Category Archives: football

FM17 – First Play

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The wait is over. Nope, not the new season of the Walking Dead (shocking premier, by the way) I’m talking about the latest edition of the greatest manager sim in the world. Before we go any further, let’s address the big hulking elephant in the room. By their definition, a lot of these kinds of games get jaded and boring after a while. Sega games, the developers of Football Manager, put a great onus on keeping things as realistic as possible, and also take great delight in throwing the odd curve ball. The latest version of the game is probably the first computer game in the world to incorporate Brexit. Three possible scenarios are built into the gameplay involving varying levels of fuckery, and you have no option but to wait and accept your fate. You voted for it, you got it. The knowledge that the effects of Brexit loom large influence your decision-making right from the start. I was wary of being caught in a position somewhere down the line where half my squad would be unable to gain work permits, so immediately began focusing my efforts on scouting British, and in particular, Welsh players, as my chosen team was Cardiff City. I don’t know why because in all my years of playing this game I’ve never achieved anything with them, except the odd promotion. This is coming from a man who spent his university years making Carlisle United the undisputed kings of Europe. Finding good players within such a limited scope is a challenge. I kept having flashbacks to the time when City qualified for the Cup Winners Cup every year (courtesy of winning the Welsh Cup) then got royally spanked by the European elite because, on top of being a lower-division team, they were only permitted to play a handful of non-Welsh players.

A couple of new features are evident immediately: You are able to use a photo of yourself to generate your manager likeness (I look awful) and you are given a handy breakdown of your team’s strengths and weaknesses right off the bat. Other new additions include a medical department overhauled to include sports scientists, a revised contract system, and tweet displays helping you gauge how supporters feel about potential new signings and other developments. Innovative stuff. The gameplay, constantly improving, is smooth and hitch free. You might want to change to a darker skin, though. The light one can be hard on the eyes.

So, on to team-building. One of the most overlooked aspects of the game is the coaching and training set-up. I invariably have to fire at least one coach to make way for improvements, and the same goes for the scouts. My tip is to bring in specialist coaches for key areas (defence, attack, tactics) and draft in some scouts from different countries. They bring their knowledge with them.

The Cardiff squad circa 2016/17 is decidedly average. And with barely any room to manoeuvre in the wage budget and just £1.2m in the kitty, it’s going to be tough, especially with a glaring weakness between the sticks which needs to be addressed. £650k got me Adam Smith from Northampton Town. Admittedly not the biggest name, but an improvement on my existing goalkeeping options and plenty of potential and sell-on value. I also managed to draft in centre-back Yohan Tavares and defensive midfielder Diego Poyet on free transfers. That’s almost £6m worth of talent. Incidentally, a few other very good Championship-level players knocking around on frees at the start of the game are Jordan Spence (CB) Ivan Bandalovski (RB), Wiljan Pluim (CM), Roland Lamah (AM), Federico Macheda (ST) and Ivan Bolado (ST).

To raise some capital and make room in the squad I sold Bruno Manga to Sassuolo for £4m. That was a gamble, Manga was one of my better players, but he was on massive wages and in the last year of his contract so the transfer made financial sense. Besides, he wasn’t THAT good and Tavares is a more than adequate replacement. I also shipped-out squad players Kadeem Harris and Lee Peltier for a combined £600k, sent loanee Ben Amos back to Bolton, and loaned out a bunch of youngsters. With some money in the bank I was able to splash out on a marquee signing. Enter Raphael Holzhauser. What do you mean ‘who?’ He’s a 23-year old central midfielder available for about £1.7m from Austria Vienna. There are cheaper options around in his position and my squad was already reasonably strong in that area with Joe Ralls, Emyr Hughes, and Aron Gunnarsson, but Holzhauser’s passing and dead ball ability made him an attractive option.

I started with a 4-4-1-1 formation, and had an undefeated pre-season leading into the Championship fixtures. I scraped a win at Birmingham in the first game then knocked Newport County out of the EFL Cup, but scoring goals was proving a problem. I only managed two in the first five games, not enough for a board who demanded ‘attacking football.’ After that I switched to a 4-2-3-1 with two deep holding midfielders, and promptly lost 6-2 at Norwich. Thrashed Preston 4-1 in the next game, though, and at least the games were less turgid. Then, disaster struck. Rickie Lambert, my talismanic top scorer with eight goals in ten games, broke his foot. I have a lot of strikers on my books. Problem is, none of them are any good. Marouane Chamakh is decent, but he threw his toys out when I refused to play him every game so I banished him to the reserves where he ran out his contract which, luckily, expired in January. That left me with limited options, and results suffered accordingly. I did manage to pick up enough points to be in 6th place mid-way through the season, which was better than expected.

