Are Cardiff City’s first team good enough to play “the Cardiff Way”?

Coymay

A busy ten days or so at Cardiff City Stadium started on transfer deadline day with the signing of Rickie Lambert, which I covered in an earlier piece, and was followed by a couple of significant off field developments late last week.

On Thursday, Cardiff City Supporters’ Trust issued the following statement regarding Vincent Tan’s long running plan to turn the debt he is owed by the club into shares (equity).

As most CCFC fans are aware, in February this year Tan Sri Vincent Tan made a public announcement that he would immediately be converting £68m of the debt due to him by the club into shares and would subsequently be carrying out further conversions over a 5 year period which would convert the balance due to him of approximately £40m. This announcement, at a meeting attended by Trust board representatives, would mean that the club would return to balance sheet solvency for the first time in many years and put the club in a far healthier financial position. The announcement was warmly welcomed by the Trust at the time.

Since February, the Trust board has been in regular and frequent contact with the club’s CEO and Chair in meetings and via email and telephone conversations, and this matter has formed part of that agenda. To help prevent any misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the current position, the Trust can report as follows.

The change of such a large sum of money from debt to equity by TSVT requires the approval of the Malaysian regulatory authorities and the process can be slow. Therefore, although this approval continues to be pursued and the club board are entirely confident that the matter is being positively progressed, it is not yet formally complete and so the £68m conversion has not yet been finalised. However, the first of the expected £8m conversions has been approved and put in place and will be reflected as a note to the 2015/16 audited accounts when they are submitted to the football authorities and Companies House.

The Trust will continue to liaise with the club at its board meetings on this matter and provide updates as appropriate.

I’d say the general reaction to that statement from supporters has been a positive one, but, for myself, I’d say it offers mixed news. The confirmation that the first of the five annual conversions of £8 million of debt has to be seen as a positive, but when the scheme was first outlined in February, it was said that the £68 million conversion would be included in the Accounts for the year ending 31/5/16 – obviously, this has not happened.

I find that a little disappointing, but no more than that. Having once worked in part of the Department of Trade where there was a six month plus backlog between filing of application forms and a decision being made on the case (thankfully, it came down to less than a month pretty quickly and stayed there), I can believe and sympathise with the  club’s reason for the delay.

If there’s no change in the situation in, say, six months then I presume the Trust will want to know more about what is going on, but I see no reason to make a big issue of the delay now, because the expectation should be that conversion of the £68 million will take place in time for it to be included in the 16/17 Accounts (or possibly the 15/16 ones as a footnote?).

Later that day, club Chairman Mehmet Dalman took some supporters to task in this piece for suggesting that club had indulged in a “fire sale” during the summer as Vincent Tan sought to get his money back.

Speaking for myself, I find such claims ludicrous because they fly in the face of the evidence that shows us paying fairly large sums (probably a seven figure one in one or two cases) for players this summer and the confirmation that £8 million of the club’s debt has been wiped off.

I believe the basis for these allegations are the sales of Fabio and David Marshall in the last few weeks, but, although it was disappointing and frustrating to see them both leave (it’s a reflection of where we find ourselves as a club currently), my only beef with City is that they could, and should, have got more for the latter.

Mr Dalman also touched on something which was gone into in more detail by CEO Ken Choo  the following day. Now I should say here that all football clubs are sometimes guilty of emulating British Governments of both political persuasions by making a big policy announcement on any given day which then is left to gather dust in the months and years that follow.

Maybe all this talk about what has come to be called “the Cardiff Way” will turn out to be just that – talk, but I hope it’s not the case. For too long, City have been a club that, both on and off the pitch, lurch from one situation to another – there’s not been any sort of continuity or suggestion that there is a clear plan that involves anything more than the short term.

What Messrs Dalman and Choo have said in the last few days could be the catalyst for some real positive developments at the club in the coming years, but that word years is the important one here, because, if the intention really is to develop a Cardiff way of going about our football, then that’s how long it’s going to take if it is to pay dividends in the way those gentlemen talk about.

Therefore, patience needs to be shown in both the Boardroom and in the stands if things continue as they have done so far this season, because, to be frank, there has been little to persuade supporters to “keep the faith” up to now.

This goes to the core of this whole Cardiff Way thing. I don’t think anyone can criticise the desire to implement policies which are designed to foster more coherent links between the age group teams and the seniors and, to the degree that the club began to feel like it had lost it’s Welshness as a mixture of Russell Slade’s management attitude and a corporate approach which meant you could have been at any other (English) Championship club on match days, I see nothing wrong with emulating the Welsh national team in terms of preparation, fitness work and marketing.

