Last year my preview piece for the upcoming season in the Boardroom was, mercifully, short, while the one I did about what the coming nine months would hold for our newly appointed manager Malky Mackay went on for absolutely ages! Well, having done the opposite this year as the off the field preview I did yesterday clocked up something like 1,600 words, my initial thought when sitting here to start this piece was to complete the job by typing a couple of paragraphs which said that our manager will be sacked if we are not right up there in the top three or four come October or November.
After all, having given our manager something like £5 million to spend on transfer fees alone (so far only a few hundred thousand of that has been recouped in outgoing transfer fees), Vincent Tan and the members of Cardiff City’s Board will be expecting substantive progress from last year’s encouraging but ultimately disappointing first season at the helm for Malky Mackay. Besides that impressive transfer budget, Mackay has also been given the resources to bring Craig Bellamy here and you have to think that the wages for the likes of Mutch, Helguson, Kim Bo-Kyung, Lewis and Velikonja could well be more than the combined salaries of the players who have left the club this summer. Yes, Malky Mackay has been backed to an extent that probably no other Cardiff manager has in the past and, whatever way the millions Vincent Tan believes we will make from his re-branding are meant to come about, it seems certain that we will have to be in the Premiership to do so. Consequently, if the signs are that Malky Mackay isn’t going to be able to deliver top flight football, you fear for his survival chances.
However, a couple of things need to be borne in mind here. First, it’s obvious that the Board have confidence in Malky – the contract extension he signed just before the League Cup Final is proof of that. The second point is that, although I realise that a manager’s reputation can be ruined by just a couple of defeats these days, Malky Mackay is recognised by many in the game as one of Football managements bright young things – any straw poll taken now of experienced and successful current managers would surely produce a majority who believed Cardiff had the right man in charge.
I’m among what I believe to be a large majority of supporters who believe Malky Mackay did a very good job last season. True, I think he was lucky to inherit a fanbase at his new club which did not need much pleasing after Dave Jones sometimes gave the impression he would rather be anywhere else but at Cardiff during his final year with the club. Furthermore, by building a squad reliant to a large degree on the honest virtues of hard work and selflessness, he was providing the very qualities that fans wanted after years where we had too many big ego’s who, sometimes, could be accused of putting the needs of the team second, but I think it’s fair to say that Malky Mackay has put the foundations in place which give him the opportunity of making a significant progression in his second season.
For me, the fundamental challenge facing Malky Mackay at the end of last season was how he could get more “game changers” into our team without damaging the hard working, team comes first philosophy which had taken us so far, but not far enough, in 2011/12. Although it’s wrong to make sweeping generalisations, the flair and innate talent which allows an individual to sometimes make the decisive difference in a team environment, often comes with character defects which mitigate against the team objective (just look at the current situation with the England cricket team for proof of that).
To use a a historical analogy, I’d say what Malky Mackay has been looking for are Cavaliers with a Roundhead work ethic. Time will tell if he has been successful or not, but I would say that the signs are promising – Craig Bellamy is no stranger to controversy of course, but I’ve always thought that much of this stems from a frustration at colleagues who are not prepared to put as much in as he is – a personal viewpoint is that Bellamy was never totally at ease with some of our “superstars” in 10/11 and will feel more at home with the 11/12 attitude if it can be replicated this time around. Of the other signings, Kim Bo-Kyung certainly looked like a team player, with no little natural ability, in the matches I saw him play in the Olympics and the fact that our manager wanted to sign two players in Mutch and Helguson who he had worked with before says that he is convinced they’ll fit into the “one for all, all for one” attitude he instilled last season.
As for how Malky will go about things tactically, I think he will stick to the philosophy that he outlined in his first press conference after his appointment at Cardiff in which he, essentially, said his sides would play in a way designed to give every opponent we came up against the maximum amount of problems. With that in mind, it’s interesting to see that many view last season’s team as a long ball outfit whereas for me, it was hard to characterise us as one thing or another. There were certainly times when we went from back to front very quickly (especially when we were chasing the game and had switched, as we invariably did, from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2 for the last twenty to thirty minutes of the game), but I’d also say that I saw much more last season of David Marshall playing short balls to defenders to try and build attacks from the back than I ever did under Dave Jones.
I’ve already mentioned that we were more flexible tactically during matches than many were prepared to give us credit for and I’d like to think that we now have a few players better equipped to hug the touchlines than we did – but only if that’s the way it is believed we can enjoy the greatest success. Although I’d always prefer my team to play more like Barcelona than Wimbledon, I think you can become stuck in a tactical straight jacket if you stick slavishly to one way of playing rather than keep the opposition guessing as to what approach you’ll use.
To sum up, I think Malky Mackay will be under more pressure than virtually all of his predecessors as Cardiff manager, and the large majority of his counterparts in the Championship, this season. However, there’s an additional reason why I want City to succeed over the next nine months – it would mean that a manager whose enthusiasm, good humour, attention to detail, openness and, yes, charisma makes me like him as a person, would still be in his job – Malky Mackay deserves that based on his first fourteen months at Cardiff.