I spent a bit of time scouting Europe for the answer to my goalscoring problems, and the January transfer window gave me an opportunity to put my plans into action. In came Danish international striker Marcus Pedersen and Hungarian winger Lucacs Bole for a combined £600k. Pretty good business, even if I do say so myself. I also picked up Marius Lundemo on a free as a replacement for Lex Immers who I sold to PAOK for £1.1m. He just wasn’t cutting it and at 31 his value was only going to depreciate. Rickie Lambert was also back from injury so I was optimistic of pushing for a play-off place. However, it wasn’t to be, and my team capitulated in the last third of the season, winning only one game out of the last 12, finishing in 13th position with 60 points. My top scorer was Anthony Pilkington, a midfielder, with 12, and perhaps the only positive was Emyr Hughes winning Championship Goal of the Season. Apart from that, the biggest shock of the season was Sam Allardyce finding gainful employment again at Everton.

On that showing, I was a bit surprised to be offered a new contract, with the modest proviso of finishing in the top half of the table. The board also handed me an £8 million transfer kitty, which was nice of them. The main issue at Cardiff was the fact that there were too many average players on the books. My weekly wage bill was well in excess of £440k a week, so the first thing I had to do was trim the squad with the aim of sacrificing quantity for quality. Out went Joe Bennett, Tom Adeyami, Stuart O’Keefe, Raphael Holzauser, Deli Oshilaja, Idriss Saidi and nine youth/U23 players. My biggest signing was Welsh international left-back Paul Dummett from Newcastle for £2.7 million, and young centre-back Alfie Mawson, who was a steel at £1 million from Swansea, the signing given extra bite as I would be playing the Jacks in the Championship following their relegation from the Premier League (yay!). My only other cash signing was Romanian striker Denis Alibec (600k for a £3.5 million player), while midfielders Jota (valued at over £9 million) and Yasir Kasim (2.6m) came in on frees to fill out the squad.

I cruised through pre-season, then got decent results in my first few fixtures, replicating the achievements of the previous season. But then, the moment the transfer window closed, came the first murmurings of dissent. The team started complaining about ‘broken promises,’ specifically, that I hadn’t strengthened the team. But I had! Okay, it was missing Gareth Bale or Lionel Messi, but the squad I built had 13 full internationals, for fuck’s sake. AND Peter Whittingham and Sean Morrison. The grumblers didn’t seem to realize that if I’d signed more players, their own places in the team would come under threat. Some people just don’t think. With the dressing room in disarray, straight defeats to Hull, Wolves, Villa and Leeds followed, and before I knew it I was in the relegation zone. I’m still in a job, for now. But only because I’ve been afraid to play any more games for the past two days. I know I’m probably getting sacked in the morning. I won’t even keep my job long enough to experience the Brexit shenanigans. Sigh.

Nobody said being a football manager is easy.

Football Manager 17 is out November 4.

Thanks to Sega Games for the sneak preview.


Football Manager 15

Football-Manager-2015

I’ve been playing Football Manager on Windows for about 12 years. Not constantly, obviously. I take breaks for sleeping, eating, and maintaining a career. My obsession might go some way to explaining why I have spent the majority of those 12 years as a single man. Although I’m never really alone, because I have my team. I’m not the only one who thinks like this. Rumour has it that no other game has been named more during divorce proceedings. Every year I eagerly await the new version of the game, and it absolutely kills me that it doesn’t come out until November. It’s been OK the past few seasons because I’ve been able to get my hands on beta versions, which means I can start playing a few weeks early. Bugs and all.

Probably the most important thing you have to do in FM15 is expand your scouting network. Doing so means more players show up in your searches. Whatever club you choose, my advice is to get hold of the scouts Patrik Anderson and Ronnie Rosenthal. Both are available on low wages, will go almost anywhere, and bring a wealth of international knowledge.