With the score 1-0, Rickie Lambert heads against the crossbar from about six yards out.  We are scoring goals and creating chances  away from home, but  not at home  - it's hard to see us climbing the table if this trend continues.

With the score 1-0, Rickie Lambert heads against the crossbar from about six yards out. We are scoring goals and creating chances away from home, but not at home – it’s hard to see us climbing the table if this trend continues.*

However, the potential problem with all of this I can see is what will happen if the blueprint in terms of how the side will play is wrong? There are two aspects to this as far as I’m concerned – firstly, will we utilise the same formation at all levels throughout the club and secondly are the players we currently have (especially at first team level) suited to the  the approach whereby there is the  ”intensity to get the ball back when we haven’t got it and a desire to play creative, attacking football when we have.” that Ken Choo talks about?

The first question should be the easiest one to answer because there is evidence from the Under 16, 18 and 23 level matches I’ve seen so far that we are not playing with the same system that the first team uses every week and I’ll return to this when I talk about the systems used by the three City teams which played yesterday – suffice it to say for now, that I’ve seen the Under 23s play twice so far this season and they played with a back four in the first game and a three centreback system in the second.

The second question is tougher because although the age group sides have generally been able to play in the manner Mr Choo describes in the games I’ve seen, I can’t say that the first team have – there’s been little evidence of the sort of pressing of the ball talked about and when we try to be “creative and attacking”, the whole thing tends to fall a bit flat because of a general lack of pace and an inability and or unwillingness to get numbers forward to support the strikers.

So, to try and put all of this into some sort of practical context, let’s have have a look at those three matches played yesterday which gave an impression that the Cardiff Way will involve plenty of high scoring games with not enough of the goals ending up in the opposition’s net!

I got to the Under 16s and 18s matches at Treforest against Sheffield Wednesday a little late and the first thing I say was the ball hit the back of the net as the latter fell an early goal behind.

I watched the Under 18s match for a further 15 minutes or so and I’m afraid to say it was a bit of a shambles. Wednesday were the first to everything  and were opening up a shaky defence at will and, when more poor defending enabled them to get in down City’s right, the resultant cross was unconvincingly punched out by Scott Coughlan to Jordan Lanchor who volleyed home to make it 2-0 inside ten minutes.

The first goal had been scored by former England striker David Hirst’s son, George and he was proving far too good for the City central defence at this stage. The match was barely a quarter of an hour old when he did a passable impersonation of his old man as he showed a combination of pace and power to break clear and fire in the third.

It was a good goal, but it came about a fairly routine long ball was misheaded into Hirst’s path by Cameron Coxe and, after that, not for the first time, Jack Bodenham and Connor Young were unable to handle him.

Things were beginning to get embarrassing now as elementary errors began to creep in and within a couple of minutes, Hirst was in on goal again for an opportunity from which he should really have completed his hat trick.

I decided my time would be better off spent watching the Under 16s (who were already a goal down themselves at this stage), but the pitches are pretty close together, so I was still able to watch the Under 18s match and what I saw after that set me thinking that the disastrous start may have been down to me!

Within minutes of me going to watch the other match, Mark Harris had headed in a corner to reduce the deficit to 3-1 and it seemed like every time I looked over my shoulder at the Under 18 game again. I was watching City attacking.

The contrast between what I saw from the twentieth minute onwards of the Under 18 match and what preceded it was amazing. All of the pressure only bought the one goal (scored by Ibby So Sani with a quarter of an hour left), so it was a third consecutive home defeat I’m afraid for the Academy team, but, just like the other two, they could argue that the result was harsh on them, given the balance of play – although I must say I have less sympathy with that argument this time around given the horrendous start they made.

The mention of Boddenham and Young gives the clue that, although they’ve done it in one of the four matches I’ve seen this season, the Under 18s did not play 3-5-2/5-3-2 yesterday, so that answers the first of the two questions I raised earlier. As for the second one, I think the Under 18s can play the pressing game quite well and they are also capable of putting together some nice, creative stuff, but they really are wide open at the back at times.

Just as against Palace when they were beaten 5-3, City played a back four which was often a back two in reality because their full backs were so far upfield at times. Therefore, a lot of defensive responsibility falls on the shoulders of the centrebacks and defensive midfielder. To be fair, a lot of this was caused by circumstances yesterday as they chased the game, but, even in those early minutes, it hardly looked like City were playing with  a flat back four.

