When football becomes the distraction.

CoymayWell, they had a good innings, but the bluebird socks I’ve referred to occasionally on here over the past year put in their final appearance yesterday. The socks were a Christmas present two years ago and, after not being worn before May 2012, they suddenly became more important after the change to red. Furthermore, we invariably won when I wore them (before yesterday, we had only been beaten once when I had them on – I had forgotten to wear them for all of the matches I’d seen us lose in that time except for Newcastle in October).

So, City’s 3-0 defeat by Southampton at Cardiff City Stadium was completely down to my socks losing their magic powers then was it? Was it f**k – to attribute yesterday’s awful, but somehow predictable, loss to such a frippery is plainly ludicrous. However, in my opinion at least, it is only slightly more ludicrous than putting ninety minutes which would have sobered anyone up who had been carrying on their liquid Christmas celebrations into a second, third or fourth day down to just one single factor.

I’ve seen and heard our owner, Chairman, manager, the whole team, certain members of the team, our opponents and even the Cardiff supporters being singled out as the reason why we were beaten so badly, but while I would say all of them were contributory factors, no one of them was responsible. For me, what we saw against Southampton was the culmination (it least I hope it was the culmination!) of a process which started (in the public domain at least) with the bonus dispute revelations in early October, was brought to the boil by the Moody dismissal during the international break that month, then simmered for almost two months before exploding with the fall out from Malky Mackay’s statement that he would be looking to bring in three new players in January.

Since then, all attempts to fight the fire have merely had the effect of pouring petrol on it – indeed, you get the feeling at times that some have been lighting the matches and starting new fires in the last few days! The football match which took place at Anfield on Saturday felt like a distraction to me and I suppose that could be tolerated to some extent because we were never going to get anything out of that game anyway. However, it was important that minds at all levels at the club, and amongst it’s support, should refocus on the two vitally important matches at Cardiff City Stadium (the venue where our fate this season will almost certainly be decided) this week.

Well, that manifestly failed to happen in the first of those two matches for all sorts of reasons. However, having already mentioned about football becoming a distraction and with me having barely mentioned the football in my piece on the Liverpool match, I think I should really say something about what happened out on the pitch yesterday at this stage.

First thing is, I reckon that Southampton looked better than us from the first whistle, they passed it far better than we did and I thought captain Adam Lallana showed exactly why he could well be a prominent figure in Roy Hodgson’s team for Brazil in six months time – even when they are playing a huge part in your side’s destruction, it’s still possible to appreciate a quality footballer and I must admit I enjoyed Lallana’s display so much that I almost forgot myself and started applauding when he was withdrawn with a few minutes left!

However, to claim Southampton were the best side to have played here this season like someone did on a City messageboard last night is going some way over the top in my book. They are a side who have impressed me this season and I didn’t expect their recent poor run to stretch much further, but we didn’t half make them look good and the truth for me was that they didn’t have to play that well to record their comfortable victory. Also, would Lallana have been as influential if Gary Medel had been playing – now, I think our Chilean international has been some way beneath his best in our last two away games, but he has tended to be a very influential player at home and, like with so many other good players, you only get to fully appreciate their value to a side when they aren’t in it.

It also should be said that things may have turned out differently if we had taken a glorious chance after around ten minutes when the score was 0-0. When I saw it was Peter Whittingham moving on to Craig Noone’s fine cross, I thought this is a goal in the split second before he made contact with the ball. The cross was hit hard and it wasn’t the easiest ball to stay in control of, but if anyone in the Cardiff team had the technique to deal with it, it was Whittingham – instead, he made a right mess of it, in fact I’m still not sure what he was trying to do with the chance.

