So, what does the 2011/12 season hold for our new manager? Well, if the Guardian’s Paul Hayward is to be believed, it’s the sack if we don’t get promoted (see start of the seventh paragraph here)! Hayward is that rarity, a journalist that commands a bit of respect and he’s not usually the type to throw such claims around as lightly as many of his colleagues do, but I sincerely hope and trust that he is wrong in this case. There’s always got to be the chance that I’ll be one of many calling for Malky Mackay’s head come May I suppose, but there is nothing in his two years of over achievement at Watford and his work so far at Cardiff to suggest that this will be the case.
The Supporters’ Trust’s excellent celebration of the win over Real Madrid back in 1971 took place on 10 June which turned out to be a week before Malky was appointed. and I can remember compere Rob Phillips asking those present who they wanted as our new manager. He offered four alternatives – the three favourites for the job at the time (Roberto DiMatteo, Chris Hughton and Malky Mackay) or the none of the above option. I was one of a sizeable minority who voted for Malky Mackay because I thought that he was exactly what we needed – he was young and enthusiastic and he had trusted in youth at Watford as his side did better than expected playing attacking and entertaining football.
I still think Dave Jones was a good Cardiff manager, but, even if the enthusiasm was still there (and I suspect it might have been), he had become so embittered by his feud with the local press that it was impossible to see evidence of it. Similarly, watching City had stopped being an enjoyable experience. Not all of this was down to the manager, but, by his own admission, Dave Jones was someone whose mindset was that of the cold, unemotional professional – there is a time and a place for such an approach, but Cardiff City needed a complete change in thinking and attitude at the top in my view and the signs are that this is what we have got. I’m not someone who says managers have to be jumping up and down and ranting at players and officials on the sidelines, but it is good to have someone there after all these years who makes it obvious that he cares.
Yes, Malky Mackay is certainly enthusiastic – tonight sees the first in what we are told is a series of meet the supporters nights to be staged around south Wales in the coming months (it’s being held at the non Political Club at Rhydyfelin at 7.30) and he has already had a question and answer session with a selected group of fans at Cardiff City Stadium. There has been plenty of talk too about a new, happier atmosphere around the club and much of the credit for this is being placed at the feet of a man who I believe has not become as detached from “normality” as many in the game are. This is because his football background is one that saw him go into the game relatively late as an amateur after spending time working in a bank – the signs are that Malky can relate better to the “ordinary” man and woman than many others in football do nowadays.
When all’s said and done though, it’s what happens on the pitch that decides a manager’s fate. At the moment, my assessment of our manager’s character looks to be about right, but, on what is admittedly limited evidence, maybe I got the type of football we will see from a Malky Mackay Cardiff City team wrong? At Watford his sides went for it and matches tended to be entertaining affairs with plenty of goals at either end. However, pre season games have been notable for our lack of goals (and, more worryingly, a lack of scoring opportunities), whilst, although it has tended to get ignored as people focus on what is not happening at the other end of the pitch, we have been solid at the back with only four conceded from five games.
While Aron Gunnarsson, Joe Mason and Filip Kiss are young players who I reckon are going to be in and around the team this season, the emphasis with our new signings so far has tended to be more in the mid to late twenties age range. Furthermore, the two strikers that our manager has named as his first choices won’t see 30 again and the rumours won’t go away that they will be joined by a locally born 32 year old in the coming weeks!, So, a total of seven goals at either end in pre season matches and a side with an average age closer to thirty than twenty doesn’t make it sound like we will be watching Watford mark II in the coming months.
Based on that then, maybe my enthusiasm for our new manager should be fading a bit – perhaps, after all, we are not going to see the attacking and entertaining football I mentioned earlier? To be honest though, didn’t Watford play like they did because Malky Mackay did what the best managers do – that is, look at the playing resources he has and get them to operate in a way that gets the most out of their strengths whilst trying to hide their weaknesses? Although I’m not convinced that we will end up playing too differently to how Watford did, there has to be the chance that Malky will have judged that we can be most effective by playing in a different way.
Anyway, enough of this speculation when the man himself has told us how he likes to play the game. Malky has said that he is not averse to mixing the game up a bit depending on the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses and, possibly because the match was going against us, there was certainly a lot of long stuff to Parkin against Celtic. By contrast though, there was a much more considered build up on Saturday against Parma and, certainly, the midfield players brought in so far suggest that the latter rather than the former would be our method of choice. What our new manager has been most categorical about so far though is that City fans can expect to see their team with more sweat on their shirts and it was clear on Saturday that we were playing more of a pressing game as Parma, who you would have expected to have been a good, technically proficient passing team, were hustled and harried into giving the ball away more than often than anticipated.
Speaking as someone who used to get annoyed at times by our habit under Dave Jones of sitting back and letting the opposition play, this is a welcome development, but the pressing game has it’s disadvantages as well. One of the few criticisms of Malky Mackay that I have seen from Watford fans related to the number of match changing late goals they conceded as fitness faded and stamina suffered after eighty odd minutes of denying the opposition time and space – perhaps more than under Dave Jones, City will need to have the game won going into the closing stages this season.
Returning to that Paul Hayward piece to finish, my feeling is that he has got it wrong this time – after giving our previous manager six years to get us out of this division, surely the new one would get more than just the one season if we didn’t go up? With Leicester and West Ham spending so freely, the idea that our budget should be enough to guarantee a top two finish has to be ridiculous. However, I would say that all of the signs so far point to Malky Mackay’s playing budget being as big as many had claimed it would be and, if this is indeed the case, then I would suggest it would be wrong to say that a mid table season of consolidation would be acceptable – I’m sure Malky Mackay, as well as those behind the scenes at the club, will be expecting more than that and I can’t help thinking he will see himself as having failed if his team aren’t up there challenging for a top six place.