So, maybe it’s okay to play like that in an environment where results aren’t the be be all and end all, but in the case of someone like Coxe, who is a Welsh age group international and exactly the sort of player who would be targeted as a beneficiary of this new more Welsh approach, is it making it harder for him to make the jump into the first team in the long run?

To be honest, I don’t know the answer to that question. Coxe is an effective attacking full back/wing back at this level and can provide the sort of attacking thrust and pace we’re not seeing enough in the first team yet, so I wouldn’t want to see that side of his game compromised. but I find it hard to see how he can progress beyond the Under 23s without more evidence that he will be up to the job defensively at senior level. I suppose what I’m saying is that, in the case of someone like Coxe, the Cardiff Way has to include a dose of reality as well.

It’s simpler at Under 16s level (who, incidentally, have played with a flat back four on the two occasions I’ve watched them this season) because there is more time for the youngsters to be taught in the more boring “professional” aspects of the game and yesterday’s match was proof of this as an open and entertaining encounter ended 4-2 to the visitors.

An own goal from a City free kick soon had them level and when they hit the post soon after, they appeared to be taking control. However. the first of a pair of high quality free kicks which resulted in goals enabled Wednesday to regain the lead when the ball was headed home before the City keeper could get to it and they then scored a quality goal as a cross was headed down and hooked into the net from fifteen yards to put them 3-1 up at half time, just like their seniors were.

When another cross from a free kick found it’s way in without anyone getting a touch, the visitors were three goals clear. City were still creating plenty of opportunities though, but were paying the price for not having a specialist striker in the team – the number nine had a go at it early on without looking too effective and then it was Sion Spence’s turn, but it seemed that a decision was made that he would be of more use in the middle of the park. Finally, they tried a big defender up there and, while he did a decent job in terms of all round play, you could see that he was not a natural in the role because he failed to make a clean contact with a number of reasonable chances.

No doubt Lambert and Aron Gunnarsson (two leaders in a  squad generally reckoned to be short of them) are asking referee Oliver Langford why he hadn't penalised Jonny Howson for a fouol on the Iceland captain a couple of minutes earlier in the lead up to Norwich's third goal - sides which spend the season in the bottom third of their league get used to have such discussions with officials at the final whistle - I'd say City have until the next international break to get themselves into a position where such discussions don't become the norm.*

No doubt Lambert and Aron Gunnarsson (two leaders in a squad generally reckoned to be short of them) are asking referee Oliver Langford why he hadn’t penalised Jonny Howson for a fouol on the Iceland captain a couple of minutes earlier in the lead up to Norwich’s third goal – sides which spend the season in the bottom third of their league get used to have such discussions with officials at the final whistle – I’d say City have until the next international break to get themselves into a position where such discussions don’t become the norm.*

As it was, City managed to get one goal back, but couldn’t avoid what I think might have been their first defeat of the campaign. However, the Cardiff Way will undoubtedly succeed if some of our other sides are able to consistently hit the Under 16s did in their recent demolition of Crystal Palace.

Finally, I come to the first team’s 3-2 defeat at Norwich. As it was one of those occasional away matches that we have which I don’t watch (either live, on TV or online) or listen to, I can only go by the brief highlights I’ve seen and match reports I’ve read in making these very brief observations;-

  1. Generally speaking, we seem to be playing better away than at home.
  2. It’s now three consecutive matches in which we’ve conceded goals after the eighty sixth minute).
  3. It seems we are not as strong at centreback as I thought we’d be.
  4. Because of the reservations I have about the goalkeepers we have to choose from currently, I must be careful not to put goals down  to mistakes by keepers as a matter of course, but I don’t think Ben Wilson helped his cause with the first goal.
  5. Connolly, Ralls and Immers are not playing to the level they did last season.
  6. Can we really afford to drop Peter Whittingham? After watching him labour against Reading, I had no problem with the decision to leave him out yesterday, but it was noticeable on the highlights that it was him providing the crosses which led to most of our chances late on.
  7. That was a bad miss by Rickie Lambert, but he’ll not miss too many like that if we can keep on providing crosses for him like the one Aron Gunnarsson came up with.
  8.  Apparently, Norwich’s third goal came after Gunnarsson was fouled, but I doubt if a sloppy Norwich defence would have conceded our second goal if they were one goal ahead at the time.
  9. Nice to see us scoring our first “normal” goals of the season – this is how most of the goals any team score come about, not through own goals or long range beauties.
  10. Kadeem Harris was very unlucky to be left out of the starting eleven

I’ll finish by answering those two questions in relation to the first team – we’ve started every match with the three centreback system. but Trollope has changed things with his use of substitutes in some matches (he did yesterday), so I hope that will mean that he isn’t averse to starting with something different at times – I can’t think of any other team recognised for playing the game a certain way who do so by sticking dogmatically to one particular system.