Jay Rodriguez is in glorious isolation as he puts Southampton one up - all three goals saw some awful Cardiff defending.*

Jay Rodriguez is in glorious isolation as he puts Southampton one up – all three goals saw some awful Cardiff defending.*

It was ironic that the only on goal effort we had after that was a deflected effort by Andrew Taylor which would have gone wide without the touch off Saints centre back Jose Fonte. I say ironic because so many of our problems in our last two matches have stemmed from a left side of the pitch which has been something of a disaster area. I thought Taylor had a good first three months of the season, but he has struggled badly in recent weeks and his cause has not been helped by having Whittingham in front of him because the player who has spent the majority of his six years at Cardiff playing in the left midfield position just doesn’t have the pace to play there at this level in my opinion – if Whittingham is to be in the starting eleven, it has to be in central midfield.

I could go on about others who were poor (e.g. Odemwingie, Theophile-Catharine, Caulker, Turner etc, etc.), but, to defend the players to some extent, shouldn’t it be expected that their level of performance would deteriorate given the complete and utter shambles of the last ten days (not to mention the three months or so since the row over their bonuses)? Back in August when the pundits were giving their opinions as to how the table would look at the end of the season, many of them had us to finish around where we are now, with the ones who didn’t tipping us for relegation. The inference is clear, we were one of the weakest squads in the league and, if this is true (I believe it is), then that squad did not need any off field distractions if they were to prove those predicting relegation wrong.

Instead of that, we have had most of our season so far played against a backdrop of blindingly obvious tensions between manager and owner – not to mention a controversial sacking from and an idiotic appointment in what is a very important position in most modern football clubs. As mentioned before, football has become the distraction, not the off field disputes and I have to say that, although not a major reason for yesterday’s embarrassment, I didn’t think City fans did themselves too many favours in that regard. Having been so impressive and effective with their off the cuff demonstration of support for our manager on Saturday, there was five days to think about what to do on Boxing Day and, to be honest, I’m still not clear what yesterday’s pre-match protest was supposed to be about – inside the ground, I can understand the desire many felt to reiterate their support for the manager and dislike of the owner, but I thought the balance between songs supporting the team and ones about the Mackay/Tan situation was wrong with too much of the latter and not enough of the former.

Truth be told though, what the supporters get up to is fairly incidental stuff compared to the black comedy we are being forced to endure. Since Sunday, we have heard from two of the three main characters in this comedy and what they had to say has made this City fan’s sense of despair and helplessness increase greatly. Chairman Mehmet Dalman’s statement on Sunday that Malky Mackay would remain in charge for “the foreseeable future” felt like good news for a minute, maybe two, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to be something that did not solve the problem, but only added to it – Mr Dalman also expressed the hope that, rather than protest, supporters would urge the two main combatants in the civil war, which will inevitably end in our relegation if it continues, to talk to each other.

Although Mr Dalman could perhaps be accused of sounding somewhat naive in that statement given the depths that the Tan/Mackay relationship appears to have sank to, it was mostly pretty reasonable stuff from our Chairman. However, a bit about I and the board being “handed the responsibility of going out and getting the manager we think is best to take the club forward.” would have left any manager determined to fight his corner and stay to finish the job at Cardiff under no illusions about the nature of his position.

I think I’ve made it pretty clear on here as to where my sympathies lie in the dispute between owner and manager, but, sadly, Malky Mackay’s public comments since he was given his “reprieve” on Sunday have not really struck the conciliatory note you would have expected from someone who sees Cardiff City as the club he wants to be with for the foreseeable future. For a start, saying that he was willing to attend meetings on Monday and Tuesday, but had been rebuffed by Vincent Tan is hardly likely to result in the spirit of reconciliation that Mr Dalman was eager to foster, while saying that supporters had the right to demonstrate at yesterday’s match if they wanted to is hardly putting himself onside with the man he sees as his ally in the Boardroom either.

I should say here that I’ve not seen or heard the full news conference he gave on Monday, so maybe I’m doing him a disservice here, but it seems to me that Malky has taken his eye off the ball in recent days – he has become another of the growing number for whom  the football has become a distraction. It’s been said by some who are less sad about the prospect of a change of manager than others, that Malky is trying to engineer his own sacking and, if I’m being honest, some of his recent comments do sound like that.

