Before this season, twelve of City’s last thirteen seasons have been played in what is now called the Championship and, although things looked dodgy for a while in 07/08, the only one of those we have had to really worry about being relegated in was 2004/05.
Twelve years ago, our record after eleven matches was identical to what it is now, right down to how we were doing at home and away. In fact, the similarity between what was happening in home matches is uncanny – after a 2-1 win to start with against Coventry, we had lost the next four games without scoring a goal.
So, we had eight points from eleven matches back then, just as we do now, but there were differences then to what we are seeing now which makes me think the current situation provides more cause for concern than it did back in the days when Lennie Lawrence was our manager, rather than some shadowy presence in the background whose role is still not clear to this writer.
I’m not going to go into the 2-0 defeat at Burton Albion in any detail because, to be frank, my time yesterday afternoon was taken up more with the Ryder Cup than listening to what seems to have been more of the same old, same old against a team who we would not have even contemplated playing in a league fixture three years ago, let alone being beaten by them.
I’ve since seen the “highlights” and read a few reports on the game – I was particularly interested in one of them which, it seems to me, goes to the root of problems that, I feel, has been present in the side virtually from day one. As a rule, I can’t stand these “five reasons why………….” type pieces that fill the papers, and quite a few online sites, these days, but I believe this one is an unusually good example of the genre. For a start, there are some some very telling points about our defending all season (Burton’s two goals were far too easy and ensured that we still haven’t kept a clean sheet since our opening day draw at Birmingham) and the nature of our 3-5-2/5-3-2 compared to the one Burton used, but it was what Mr Smith had to say about Rickie Lambert which I think goes right to the heart of why we are struggling so much.
I see Paul Trollope has called the system he is currently favouring a 4-3-3, while whatever we were playing earlier was generally reckoned to have a “2″ at the end of it, indicating that we were playing with two forwards. So, according to our Head Coach, we have been playing with at least two, and sometimes three, players who are meant to occupy our opponent’s back three or four.
Why is it then that, all season long, we have had one player in advanced areas who often has no team mate within twenty or thirty yards of him? Now, I can understand your target man striker getting somewhat isolated when you are under the cosh away from home, but it has become the norm to see Gounongbe, Zohore or Lambert toiling away while being completely outnumbered by defenders in home games as well.
I say that while knowing that our lack of pace in central areas means that our midfield three are always going to struggle to get forward, but what are the other one or two, who are supposed to be there close to our target men, doing? It’s the same when we were playing with alleged wing backs – the truth of the matter is that, whether it be at home or away, we have been playing with one, completely isolated, forward all season and Paul Trollope’s 3-5-2/5-3-2 was actually a 5-3-1-1 and his 4-3-3 is a pretty rigid 4-5-1.
So, has the Head Coach been sending out his team to play so cautiously in every match? I’m not sure about that, but our daft, and depressing, goalscoring record can hardly come as a surprise given that we are so loath to get players into forward areas. Bizarrely, we either score twice or not at all and it’s been the latter in an incredible two thirds of our competitive matches this season.
If you were to pin me down, I would have to say that our reluctance to support the poor unfortunate who has to play up front for us stems more from a lack of confidence in our players than orders from the coaches that we must not commit too many forward. However, my suspicion is that in the early weeks of the campaign, it was an unfamiliarity with and wariness of the new system they were being asked to play which made them cautious.
Whatever the reason for our one man attacking policy, we are in serious, serious trouble now. Back in 2004, Lennie Lawrence would ask to be judged after ten matches as the early defeats mounted, but, he came under severe pressure from fans after successive home defeats by Watford and Derby by 3-0 and 2-0 respectively in mid September.
Club owner Sam Hammam was forced to clear the air after the second of these games as he made it plain to the media that Lennie would be staying, but he made what was, with hindsight, a very good footballing decision to recruit Watford’s Terry Burton as Assistant Manager instead.
Another difference back then compared to now, was that we were still able to bring in players on loan and so Darren Williams was recruited from Sunderland to add some steadiness at the back, but, more importantly, young midfielder Gary O’Neil came in from Portsmouth.
Once O’Neil settled in, he transformed the team. The goalless run at home went to five matches in our twelfth game in a 0-0 draw with Leeds, but the truth was we battered them and, just as in a subsequent draw by the same score with Leicester, it was only bad luck which prevented a big City win. It all came right for us when West Ham were thrashed 4-1 and we seemed to be on the way to climbing well clear of the drop zone, but O’Neil was playing too well and his parent club called him back as he was put straight into their Premier League team on his return.
Without O’Neil, City soon started struggling again, but they were able to scramble clear of the drop in the end because they had another thing that the current side lacks – a solid defence built around a pair of centrebacks who would be playing top flight football for West Ham in the following season.
There is one other significant difference between then and now which I’ll come to later, but, for now, I want to say something about the big question arising from our run of six defeats in seven matches – should Vincent Tan show the same loyalty to Paul Trollope that Sam Hammam did to Lennie Lawrence a dozen years ago?
I’m afraid that, reluctantly, I’m forced to agree with what seems to be a large majority of City fans - it’s time for our Head Coach to go. I say that because all he can offer in his post match press conferences lately is more of the sort of approach which is patently not working.
