Let’s not beat around the bush, it has been a disastrous foray into the Premier League for Cardiff City. A season beset with controversy and off-field problems is finally coming to a close and the end can’t come soon enough for some long-suffering supporters. At the end of March, Cardiff fought back from 2-0 down to salvage a 3-3 draw at West Brom, a result and a performance which temporarily re-lit the fires of optimism. Only for them to be mercilessly extinguished a week later by way of a 0-3 home drubbing by relegation rivals Crystal Palace, a side who until that point had only scored six away goals all season. A narrow, and very fortunate win at Southampton kept Cardiff in the mix a while longer, but more points were dropped in a home draw with Stoke. Even then, largely due to other sides being even more inconsistent than them, they still had a chance of staying up. The end game was simple; win at Sunderland. They lost 0-4, and were finally relegated after a listless 0-3 defeat at Newcastle, slipping back down to the Championship with barely a whimper.
Since Ole Gunnar Solksjaer was officially handed the manager’s job on January 2nd, City have won only three Premier League games and lost eleven. The most embarrassing of these defeats arguably being a 0-4 home drubbing by Hull and a 3-0 massacre at Swansea. City also managed to bomb out of the League Cup after being outplayed on their own patch by Championship side Wigan Athletic. These kinds of numbers do not lie. Something is drastically wrong. When OGS arrived at the club most fans, though upset at the senseless dismissal of Malky Mackay, were upbeat about the club’s future. Hovering just outside the relegation zone, the club were looking reasonably solid and tough to break down. OK, most of their goals came on the counter attack, or as products of set pieces, but they all count. Then, something changed. Though OGS promised more creative and attacking football, his constant tinkering with team selection and formations mystified even the staunchest supporters, and robbed the team of all fluency and cohesion. Any confidence drained away, and they went into freefall.
Take those two must-win games at Sunderland and Newcastle, two clubs in turmoil. When we played them Sunderland were bottom of the league, and Newcastle had lost six on the bounce. Cardiff made both of them look like Real Madrid. OGS played what looked like a defensive 4-5-1 formation with a solitary striker (usually Fraizer Campbell) who was often isolated and hopelessly outnumbered by defenders. The back four would hit a long ball toward him, and even if he could get a touch the midfield were too far away to offer any support. If I, and many other supporters, could see what we were doing wrong, why couldn’t OGS? In his infinite wisdom, one of the first things he did upon arrival was swap Peter Odemwingie with Kenwyne Jones, who has never been the most prolific of strikers. Jones has been disappointing to say the least, scoring a just one rather fortuitous goal on his debut. Odemwingie, on the other hand, has been playing out of his skin for Mark Hughes at Stoke.
OGS also brought in free agent Juan Cala, who conceded a penalty and got himself sent off at Sunderland, and Manchester United Duo Fabio and Zaha, the latter on loan (thank God). Neither of those have exactly set the world alight. Under Mackay the team was midfield-heavy, a problem OGS addressed by buying three more midfielders; Jo Inge Berget, Magnus Wolff Eikrem and Mats Moller Daehli, for combined fees of around £5 million. Out of the Norwegian trio, only 19-year old Daehli looks any good. Eikrem seems average at best, and in his few appearances to date, Berget has looked way out of his depth. Is it just a coincidence that each of the three players share the same agent as OGS, I wonder? The manager has said they were coming to the end of their contracts so were good investments. But with neither player able to get near a squad that was relegated, who on earth would want to buy them?
Without doubt, the best Cardiff City player this season has been goalkeeper David Marshall, which tells its own story. The club would do well to keep him for next season, along with other saleable assets like Steven Caulker and Gary Medel. It’s highly unlikely we’ll be able to hold on to them all.
In the aftermath of the Palace defeat, OGS used the press to accuse certain unnamed players of defying tactical instruction and lacking loyalty. This was particularly disappointing, as it reeked of someone ducking the blame. Most managers worth their salt take the blame for a team’s performance. After all, they are the ones getting paid a lot of money to decide the team line-ups, formations and tactics. It was also suggested that team news was leaked to former Head of Recruitment Iain Moody, now performing a similar role at Palace. Indeed, a staff member was sacked by Cardiff following an internal inquest. True or not, this kind of thing just adds to the media circus currently surrounding the club. How can the players and management possibly concentrate on the job at hand when all this is being played out in public? This is not an isolated incident. Cardiff City have rarely been out of the news all season. There was always something to debate, and not much of it very positive.
In recent pole in the Welsh media, the vast majority of fans laid the blame for this season of discontent at the feet of owner Vincent Tan, rather than OGS, Malky Mackay or even the players. Certainly, Tan is responsible for the bulk of the off-field distractions. Without doubt, the single most damaging thing he has done since assuming control of the club is to change the colour of the shirts from blue to red. I was one of the silent majority who saw the colour change as a necessary step to secure the promised investment. Red or blue, it’s still Cardiff City to me. I’m sick of hearing about it. But what the colour change did was cause unrest amongst the fans. It’s not unusual to see the red and blue factions argue and even fight amongst themselves. That in itself is nothing new to any long-term Cardiff supporter, our fans have never been what you would call united. But the endless off-field shenanigans this season and the resultant media attention have splintered and divided the fan base like nothing else before.
So, what went wrong?
The short answer to that question is ‘everything.’
My book, From the Ashes: The REAL Story of Cardiff City FC, is available now: