bringing him back to the club, despite his baggage?
A lot of the players we brought in had baggage, but sometimes you just have to give people the opportunity to prove people wrong. If I had listened to the people that had advised me against certain players, I wouldn’t have brought in people like Chops, Jay (Bothroyd), Jason and Peter Whittingham. They’re the sort of players that is you give them the right platform will repay you tenfold.
People always used to criticise Peter Whittingham for not making enough tackles, but that was because he made so many interceptions. Chops would drift, that was his thing. He would be in and out of games and then pounce. He was the cheeky chappy of the group. You never knew what he was going to do and was always trying to play a trick on someone, but believe you me, he worked hard. He worked hard on his finishing, his closing down.
You gained a reputation for working wonders with difficult players, some of which we have already mentioned. How did you get the best out of someone like Jay Bothroyd? You seemed to spend whole matches bellowing at him from the sidelines!
The thing I used to say to Jay is that you don’t want to be sitting there at the end of your career, asking yourself ‘if only I had done this. If only I had done that.’ You’ve got to go out and grab it. I used to lie and tell him that the England scouts were in the crowd because I used to get a list of scouts before every game. He then started banging in goals left, right and centre. Eventually, the England scouts did start coming to watch him.
He got his call-up, then after that he had a little dip because he thought he had made it, but he just needed pushing. When he thought he had played well, we would say he hadn’t to give him the incentive to prove us wrong. Some players need and cuddle, but he needed that push to get the best out of him. He could have been any player that he wanted to be. He could have played for Arsenal for many, many years, but the cog stopped going around. We needed to find what was stopping that cog. He had a reputation for being a bit of a bad boy and we needed to know what made him tick.
When you talk to Cardiff fans about Jason Koumas, there is still a sense of awe. He seemed such a remarkable, fragile talent and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a loan player become so important, so quickly. How good was he, what was the trick to managing him and why were his two loan spells so radically different?
Jason needed a manger that he would respond to. He responded and delivered the goods for us. He was another top-class player and would glide past people. He didn’t look quick, but he was quick. Jason was right up there with Robbie, Jimmy-Floyd and the very best players we had. He was a quality player and probably should have done more with his career than he did, but he was a delight to work with. He reminds me a little bit of Peter Whittingham, in the way he played, his mannerisms and his character.
I’m not sure what changed between the two spells. Age maybe? He had also had a lot of injuries. That was the sort of player we had to bring in to the club. If they were at their best, we wouldn’t have seen them. Jason was a player that was struggling at West Brom at the time and just needed an arm around him. Someone that believed in him.
When he first came, it was just about building his confidence. Trying to get the best out of a player that others had lost confidence in. We also allowed him to go back to Liverpool when he needed to. It’s a long journey, but sometimes he needed that. We wanted him at the best of his ability. He’s someone that I regard as a friend and have a lot of time for.