At least Craig Noone started the game pretty well before being brought down by the ineptitude shown by many of his colleagues on the day - his fine early cross should have provided us with a goal,*

At least Craig Noone started the game pretty well before being brought down by the ineptitude shown by many of his colleagues on the day – his fine early cross should have provided us with a goal,*

The third party in the black comedy I refered to earlier has kept a low profile and, if Saturday was a victory in a battle in the civil war for Mackay, then yesterday was a battle won by Tan simply by keeping quiet. In different, less turbulent, times that may go down as a lesson learned by Vincent Tan, but, if what is in the best interests of the club he owns and the team he has helped put together is what motivates him, then it’s gone past the stage where he can afford to play a waiting game and let his manager’s position become untenable because of poor results.

You would like to think that the two main protagonists can see there is a bigger picture here – Vincent Tan’s plans for Cardiff City (I still find it very hard to know what they are) will almost certainly come to nothing if they are relegated this season and home matches against an out of form Southampton and the side who have been bottom of the league for most of the season represented opportunities which, if taken, would have made such an outcome unlikely. Instead, one of them has been blown in a manner which makes taking the second one look very unlikely at the moment because Cardiff City has become a club where football is a distraction.

Now, the real causes of the huge off field problems which are leading to our season imploding are not known and there has to be a chance that they never will be, but I see the main reason as to why football has become a distraction at Cardiff City this Christmas as being the disastrous way Vincent Tan has handled the fall out from the Moody/bonus disputes. Nothing would please me more than Malky Mackay proving himself to be the good manager I believe him to be by him being given the chance to work in a relatively stress free environment and steering us to safety, but I honestly cannot see this happening. Given how bad things have become, the best option would have been to bite the bullet and sack Mackay last weekend because the current situation is doing no one any good – I’ve no great faith in the people at the top at the club being able to pick the right man to keep us up or that such a man would want to work at the circus currently in residence at Leckwith, but football clubs should be about football first and foremost and Cardiff City isn’t at the moment.

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

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3 Responses to When football becomes the distraction.

  1. Dai Woosnam says:

    A thoughtful piece as usual Paul.
    What can I add to it? Not a lot: you have covered all aspects in your all-encompassing summing up of things.
    I would say this though: that although I have always loved Malky’s presence after that dreadful DJ, I have started to move some way from MM’s side, toward Vincent Tan’s side in all this.
    Tan essentially knows that MM cannot really hack it as a coach. MM’s leadership qualities are immense, and leadership qualities alone, can be very effective at Championship level (q.v. last season). Drilling a team to crowd the midfield and park the bus can even win you the title at that level.
    But in the Premiership, a manager needs to be able to coach players in football TACTICS.
    Look how Southampton players ran into spaces and just KNEW the ball would find them. That was the result of hard work on the training field. And they clearly have a coach who has tactical NOUS.
    Malky has virtually none.
    But what is now becoming disturbingly apparent is this: what MM lacks on the coaching front, he more than makes up for when it comes to playing Political Poker.
    He has so patently got the whole of the media and his LMA buddies to back him against Tan. I still want to know who leaked that original email. A manager with the club at heart does not do his dirty washing in public. So I hope that MM is innocent of the leaking.
    The real truth is this: all future managers should be given a one year rolling contract.
    Had Cardiff had such a policy in the past decade or two, Lennie Lawrence could – as he should – have been shown the door immediately after Andy Campbell scored that goal against QPR. We all knew AT THE TIME that he did not have it in him for a division higher.
    Similarly, Dave Jones should have gone immediately after the Cup Final, which is what I thought best at the time, as I knew that was DJ’s high water mark.
    And MM should have gone immediately after the tour of the city centre and the concert down in Roald Dahl Plass. As I suggested to you back then. I told you that “run till you drop and park the bus” would not work at Premiership level.
    As for the game yesterday: Caulker proved again that he is nowhere near as good a centre back as Hudson. And I am hardly a paid-up-member of the Mark Hudson fan club. (!!)
    Managers – indeed players themselves – not realising players’ proper positions, has been something I have long believed. I can quote you at least a dozen Cardiff players who were always square pegs in round holes.
    Derek Showers never struck me as a centre forward (despite that game against the Villa!) but would have made a great right back.
    Joe Dwyer for years was wasted in defence and midfield. He had it in him to be Cardiff’s best centre forward since Trevor Ford.
    Billy Davies at Nottingham Forest is just realising that Greg Halford is really a centre forward.
    Similarly Malky (and the player himself) must realise that Steven Caulker is NOT a central defender. Get him into midfield NOW.
    One other thing: I had to laugh at Neil Kinnock on TalkSport singing the virtues of MM.
    This is the same Neil Kinnock who I recall praising to the skies those two talented but fibre-lacking characters, Jay Bothroyd and Michael Chopra, and oozing almost unctuous praise on the egregious Dave Jones.
    If I was MM and had listened to Neil come to his support in that radio interview, I would beware the Ides of March if I were him.