As for us having the players to make three centrebacks work at first team level, it really would be good to see some proof of this some time soon. Trollope’s cause is not being helped though by him having established members of last season’s team not performing to levels we know they can reach – I mentioned three of them above, but Manga is another one who needs to up his game.

I’d also defend our manager by saying that Joe Bennett, Emyr Huws and Lambert (who I would have thought would all be in what Trollope believes is his strongest team) have played very little football for the club yet – the problem I think many City fans have at the moment is that these three are going to have to make a huge difference individually and collectively if the first team are going to start playing in the Cardiff Way any time soon!

*pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/

 

 

 

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6 Responses to Are Cardiff City’s first team good enough to play “the Cardiff Way”?

  1. Anthony O'Brien says:

    In the USA there is a Congressman named Trey Gowdy who can get to the heart of an issue with supreme and incisive intelligence. Paul’s report today is worthy of Trey Gowdy. It raises the two key points regarding the newly heralded “Cardiff way” which presupposes a particular way of playing at all levels throughout the club. As Paul points out, this is manifestly not the case from what he saw of the three games he watched yesterday. The Under 18s seem to have produced a somewhat shambolic performance, whereas the Under 16s were more organised but – I should think – panicked in pushing forward a big defender who was not centre forward minded. (Incidentally, I have wondered for some time why Cardiff have not used Manga as a centre forward since he has the qualities of speed, skill , and power to be effective in that system — though we don’t know, of course, whether he, too, might lack a centre forward mindset).

    The second question Paul raises is the crunch issue: do Cardiff have the players to achieve success with the favoured ” Cardiff way” formation which entails high intensity football? Sadly, I don’t think so. Speed of movement should be coupled with speed of thought. Currently, this is not ” the Cardiff way” , as exemplified by the predictability and ultimately ineffectiveness of the Gunnarsson throw in. (As a side issue, how are Cardiff in the short term, going to recruit players with undeniably Welsh connections which is also part of “the Cardif way”). At the moment I feel that Ralls, for instance. is perhaps lacking the physical durability to be genuinely and consistently creative in midfield. This perhaps leads into another question — namely, why have the new signings not been given a real chance to play if the team is manifestly misfiring? Let’s hope everything finally turns out well on Tuesday night’s game against PNE..

  2. Dai Woosnam says:

    Paul,
    There are hacks, there are dedicated sports journalists, and there is another level again.
    And you, my dear sir, are up on a pedestal.

    I can go back a long way, to when the venerable Peter Corrigan was the Football Echo’s chief football reporter. And he went on to build a serious national career and receive much acclaim in the years that followed.

    But even HE would have balked at watching all the junior games that YOU watch!
    So I salute you for it.

    If the Echo has any sense they would hire you as their top reporter…albeit I understand that your lengthy pieces would be for their online version only.

    Now, from you Paul, to AMO.

    My eyes fell on this:

    ‘…
    Incidentally, I have wondered for some time why Cardiff have not used Manga as a centre forward since he has the qualities of speed, skill , and power to be effective in that system — though we don’t know, of course, whether he, too, might lack a centre forward mindset
    …’

    Thanks for singing from the same hymn sheet, AMO. For years I gave been making the point that players from the age of about 11, have a favourite position…and that is invariably the position they keep throughout their career.

    But who is to say that even when they achieve major success, that they could not have even EXCEEDED that degree of success somewhere else on the pitch?

    This realisation keeps coming home to me every week. Just three days ago I listened to Ruud Gullit on the radio talking about his new book. And almost en passant he told us that at the age of 16 he was still playing centre back, and it was at the insistence of his then team manager, that he was turned into a striker!
    And when you think about it, if you play centre back, you get to know what a centre back does not like! So switch to playing up front and you can then have a head start in exposing your opponent’s flaws.
    Don’t tell me that the greatest player I ever saw – John Charles – did not use his deep knowledge of how to play both positions, very much to his advantage.
    So come on PT …that is what training at The Vale should be all about !! Experimentation.
    Not daft moves for the sake of it (like say making Whitts play stopper), but genuinely potentially smart moves, like the Manga move that AMO suggests.