When I first started this year’s version I played two games in the Championship with Cardiff City, and got sacked both times. Once during the January transfer window when I was mid-table, and again after seven games of my second season after I had failed to win promotion. Vincent Tan is one intolerant bastard. After that, I decided I needed a different challenge and started a game with Bristol Rovers of the Vanarama Conference, logic being that having just been relegated from the Football League they should have a decent enough squad for the division. Plus, I’ve always liked pirates.

It’s an entirely different game over at the Memorial Stadium. The bookies make you 1-10 outsiders to win the league, but you have a core of decent players. Neil Trotman and Tom Parkes make a good centre-back pairing, and in Jamie White and Ryan Brunt you have two solid forwards (even though Brunt hasn’t scored in real life for about two years). Left wing is also in good shape, with arguably your two best players, Angelo Balanta and Andy Monkhouse, vying for game time. Unfortunately, that’s about it.

The club are properly skint. But you do start the game with about £70,000 in the bank, which you are better off converting to wages so you can offer prospective signings better deals. Upon arrival, I cancelled the pointless loan signing in midfield and sold Mark McChrystal and young goalkeeper Kieran Preston. He’s a good prospect, but I thought I might be better off cashing in. An SPL club will pay in the region of £130,000 for him, and I inserted a substantial sell-on clause. I factored that money into my wage budget, too, and offered some existing players new contracts on reduced terms. I find giving them impossible bonus incentives is a good strategy, like telling a centre-back you will give him £12,000 for hitting 20 league goals, or a £1,000 bonus for every cap he wins for his country, knowing he is about as likely to win international honours as I am.

Then it was time to go shopping. By that, I mean, it was time to go rooting through the free transfers. A problem area is centre-midfield, which I addressed by snapping up ex-Man Utd prodigy Jack Rudge. He’s only 19, but has great potential, and is worth his place in the team just for his corners and free kicks. Other options are Damien Mozika and Tim Jakobsson. A decent right-sided midfielder is also required, Johnny Gorman can do a job out there. In defence I brought in Slovakian U21 right-back Kristian Kostrna and utility defender Daniel Boateng. Kostrna went straight into the first team, being a dramatic upgrade on Daniel Leadbitter, and though I originally got Boateng for cover because he can play in a few positions, he soon forced his way into the team. 28-year old Spaniard Manuel Ruz is a fantastic option at full-back and would easily be one of the best in the division. The thing is, he isn’t cheap. If you sign him it will fuck up your wage budget.

The U21 team also needs some love. I replaced Preston with Alex Gott, another young Scot who has even better attributes, and brought in Emmanuel Monthe (LB), Billy Simpson (CB/DM), and Heath Harrison (CM). You can pick up all four for a combined £500 a week or so. The object here is not to find players for the first team, but talented youngsters who can fill a gap in an emergency, with the ultimate aim of improving them and selling them on at a profit.

This being the lower divisions where the onus is more on kick and rush rather than technical ability. I started with an attacking 4-4-2 formation with a defensive forward playing off a more advanced attacker, two wide midfielders (one in attacking mode and the other supporting) and a ball-winning midfielder. After some experimentation, when I had the luxury of choosing from a full-fit squad, I settled on this first XI:

Steve Mildenhall (GK)
Lee Brown (LB)
Tom Parkes (CB)
Daniel Boateng (CB)
Kristian Kostrna (RB)
Andy Monkhouse (LM)
Ollie Clarke (CM)
Jack Rudge (CM)
Johnny Gorman (RM)
Jamie White (ST)
Ryan Brunt (ST)

Bench: Puddy (GK), Trotman (CB), Lockyer (CB/RB/CM), Balanta (LM), Taylor (ST)

So how did it go? Pretty fucking well, to be honest!

By Christmas I was top of the table, with White banging in something like 22 goals in 25 games. Brunt also got into double figures before getting injured. Boateng, Kostrna, Rudge and Gorman all established themselves in the first team , and by that stage were worth a cool £500,000 between them.