    Really enjoying your book Paul. A generous soul sent it me as a Christmas present. A really good read.

  2. Dai Woosnam says:

    I write this just 8 hours after writing my previous posting and within minutes of Vincent Tan releasing his explosive statement following MM’s sacking.
    I said in my earlier post “A manager with the club at heart does not do his dirty washing in public.”.
    And now within a matter of a few hours of that, Vincent Tan talks about washing dirty linen in public, and CRUCIALLY says that he did not release the details of the email.
    I think this is absolute DYNAMITE.
    If the leak can be traced to Malky Mackay PLC, it will seriously damage his image as a man of integrity. He will be shown to have put personal self-aggrandisement before the interests of the club.
    For Malky’s sake I hope he is found to be innocent.
    But I have to say, the more I listen to Vincent Tan, the more I am coming round to his point of view.
    I have never forgotten Malky’s appearance with Michael Laudrup on MotD in the Spring. They were both asked outright if they would take the Everton job if offered.
    Laudrup, with his endearing clarity, immediately knocked the idea on the head. But Malky was less persuasive in his reply.
    Indeed, I wrote at the time that it was clear from his body language that he would jump at the chance to be the rival King of the Mersey to Brendan.
    And all these City fans who chanted “Don’t Sack Malky MacKay!” at Anfield would probably have not seen him for dust had Kenwright made the offer.
    Remember that what made most Watford fans sore was not that Malky should jump ship and go to Cardiff, but that he never said goodbye to them when he left.
    Something he put right only when City played at Vicarage Road.
    And now Mr Tan, give your new manager just a 12 month contract with prospects of big bonuses. And make that the club policy for the future.

  3. Dai Woosnam says:

    And now a third comment from me that covers ground that I have addresses under my Facebook moniker on Wales Online.

    Back to Vincent Tan accusing MM of leaking the email and washing the club’s dirty linen in public.
    Now, as I said, this is dynamite!
    Previously it was thought that Tan had been responsible.
    And thus the media and all his LMA chums were talking of Malky’s “great dignity” in all this!
    But if as Tan suggests, the smoking gun can be linked back to Malky … well, that puts a whole different perspective on things.
    Suddenly, one sees the whole thing as a cynical exercise in improving the stock price of Malky PLC. And if proven, it will make MM damaged goods for the rest of his career.
    Integrity in a manager is like virginity in a woman: once lost it is never regained.
    I hope for Malky’s sake that he is innocent of the leaking. But if it comes out that MM’s agent has leaked it, that will not let MM off the hook, because he will definitely have run it past Malky first.
    MacKay’s honour is at stake here. If innocent he MUST sue Mr Tan for libel over the leak accusation.

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