Farewell, sweet prince. As Filip Benkovic joins a suspiciously, ever-increasing list of players that can be loosely termed ‘Cardiff rejects,’ we’re left to wonder what might have been. What actually happened was that Cardiff signed the 23-year-old, one-time Croatian international on loan, never played him and saw him recalled at the earliest opportunity.
Actually, he did play once. Remember Wycombe?
If you were to be kind, you would say he looked rusty. The alternative take is that he looked like he didn’t know where he was. Coming on for the injured Sean Morrison, he played a starring role in Cardiff’s worst performance of the season and we never saw him again.
It truly was a debut for the ages. He ambled about, never left the ground for headers and gave everyone around him a runny tummy. He improved in the second half and presumably that was the ‘real’ Benkovic, but we may never know. Joe Bennett shuttled across from left back to fill in for him at Nottingham Forest last week and somehow looked far more accomplished.
The transfer always felt rather odd, and not just with the benefit of hindsight. Cardiff loaned out Aden Flint because he couldn’t break up Morrison and Curtis Nelson, but then loaned a potentially even better, temporary player to perform the same function. They may as well have just kept Flint and cut out the middle man.
Had they loaned someone like Dion Sanderson again, a player earlier in their development, chances are that he, and his club, would have been more content with a place on the bench. Waiting for an injury or collapse in form was never going to work for Benkovic and was presumably not what he was sold by the club.
It will be interesting to see what Cardiff do now because they are back where they started, only Flint is now injured, while Morrison and Sol Bamba are also absent. Neil Harris may have to head back to market and if he does, will he aim as high again, or a little lower this time? Morrison and Flint are not far off a return, but presumably not soon enough to loan Flint out again, so is it really even worth bringing in another centre half?
As for Benko, it was interesting that rather than criticise Cardiff’s reluctance to use him, Brendan Rodgers instead stated that Benkovic would need to ‘get his head down’ and hopefully ‘win the trust of the manager.’ It’s hard to detect an element of surprise in those words.
Harris didn’t enjoy being regularly asked about Benkovic’s continued absence from the side, but it was a situation of his own making. He shouldn’t feel pressured in to break up the centre of his defence, but in the end, his hand was forced and all the supporters championing the Leicester prospect cause got a short, sharp, unexpected reality check.
It was tone deaf of Harris to blame him for both Wycombe goals after he had left, but maybe that was his ‘see? I told you so’ moment. There is no excuse for that either though because were that the case, then Benkovic was instead a scouting failure and that is on Harris too.
Maybe Benkovic needed a few games to find his feet, but Cardiff nor Harris have that luxury at present. Alternatively, maybe he’s just not that good. The whole situation is a bit of a shame though and a signing that promised so much ultimately delivered very little. Just like Cardiff’s season.