There are pecking orders in any league, but it seems to me that they are more pronounced and important in the division we’ll be playing in next season. Although the identity of the clubs who fall into the groups I’m going to describe could be argued about, I would say that at the top of the Premiership pecking order is the group of clubs who expect to put in realistic challenges for at least two major trophies (one of which should be the Premiership itself) at the start of each season – for these clubs qualification for the Champions League is considered a must. Next up is a group who feel that with a lot of luck and a following wind, they might end up challenging for a Champions League place and a domestic cup or two.
In my opinion, the two Merseyside clubs are amongst those which fall into that second category and, currently, Malky Mackay is being strongly linked with one of them for the vacant managers job. Now, I don’t care if you have been supporting Cardiff City for half a year, half a decade or half a century, I’m pretty sure that you’ve not seen a manager of this club being quoted as a realistic candidate to take over a side with the history, prestige and talent of the Everton FC of 2013. Malky Mackay doesn’t appear to be a popular choice as Everton’s next manager amongst their support, but it looks like he definitely has his admirers in the corridors of power at Goodison Park – whether he gets the job or not, he is being looked on as a serious candidate for the post.
Therefore, it appears that important people at “bigger” clubs than ours rate our manager even if some City fans appear to be loath to give him much credit even after our promotion. Malky’s critics say that has never managed at Premiership level, but that could be said about so many notable current bosses – it didn’t put Everton off when they went in for David Moyes and he turned out pretty well for them. There was a time when not having much playing experience in the Premiership (Malky only played fourteen times in the top flight during the final year of his playing career) might have been seen as a drawback to someone who was looking to manage at that level, but a look at the playing careers of four of the men in charge of the top five sides for most of this season suggests that this no longer applies (the managers of both Merseyside clubs didn’t pull up any trees during their playing career either).
There are those who denigrate our manager’s achievements this season reasoning that anyone could have got us promotion with the money he was given to spend in the transfer market, but having the money to spend and spending it well ate two different things – Mark Hughes’ spell at Queens Park Rangers springs to mind in that regard and, at a different level, I always thought Frank Burrows was someone who did better in the transfer market with a really tight budget than he did when he had something significant to spend.
However, it is true that our manager had a bigger transfer budget this season than most of his rivals in the Championship and he didn’t do too badly on that front last year either, but, when you look at the twenty nine players Malky Mackay has brought in since he took over nearly two years ago, how many of them can be called duds? Sad to relate, I think Earnie falls into that category and when you consider how much was paid for Etien Velikonja, I suppose he does as well – it’s hard to see the likes of Kadeem Harris and Filip Kiss making an impact next season, but the former is seen as one for the future and the latter showed himself to be a useful performer last season.
The good signings far outweigh the bad ones then for me – a lot of money was paid for the likes of Kimbo and Jordon Mutch and it would have been reasonable to rank those two as dodgy signings without the fine contributions they made from Easter Monday onwards at a time when questions were being asked about whether we were “doing a Cardiff”.
Anyway, bringing in players from other clubs is only part of the manager’s job, for me a good manager also improves the ones he has already at his club. Of the players he inherited, it may well be true to say that David Marshall has had the best two seasons of his career under Malky’s management, Aron Gunnarsson’s game came on leaps and bounds last season, Ben Turner (who I thought was tremendous in the closing stages of the campaign when we were short of experienced centrebacks) continues to develop, Andrew Taylor was a model of consistency and, although his legion of critics will no doubt disagree, Rudy Gestede looked a more complete player to me compared to last year.
Mention of Gestede brings me to my main bugbear with Malky Mackay’s management of the club – we don’t play the sort of football I thought I saw his Watford team play when he was in charge there! Even here though, I wonder if I’m really being fair to Malky – I think you tend to be more critical when you are watching your team play, whereas the “good bits” you see from a game you watch as a neutral tend to stick in your mind, while the dross gets ignored. It’s easy to look at a City team including Gestede or Heidar Helguson and the number of set piece goals we scored and dismiss us as a long ball team (it’s a reputation we’ve got in some places – for example, I’ve seen Malky dismissed as a long ball merchant by Everton fans on some of their messageboards.