When Paul Trollope talks about the need for more hard work on the training ground, is he saying that there hasn’t been hard work taking place before now? I don’t believe he is, so what we are getting in reality is an admission that his methods have not worked so far, but what’s needed is more of the same.
You only have to see how the performances of key players from last season have fallen away so badly to conclude that either the word isn’t getting through to the squad or they don’t believe it in the first place. I strongly feel that our players have to share a large portion of the blame for our plight and that the reaction of the squad as a whole to adversity has been a very poor one with only a few of them showing that they have the mental toughness to accept, and even relish, the challenge they find themselves facing.
With no chance of getting the sort of help from outside that Lennie Lawrence was able to rely on in 2004 in the next three months, it’s really hard to see how the situation is going to change unless a way can be found to motivate a group of players that, sadly, includes a few who are virtually giving up once we go a goal behind at the moment.
Therefore, it seems to me that “more of the same” is not going to work and something needs to happen to spark a different response from our players – can Trollope change his ways and start motivating in a way he, apparently, cannot at the moment? It seems very unlikely to me and so someone else should be brought in to try and get the required response.
However, is it really going to be as simple as just changing the manager for us to achieve the required turn around in performance and attitude from the players? I think the following has some relevance when considering what can and should be expected of any City manager under the current circumstances at the club – it also offers a clue to the sort of club Cardiff City has become since our relegation in 2014.
The website “Transfer Markt” lists the transfer dealings of Championship clubs in terms of players signed and sold, while also giving what I would term educated guesses as to the transfer fees received and paid. Some of the figures they quote are open to debate (for example, they say we paid a fee of £1.7 million for Rickie Lambert, whereas I read a piece on the BBC’s website saying we had not paid a fee for him) and, in other cases (e.g. Emyr Huws and Lex Immers) they do not give a figure, because they do not have a source which quotes one, so, their figures should not be seen as completely reliable, but I believe they can be used as a guide as to whether a club is willing to buy their way to promotion, ambitious, but prudent or determined to live within their means while obeying the Football league’s FFP rules.
Here are the profit/loss figures in terms of transfer fees and details of significant player sales with a value of £3 million plus during last season;-
Hull City profit (+) £21.85 million – significant sales James Chester £9.61 million, Robbie Brady £8.42 million, Tom Ince £5.7 million, Nikija Jelavik £3.49 million
Burnley loss (-) £4.25 million – Danny Ings £7.06 million, Keiran Trippier £4.17 million, Jason Shackell £3.57 million
QPR – £5.55 million – Charlie Austin £4.42 million, Alex McCarthy £4.47 million
Middlesbrough – £21 million – Lee Tomlin £3.66 million
Brentford + £12.83 – Andre Gray £10.54 million, Moses Odubajo £4.25 million, James Tarkowski £3.4 million
Ipswich + £9.25 million – Tyronne Mings £9.61 million
Wolves + £4.76 million – Benik Afobe £11.31 million
Derby – £28.95 million – none
Blackburn + £21.74 million – Jordan Rhodes £10,12 million, Rudy Gestede £7.23 million, Tom Carney £3.57 million
Birmingham +£4.57 million – Demarai Gray £4.34 million
Cardiff + £5.02 million – Joe Mason £3.32 million
Charlton + £1.04 million – Joe Gomez £4.17 million
Sheffield Wednesday – £13.68 million – none
Nottingham Forest + £8.08 million – Michail Antonio £8.08 million
Leeds – £1.24 million – Sam Byram £4.08 million
Huddersfield + £8.30 million – Jacob Butterfield £4.68 million
Fulham + 7.25 million – Patrick Roberts £12.75 million
Bolton £+1.25 million – none
Reading + £2.93 million – Michael Hector £4.59 million
Brighton – £11.43 million – none
Rotherham £0 – none
Bristol City – £2.95 million – none
MK Dons £0 – none
Preston – £1.05 million – none
Here are the figures for this season so far and this time I’ve also included the number of home grown players in each club’s squad for their midweek match played a few days ago.