    Jeez…people think that such experimentation is “flying by the seat of one’s pants” stuff. But it ain’t. I mean to say…it is not as if we are asking a soccer player to switch to rugger or cricket. It is the same ball.

    Here’s the thing… it brings to mind multi-instrumentalists. Quite often a good guitarist will take easily to the mandolin and banjo. A good player of the English concertina will easily master the Anglo-German.

    In the words of the most famous man to come out of Malta this past 50 years (Edward de Bono), it is “time to think outside the square”.

    And talking of which, I will leave the last word with Mr Gullit. He was asked how it was that Liverpool could lose 2-0 at Burnley, despite having 81% possession. And he came up with an image that will stay with me for ever.

    He said that possession has to be the right sort of possession. And it had to be quick and incisive. Most goals he pointed out, are the result of three or four passes maximum.

    But the way some teams play “passing for passing’s sake” made him think that maybe there ought to be a new game invented for them, where goalposts were done away with, and any team making 20 non-intercepted passes are awarded a point (goal).

    Wonderful, Ruud. Just wonderful.
    DW.

  3. Russell says:

    Thanks for your reports and first team thoughts Paul.

    The club does appear to be under some form of reconstruction, as you see with major buildings , where the scaffolding is up , pavements and entrances closed, creating a level of uncertainty with a hope, once it’s finished a bright new palace will appear.

    The next three games are going to be key to our season, all those teams are below us and of less threat than the ones we have just played , to be fair its been a tough start, fixture wise.

    If I was Trollope I would pitch in all the new lads , for the next three games and play Amos, he’s got nothing to lose.

    Lambert will score, given service ,I think Gunnerson would have been a better choice as captain , which indicates he’s not assured of his place .

    I still don’t understand why we are unable to function as an effective unit ,given the talent we have to hand, perhaps its the lack of pace ,or we simply have round pegs in square holes. ?

    We have to take at least 4 points from the next three as a minimum.

    Finally AOB suggests Manga as a forward ,I’ve always thought a runn n a central midfield holding role ,would be worth a punt .

  4. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thank you once again for your kind comments.

    Regarding using players “out of position”, I’ve nothing against it myself, but it doesn’t seem to happen much these days does. With regard to the current squad, I agree with Russell that Manga appears better suited to a defensive midfield role – if we were going to try to convert one of our centrebacks into a striker, my choice would be Morrison.

    However, we have three target man type strikers already and I don’t see that someone like Manga or Morrison would offer us much that they can’t. No, if I was looking to convert one of our players into a striker, I would be looking more at someone who could fill a Chopra, Bellamy or Earnie type role as a someone with pace who could play on the shoulder of defenders, while also living off the knock downs provided by Lambert and co. At the moment, the only player we use in something like that way is Pilkington, but his main strengths lie in other directions really. It’s difficult to think of too many in the current first team squad who would measure up when it came to finishing (what I saw on Saturday in the Under 16 match proved what a specialised art it is), but, having seen him put away chances with a degree of composure for the Under 21 team, I’d say it might be worth having a look at Kadeem Harris in such a role.

  5. Dai Woosnam says:

    I agree Paul on the master back-pedaller, Morrison. I suggested a year ago that he be the guy tried at centre-forward.
    That said, Manga’s dodgy form this season makes a move up front, find him less of a liability to our defence.
    The fact that (as you say Paul), such experimentation does not go on much these days, should matter not a jot to us free thinkers. When everybody elso goes west, it is smart to move east.
    As for Manga as a possible central midfield holding player, yes Russell, that has its attractions, for sure.
    And one other thing to mention to Russell…the reason myself and Paul refer to our esteemed contributor (Mr Anthony Mor O’Brien), using the name “AMO”, is because those were his initials …as inked on to the front of his school satchel, way back in the day.
    ["Less of the WAY back, Dai", says AMO !!]
    DW.

  6. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Interesting comments from everyone. I was talking about Manga as a potential centre forward at the time Cardiff did not have one, and I admit that in times of desperation it was Morrisson who went up front. I think the player best suited to play on the shoulder and feed of /link with Lambert is Gounongbe. And, Gentleman, please call me what you like.

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