I fall into the same trap myself sometimes, but keep on going back to what Malky said at his first press conference after taking over here when he told the media that his Cardiff side will play in a way that causes our opponents most problems. I take this to mean that if the side we are playing are thought to be weak in the air at the back, then we’ll go more direct, but if we are up against a side that are strong aerially, but lack a bit of pace defensively, then we’ll try and exploit that by trying to work the ball into areas where we can cause most damage.
I suppose when you think about it, isn’t it best to be flexible tactically rather than stick slavishly to one method of playing through thick and thin? Although I think it’s fair to say that there weren’t as many instances of us turning on the style as you might expect from a team which topped the league by an eight point margin, it would be wrong to say we only played one way – the two games with Blackburn, Blackpool and Burnley along with Wolves, Brighton, the wurzels and Forest at home are all examples of matches where we’ve passed the ball well which I’ve come up with off the top of my head.
In the two seasons under Malky Mackay, City look to me to be far more professional in terms of training and preparation. Squad discipline and togetherness is much stronger than it was and there appears to be a coherent structure below first team level following the appointment of Dick Bate – Dave Jones used to talk about building a club, Malky Mackay doesn’t, but he seems to be making an excellent job in doing it. Put all of that together with the fact that in each of the two seasons he has been with us, there have been achievements which, arguably, rank in the top five in the club’s history, I’d say Malky deserves to follow his seven out of ten ranking for 2011/12 with a nine this time around.
by The other Bob Wilson
On 24 January 2012 Cardiff City beat Crystal Palace in the Semi Finals of the League Cup to secure their second appearance in a national Cup Final in four years. After Tom Heaton’s heroics in the penalty shoot out, Malky Mackay and his team were given a rapturous ovation by the ecstatic crowd, but there were two others on the lap of honour who City supporters were eager to give credit to – Chairman Dato Chan Tien Ghee (TG) and Tan Sri Vincent Tan Chee Yioun (Vincent Tan), the club’s largest shareholder and, effectively, it’s owner, were applauded just as much as manager and players were that night.
Nearly fifteen months later on 16 April 2013, City secured promotion to the Premiership with a 0-0 draw against Charlton and once again, Malky Mackay and the playing squad basked in the applause of around 25,000 Cardiff fans. Vincent Tan was there on the pitch as well and the reception he got from many supporters (almost certainly a fair sized majority) was probably as euphoric as it had been a year and a quarter earlier, but it could not be denied that, amongst significant numbers present, his reception was, to put it diplomatically, mixed. Less than a fortnight later at the Club’s Awards night, Mr Tan gave a speech which was occasionally interrupted by disparaging comments and singing from some of those present.
What had happened in such a relatively short time to change peoples perceptions of the man whose financial input in 2010 had, arguably, saved the club? Well, although there are those who are now far more critical of Vincent Tan’s general handling of the club and there are a few who have problems coming to terms with his role in Malaysian politics, the simple truth in most cases is that Mr Tan’s standing has dropped because he changed the team’s kit and badge just under a year ago as part of his “re-branding” of the club.
I’ve seen and heard at least three interviews that Vincent Tan gave in the aftermath of the Charlton game and they all begin with him repeating “lucky red” over the interviewer as they tried to question him. Doing this once would probably be understandable in the excitement of the situation he found himself in, but three times sounds almost defensive to me – it’s as if he is having to justify the decision to himself. Anyway, leaving my amateur psychologist bit to one side for now, what it does do is offer evidence that the re-branding is an issue which is still featuring very prominently in the thoughts of so many involved with the club at every level.
