Cardiff City, HUH!, what is it good for? Well…
After a nothing transfer window, expectations are rather low for the rest of the season. The chances of them finding the sort of form that will top the better sides immediately above them and snatch a top six spot seems very unlikely.
A cup run would have been nice, after years of neglecting the competition, but if you write off the rest of the season and instead look towards next season, and it feels like that is what the club have done if the January window was anything to go by, what do Cardiff want to be?
The departure of Neil Warnock was always likely to trigger an existential crisis and I can’t say I envy Harris. An unpopular choice, swimming upstream against all the club’s various issues and the conflicting requirements of supporters. I would say that some were ready to turn on him, but were those people to turn, it would only be in his favour.
This is bigger than Harris though. While Warnock was around, Cardiff were Warnock and Warnock was Cardiff. He picked them up off the floor, retooled them in his image and it worked. Very few managers have the personality to pull something like that off though and its no slight on Harris to suggest something like that is beyond him.
That’s not a sustainable approach anyway. Eventually they need to decide what they want to be when they grow up.
At present, it’s hard to pinpoint Cardiff’s strengths. They have no discernible style on the pitch and their sole outstanding player is only showing it after two years out of shape in the wilderness. They don’t buy or sell particularly well and have a poor record of progressing players from their academy.
They have 18 months of parachute payments left and Mehmet Dalman recently suggested that if they land the bill for Emiliano Sala, it will plunge them in to a financial abyss.
While everyone wonders how Harris sold himself to the club, you also have to wonder how the club sold themselves to Harris. Granted, it’s a big club with a talented squad and good people in charge, but there is no vision, and you do need vision. It’s not the job of Harris to establish one, he’s merely passing through, but you do need one. Everyone needs to be on the same page.
Leeds, for example, have a very clear way of playing. They dominate possession and play with a high intensity, which is the evangelical belief of their remarkable manager. Fulham play in a similar, more considered way, but are instead top-loaded with attacking talent.
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Brentford recruit according to sophisticated data analysis and it has worked remarkably well for them. Why would you worry about losing, Neal Maupay, your main source of goals, if you’re capable of scouring Europe and already have several viable replacements in mind? Maupay cost just shy of £2m and sold for ten times that amount, yet Brentford have continued to thrive in his absence.
There is a through-line in all of these approaches. They have a plan, absolute faith in that plan and they stick to it. There are never any guarantees, but it always helps. At the very least, you’re not just wasting time and money hoping that things will just somehow come together.
There are also more than one way to skin a cat. Cardiff fans are desperate for the club to make better use of their academy, with no thought regarding whether any of those players are actually good enough to play for Cardiff. This feeling at least partly relates to the fact that Swansea have graduated so many players in recent years. Yet Brentford, who I will keep returning to because I just love what they’re doing, scrapped their academy.
Their thinking was that you either don’t produce players that are good enough and if you do, a bigger club will poach them for a nominal fee anyway, like Manchester City did with Rabbi Matondo. Their idea was to form a B team and instead, make the most of their location and hoover up the cast offs from all the other London clubs. That was a better fit for them and they are reaping the rewards.
While clubs attempt to buy their way out of the division, Preston, who have one of the lowest wages bills in the league (an average salary of around £8,000 a week), have never paid more for a player than the £1.5m David Healey cost them 20 years ago. Yet there they are, up there in the table, masterminded by Peter Ridsdale no less.
The Championship is a melting pot and Cardiff can be anything they want to be, but at the moment they’re not really anything at all. What’s the plan, Mr Tan?