Newcastle +£30.98 million – Moussa Sisoko £29.75 million, Georginio Wijnaldum £23.38 million, Andros Townsend £13.26 million,Daryl Janmaat £7.57 million, Rémy Cabella £6.8 million, Papiss Demba Cissé £4.97 million – home grown players 1
Norwich + £1.45 million – Nathan Redmond £11.45 million - 3
Villa – £33.45 million - Idrissa Gueye £7.23 million, Ciaran Clark £5.1 million, Scott Sinclair £3.49 million – 2
Brighton – £4.46 million – none – 2
Derby + £255 thousand – Jeff Hendrick £10.03 million – 3
Sheffield Wednesday – £8.08 million – none – 1
Ipswich + £1.56 million – none – 4
Cardiff + £3.74 million – David Marshall £3.49 million – 2
Brentford + £425 thousand – none – 1
Birmingham – £2.38 million – none – 4
Preston + £1.22 million – none – 1
QPR + £4.15 million – Matt Phillips £5.53 million, Leroy Fer £4.76 million – 2
Leeds – £1,34 million – Lewis Cook £5.95 million – 5
Wolves – £8.93 million – none – 4
Blackburn + £10.07 million – Grant Hanley £5.61 million, Shane Duffy £4.46 million
Nottingham Forest +£11.43 million – Oliver Burke £12.75 million – 2
Reading +£1.59 million - Aaron Tshibola £5.02 million – 2
Bristol City + £2.74 million – Jonathan Kodjia £10.97 million – 3
Huddersfield – £2.13 million – none – 1
Fulham – £2 million – Ross McCormack £12.16 million, Konstantinos Mitroglou £5.95 million – 2
Rotherham – £.0,94 million – none – none
Wigan – £0.99 million – none – none
Burton – £3o4 thousand – none – 2
Barnsley +£5.02 million – Alfie Mawson £5.02 million – 1
There are stacks of conclusions which could be drawn from all of those figures, but, from a Cardiff City perspective, I would say that they show us to be on a par with sides like Ipswich and Birmingham in terms of our approach to transfer spending. As for producing our own players, two doesn’t look too bad compared to many in the league, but the two sides I just compared us to have double that number and, in Birmingham’s case, they were able to fund their summer spending on the back of the sale of a recent Academy product of theirs.
I think the figures show we are cautious spenders (something we knew already) who had to fund their modest transfer outlay this summer by selling their best player for what looks to be a knockdown fee when you see some of the deals done by other Championship clubs.
Like a lot of clubs within our division who are not going down the Derby, Sheffield Wednesday or Brighton route, City have to be careful with their transfer business, but where they seem to suffer to me is that they have not shown the ability to spot, say, a Tyrone Mings, Andre Gray, Benik Afobe or Alfie Mawson who could have been bought for a modest sum and sold for ten or twenty times that or more.
When you look at how clubs such as Birmingham, Charlton, Leeds, Reading and Forest have benefited from the sale of player(s) that have come through their Academies, it brings home how our failure to develop our own players in recent years (the two home grown players in our last squad made their debuts for us four and five years ago) has cost us the chance to finance the sort of team development that we have been crying out for in the past three seasons.
Possibly worse than that though is a case like the one of Jonathan Kodjia, a player I know we were watching well before he signed for Bristol City for what now looks like an absolute bargain fee of £2 million. My understanding is that we balked at paying such a fee for Kodjia when I would have thought that he would have preferred to sign for a club like us that had recently been playing in the top flight, rather than one that had only just got promoted.
As it is, Bristol City have been able to revamp their side into one that is currently in the top six entirely on the back of the sale of Kodjia and yet still show a decent profit on their transfer dealings this summer while we languish in the bottom three.
It’s a situation which puts me in mind of the yachting events in the recent Olympics where some competitors become becalmed because they fail to identify the best currents and breezes, but the trouble is that we have been passed not just by the Bristol City yacht – we’ve had about half the field sail past us in the last few months because they have gone about their business in a much more efficient, and I would argue enterprising, way than we have.
There was another reason why we managed to avoid the drop in 04/05 and that was the dose of youthful enterprise and enthusiasm that the promotion of teenagers Cameron Jerome and Joe Ledley into the first team squad provided. This was the first season in which we had Academy status and Jerome went from scoring a hat trick for the Under 18s against Charlton a few hours before our loss to Derby, to making his league debut for us in a fortnight – he was very quickly followed by the even younger Ledley.
Now, I accept there’s an argument as to whether we have any potential Jerome’s or Ledley’s in our ranks at the moment, but you have to wonder whether it would make any difference even if we did, because the conveyor belt from youth football to the first team has been stalled at Cardiff for some years now.
When you see that someone like Theo Wharton (who will be twenty two next month) has still not played any meaningful football on a regular basis against senior professional players yet, you have to question the whole Academy and Development team approach which sees youngsters possibly consigned to age group football until they are close to their mid twenties. I can remember seeing a 16 year old Aaron Ramsey scoring a stunning goal against Yeovil reserves at Jenner Park months before he made his record breaking bow as our youngest ever player and that was a proper reserve side he played against full of senior pros not in first team reckoning at that time for all sorts of reasons – our youngsters just don’t get to play in games like that these days.
However, as shown above, this hasn’t stopped a number of our Championship rivals picking teenagers in their first team squad and, in some cases, this policy has led to them getting the sort of spending power they couldn’t have hoped for otherwise, to build a team that is now in the upper reaches of the division.
The facts are that whoever our manager is, Cardiff City is a club that doesn’t produce it’s own first team players any more and they barely ever sign players that they can sell on at a profit. They do not appear to have a coherent scouting network, have a senior off field management structure that utterly fails to convince when it comes to an understanding of footballing matters as they zigzag between extreme approaches in terms of spending and a fanbase that is increasingly disillusioned and apathetic.
We are a club that you just cannot see making a Terry Burton type appointment at the moment and if, more by luck than judgment, we were able to appoint the “right” man to replace Paul Trollope, even an experienced old hand like, say, Neil Warnock would be taking on one of the biggest jobs of his career if he came here – we are getting it wrong on so many levels and have been doing so for at least a couple of years.
*pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/