That’s the thing, I’ve done one of these end of season pieces for two of the three previous seasons when the onus was on the club’s finances. Last season I didn’t do one because the re-branding furore overshadowed all else and the truth is it has continued to dominate off field proceedings for the past twelve months. In saying that, the accounts for the year ending 31/5/12 showed the club’s debt getting very close to £100 million (it may well have passed that figure during the season). but the fact that around a quarter of that figure is still owed to the Langston Corporation offers a reminder that Vincent Tan has not yet delivered on the majority of the “benefits” which were originally supposed to accompany the change of kit and badge.
You’ll certainly not get any complaints from me about the level of investment in the team over the past year – Vincent Tan has delivered on his promise there and the notion of increasing the capacity at Cardiff City Stadium going into a second consecutive season in the Premiership seems a more sensible one to me than adding almost 10,000 seats straight away. However, although Sam Hammam’s presence at the Bolton game suggested that a resolution of the Langston debt may be on it’s way, it’s worth remembering that those of us who attended those two meetings with club representatives when the re-branding story first broke over a year ago were being told that one was “imminent” back then!
Similarly, the promised training ground, which, presumably, would be a club asset which would help bring the debt down a bit seems some way off yet and, although I cannot speak for others, I would be surprised if I was the only “reluctant red” who currently feels that their decision to give the club the “benefit of the doubt” last summer hasn’t been justified. Now, I think it has to be admitted that for an awful lot of the 20,000 plus people who turn up to watch the team play at Cardiff City Stadium every fortnight, the re-branding has become something of a non issue – they are happy that Vincent Tan has delivered the goods in terms of investment in the team and promotion, but ask them what colour they’d prefer us to play in and I’d guarantee virtually all of them would say blue.
As others such as Gethin Jenkins, Doug Lee, Alan Whiteley and TG have left the club, so Vincent Tan has become more hands on and us supporters for whom he was previously something of a remote figure who would turn up at two or three matches a season have got to find out more about him. The last three months have seen him appearing in the media and in front of fans and, speaking for myself, each time he has it has confirmed an impression that they he doesn’t really”get” British football and the British football fan (actually I think the word “British” could be dropped in both instances there).
There are exceptions to every rule of course, but getting a team promoted doesn’t mean that it’s supporters are going to wholeheartedly embrace a change of kit and badge that has been foisted upon it on what looks like a whim. By the same token, “Scarfgate” on the night of the Brighton game was not the ringing endorsement of his re-brand that Vincent Tan claimed it to be.
In fact, my opinion is that it was a mistake on the club’s part because it led to a concentrating of people’s minds on the subject. Since that night, there have been more blue shirts and scarves being worn at games (particularly away from home), more blue related songs and even the occasional anti red one (I’ve still not heard a single pro red song yet). Furthermore, a supporters’ organisation has consulted it’s members and as a result it is now urging Vincent Tan “to seriously consider returning the first team home kit to blue at the earliest opportunity with red becoming the away kit” . Ideally, the voting sample in the Supporters’ Trust poll would have been a bigger one, but the “strong support” for a return to a blue home kit should not be ignored.
In the absence of any meaningful indications of financial rewards that the re-branding has brought the club so far, it increasingly looks as if the change to red was, indeed, just a whim on Mr Tan’s part – it certainly sounded like it was in his speech at the Player of the Year do a fortnight ago. If that’s really the case, then, for what it’s worth Mr Tan I believe it was the funding you provided for Malky Mackay which was responsible for our promotion, not our “lucky red” kit – you are the person who should be getting the praise of all City fans, not just a proportion of them and I’m sure you would be if it wasn’t for the change of kit and badge.
One year on and the re-branding controversy is not going to go away, it could do and everyone could share in the euphoria of promotion simply by Vincent Tan doing what the Trust have asked him to do – will it happen? No, I don’t think it will in the short term, but I’ve thought all along that we’ll be back playing in blue some time in the next four years – I’m prepared to donate £100 to charity if we are still in red then, but, after “Scarfgate”, I’m more confident than I was that I won’t have to do that.by The other Bob Wilson