One of the things I am becoming increasingly aware of as the months go by on here is that, for some of our opponents at least, you run out of games you want to recall against upcoming opponents pretty quickly – we’ve not played Forest too often in the last forty odd years and I’ve already done the matches that I consider to be memorable against them!
Therefore, I thought I’d do something different this morning and ask the question what sort of manager do we have at Cardiff City? By that, I don’t mean Dave Jones personality because, publicly at least, I think that is fairly easy to judge him, but what about his footballing philosophy – what does he look for in a player, how does he want the game to be played and how does he send the City team out to play every week. For me, the best managers look at the players they have inherited when they first come to a club and use a system which plays to their strengths, but, over time they will be build a team that reflects their outlook more. Having been at Cardiff for nearly six years, Dave Jones is, undoubtedly, in that position now with City, so what is the “Dave Jones way” – I’m not sure there’ll be too much agreement amongst supporters who answer that question!
Here’s my take on what sort of players he prefers anyway and I’ll follow that up with my take on what the Dave Jones approach to playing football is;
Goalkeepers – if there were more tall, imposing, leader type goalkeepers around who would regularly leave their goal line to deal with crosses then, perhaps, Dave Jones would favour them, but, as it is, he seems happy enough to have relatively short shot stoppers between the sticks in his City teams.
Full backs – you don’t tend to see our full backs bombing up and down the touchlines a la Cafu and Dani Alves (or, more realistically, like Tyronne Mears did for Burnley on Tuesday) – he also seems happy to have right footers playing at left back, but not the other way around. First and foremost, Dave Jones wants his full backs to defend and I would argue that his handling of two young players who could have offered a bit more than that (Chris Gunter and Adam Matthews) shows that he believes that attacking is something that the players he uses in more advanced positions should do.
Centrebacks – with the exception of Darcy Blake last season, all of the players Dave Jones has used in this position have been big, stopper type centre halves. Once again, the philosophy seems to be defenders are there to defend, but, just as at full back, does this approach sometimes put us into a position where we lack defenders with the passing ability to develop play from the back in the manner that a side near the top of the Championship would be expected to?
Central midfield – Dave Jones has tended to like to have a play maker in this area alongside a box to box type midfielder. The pairing of Ledley and Rae were very successful, in terms of results at least, in 2008/09, but they were hardly typical of Cardiff teams under Dave Jones – what Dave Jones doesn’t seem to want in this position is the “destroyer” type which so many of our fans clamour for and, when you consider that, in the modern game, such a player would probably spend about half of the season missing through suspension, I agree with him!
Wide midfield – almost seems to prefer having right footers on the left and vice versa, this means that the players concerned come in field on to their stronger foot and with the likes of Paul Parry and Peter Whittingham, this has meant more goals for the player concerned, but it can also lead to a pretty narrow and cluttered midfield area. Chris Burke is the only player who I would class as a genuine winger that we have had under Dave Jones. Burke is the only player in these positions in the Dave Jones era who instinctively looks to beat full backs on the outside – this means that our strikers get very few crosses knocked back from the bye line to feed off.
Strikers – Dave Jones very much favours a big man/little man strike partnership. The only exception to this rule that I can recall are Alan Lee/Michael Ricketts and Cameron Jerome in 05/06 (when Dave Jones was trying to get the best out of what he had inherited) and the Paul Parry/Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink pairing of 07/08 but, in this case, although the players were of a similar height, the increasingly immobile Hasselbaink became the target man and Parry the quick runner who played off him.
So, much for what he prefers in his players, how about our manager’s use of those players. Firstly, it has become a bit of a standing joke about Dave Jones being a 4-4- f*cking 2 man, but I have heard him say that his sides play to now set formula as attacking players can pop up in different areas from where they should if we were playing a rigid 4-4-2. I would agree with our manager there, in my opinion we nearly always play 4-4-2, but a fluid version of the formation. Indeed, I would say that it tends to be an adventurous system that we start games with – this is especially true this season when we go out with teams that do not have a natural sitting midfield player.
Increasingly, Dave Jones has favoured attacking midfield quartets as he leaves his four defenders to concentrate on what he believes they are best at. I would say that his attitude is always to score the first goal in a game by attacking the opposition whether it be at home or away – the number of early goals we have scored this season backs this view up and, going back a but further, I would say that we, bravely, went out and attacked Middlesbrough and Portsmouth in 2008.
As to how we get that first goal, well it may be that the lack of natural passers in defensive areas means that we have to play in a more direct manner, but I would say that we have tended in recent years to look to get the ball up to the big man quickly and then look to play our passing football from there. When your big target man is someone with feet as good as Jay Bothroyd’s are then he is the ideal man for the talented players we have in midfield to play off but a Michael Chopra who his on his game also gives an option for the longer ball with his clever movement
However, if we get in front, I believe we then see Dave Jones’ more cautious side often taking over as that attacking midfield becomes a rigid line of four with the players within it having to perform roles which do not come naturally to some of them (they are, almost always helped out as well with one of our strikers dropping deeper). Tuesday’s game and the recent one at Norwich are obvious examples of this where we were content to let the opposition have the ball in front of us, but we also almost allowed Scunthorpe back into the game as well after scoring as we sat back thinking the job was done. I believe it is instructive that there have been relatively few games under Dave Jones where we have been two or more goals in front at half time and, when it has happened, the second halves have turned into holding operations- it appears to me that our manager belongs in the “a one goal win is enough” school and, overall, whatever his critics might say, his record at Cardiff suggests his approach is working.