It’s easy to overreact after a derby loss. It’s even easier to do so after an abysmal performance. It’s even easier again when you remember Cardiff have lost three of the last four derbies and they’ve not won one since 2013. I’m trying not to overreact. In fact, those that know me will tell you that I’ve argued this point for a few years. It’s just become increasingly clearer in recent times.
Cardiff City needs a revolution, not an evolution.
Indeed, when Neil Harris was appointed Cardiff manager, he outlined that his style would be an evolution of Neil Warnock’s and not a revolution. The problem is that Cardiff fans had grown frustrated with Warnock’s style which, despite its success, doesn’t fit the modern style many have become accustomed to.
As such, an evolution of something few wanted to see anymore didn’t bode well for Harris. The former Millwall manager is 13 months into his reign at Cardiff, but can we honestly say the club has moved on in that time – both on or off the pitch? I’m not so sure.
So it begs the question; what really is Cardiff City? I think it’s a bit lost and it’s time for a revolution.
Philosophy has to start at the top
It feels like we’ve been calling for a ‘football person’ on Cardiff City’s board for a long, long time, yet that important figure still remains absent.
The board at the Cardiff City Stadium is currently Vincent Tan, Ken Choo, Mehmet Dalman, and Steve Borley. All fantastic businessmen, but none have any experience of running the football side of a club. Borley does of course have extensive experience of Cardiff City, but I would presume of the philosophy and recruitment side.
According to Wales Online, they’re joined by Datuk Marco Ronaldo Mario Caramella, Derek Chee Seng Chin, and Ronald Issen. While I don’t know a great deal about these individuals, it would seem that none have that crucial football experience.
It means that Cardiff’s identity is largely dictated by their manager. If you think of Cardiff under Warnock, the club epitomised the manager’s personality. From the style of play to the signings made, everything was Warnock. To an extent that has continued with Harris, although the current manager does have less of a trademark identity.
In modern football, the clubs of Cardiff’s size that are succeeding have implemented an identity that comes from the top. They have a Director of Football (or similar) that dictate the club’s vision, style of play, recruitment and more. There is a philosophy in place and everything must work towards that philosophy or goal.
For years at Cardiff, signings have been made at a manager’s will, rather than considering how they fit into the club’s philosophy or identity. Bobby Decordova-Reid is a classic example.
Norwich, with Sporting Director Stuart Webber, Brighton with Technical Director Dan Ashworth and Brentford’s Rasmus Ankersen are all great examples of models that work well. On a larger scale, Red Bull Group’s Paul Mitchell and Liverpool’s Michael Edwards are further examples of the positive impact.
Ashworth summed up why a club needs a role like his in modern football perfectly when he was asked what the role encompasses: “This [role at Brighton] was all-encompassing. It had the Academy, loans, medical and was heavily involved with the first team and player recruitment, which was more of a Continental approach.”
For Cardiff, the need is great and for the club to move forward, this is the first step they need to take.
Cardiff need a manager that can revolutionise their play
The next step in Cardiff’s plan for a revolution should be to identify a manager that fits the bill of what the club is looking for as it takes its next step. The aforementioned Sporting Director needs to pinpoint the characteristics the Cardiff manager needs. Do they need to be comfortable giving young players a chance? Do they need to prioritise possession football?
It’s why Graham Potter has done so well at Brighton. Ashworth had identified him a number of years prior and tracked his progress. He knew his characteristics fit the bill of what Brighton wanted. Now, this isn’t about Harris. I’m not saying he’s the right person for the job, or not. This is about having a manager that plays a part in the wider picture. Right now, it doesn’t feel like that is what’s happening.
It may be that Harris fits the bill of what a hypothetical Sporting Director wants in a manager. I don’t know. What I do know is that Cardiff will continue to bounce between managers in search of success if they do not solidify a philosophy or an identity.
“My view – our view – is that if you keep changing the head coach every 14 months or so, which is the average lifespan of a manager nowadays, and then go from one philosophy to another, you have no chance of joining up your loans, Academy, development and player recruitment.
You end up having to change 17, 18 players in order to change the principles and philosophy. It is about a long-term plan in order to get the best out of the resources we have at Brighton.”
– Dan Ashworth
It’s time to tear down the playing squad and start again
Now this is drastic action, and I doubt it would happen, but I’m of the opinion that Cardiff should tear down the playing squad and start again. There are a number of players that are not at the level required to move the club forward. Many have been at the club for a number of years and have been great servants, but it’s time to move on.
Among those, I’d count Joe Bennett, Sol Bamba, Josh Murphy, Junior Hoilett, Marlon Pack, Lee Tomlin and a few others. I’d even contemplate including Sean Morrison in that list. As great as he is, I feel as though for Cardiff to move forward they need a center-back capable of using the ball responsibly and starting attacks from the back.
There is a strong base to build from. Ignoring the players on loan at the club, Alex Smithies, Curtis Nelson, Joe Ralls, Will Vaulks, Kieffer Moore and Robert Glatzel represent a strong core.
The next stage should be to compliment them with young players. Joel Bagan and Mark Harris have shown that they can contribute at this level. Gavin Whyte is still young. George Ratcliffe is very highly thought of. Ciaron Brown, Aaron Bolger and Dan Griffiths, among others, could all step up too. They just need to be given a chance.
It is worth noting that Premier League parachute payments end this year, so if they don’t do it off their own backs, a full tear down may be required anyway due to financial constraints.
Without drastic change, the future may look bleak
Ashworth’s quote above about clubs changing managers every 18 months really hits home. It’s a situation Cardiff could realistically find themselves in for the next five years without drastic change and a plan in place.
Whatever you think of Harris – in or out – there’s undoubtedly always going to be pressure on him. Barely any fans wanted him as the manager, so Cardiff fans will pounce as soon as there is a sign of weakness. For that reason, I do not see Harris as Cardiff’s long-term manager.
So if he goes what next? It’s the argument that many Harris-backers use when arguing for the manager’s future. Who would replace him? Honestly, I don’t think anyone knows. There are no obvious names beyond Craig Bellamy perhaps, but that’s another story. Before Cardiff think about relieving Harris of his duties, they need that Sporting Director in place to build the club’s identity. If they don’t, we could be facing a number of years of volatility.
Are Cardiff fans patient enough for a revolution?
If Cardiff is to rebuild, the fans must be patient. With the strong core that I mentioned above, I believe Cardiff has enough to stay in this division and avoid a relegation fight. Will they challenge for the play-offs or promotion? Probably not.
Are Cardiff fans understanding and patient enough to sacrifice short-term success for long-term prosperity? Honestly, I don’t know. Historically, football fans are a bit fickle. They change with the wind and are quick to criticize when things aren’t going well. The key will be communication. The club would need to communicate the long-term plan and get fans on side. With a clear goal in mind, you’d hope that fans would be understanding and buy into the greater good.
We’ll see if Cardiff are ever brave enough to take these steps, but if they don’t, I fear a volatile future may be in store.