However, my squad needed to be slimmed down a little, so in the January transfer window, out went Leadbitter, Lee Mansell and Jake Gosling, all on free transfers to get them off the wage bill. I also tried to get shot of Stuart Sinclair and Ollie Clarke, but I wanted fees for those and nobody was interested. In came forward/right-winger Alex Nicholls and defensive midfielder Gary Deegan. Both the optimum age of 27 and with experience of having played in higher divisions,

In the second half of the season I won the FA Tropy, beating Southport at Wembley, and finished second in the league behind Gateshead (who?). I had led for long stretches before falling away, but was secretly glad to qualify for the play-offs as even that exceeded all expectations. There, my team beat Woking 3-1 on aggregate in the semis, and Kidderminster 4-2 in the final. Promotion and a return to league football was the prize. At the end of the season, White was the highest scorer not just in the league but possibly in the known universe with 45 goals from 55 total games and Rudge topped the assist chart with 17. Brunt and Monkhouse also did well. All things considered, it was a successful season. Though I was a bit peeved at not winning the Manager of the Year award. What does a man have to do?


Hey, Russell Slade!

The details behind Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s departure from Cardiff City last September were never really made public. The official line was that he and owner Vincent Tan clashed over ‘a difference in philosophy,’ the philosophy being that Tan wanted to win games while Solksjaer disagreed. The fact of the matter is that the Norwegian proved himself to be so inept in virtually every area that in the end, the whole episode turned into one big farce. Countless formation, personnel, and tactical changes, combined with the usual off-field turmoil surrounding the club, all added up to just nine wins from 30 games, relegation back to the Championship, and a dismal start to the new season.

Ole, Ole, Ole. Go away, go away.

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Enter Russell Slade, world-renowned managerial mastermind behind Scarborough, Grimsby, Yeovil, Brighton and most recently, Leyton Orient. A lot of people were just as confused about the appointment of Russell Slade as they were about that of Solksjaer, but were more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, he did win League One Manager of the Year twice. So the fans sat back, folded their arms, and waited to see how things would pan out. Fourteen games into his reign, it’s probably safe to say that things aren’t panning out very well. Yes, Slade has overseen seven wins, but it’s pretty obvious that under his charge the club is going backwards at a rate of knots. He got lucky a few times early on, and the team picked up a few points. But they were not playing well, and his recent record is far more indicative of the overall trend. Despite the much-touted ‘return to blue,’ City struggled to overcome Fulham in their last league game. Before that, City had lost three and drews one. That point came at Charlton, where City played against ten men most of the game and still lost out badly in the possession stakes, came hot on the heels of defeats to Brentford and Bournemouth. In those four games Cardiff managed to ship a total of shipped a total of 13 goals.

It’s just not good enough.

The club may be going through a transitional period (what, another one?) but with the players and backing Cardiff City have, they really should be storming through this division whereas on current form they face being dragged into a relegation battle. At the start of the season, the club had no fewer than thirteen full internationals on their books. That’s more than a whole team. But you would never think it to watch them play. Under Slade, the team is predictable, lacks energy and ideas, and looks devoid of confidence. The 4-4-2 formation he insists upon playing belongs in another age. There’s no point playing with two strikers if the midfield are overrun every game and can’t get the ball off the opposition. Even with two forward places up for grabs, inexplicably, the best striker at the club, Kenwyne Jones, can’t get in the starting line-up. That’s despite scoring more goals in his limited game time than Adam Le Fondre and Federico Macheda, the duo Slade insists upon playing virtually every game, combined. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lack or passion and urgency all over the pitch. One thing Cardiff supporters demand is passion. If the players don’t have it, then it’s up to the manager to inject some. That’s what he gets paid for.

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The club started the season with a wealth of options in every area. Some had to go. But a few of the players Slade has let go for next to nothing (or literaly nothing) were far too good for that kind of treatment. Magnus Wolf Eikrem, Juan Cala and Matts Moller Daehli spring to mind. That trio would walk into most Championship sides, and even a few Premier League squads. Most recently, according to reports Javi Guerra is heading back to Spain to sign with Malaga, a team challenging for a place in Europe next season. And he’s not deemed good enough for a mid-table Championship side struggling for goals?

Then there are seasoned pros like Nicky Maynard, Kim Bo-Kyung, Etien Velikonja, and Guido Burgstaller, who are stuck in a weird kind of limbo, picking up fat pay packets every week but not being given the chance to justify it. It’s not sustainable. Or even sensible. Fair enough, Slade came in and quickly decided on what he thought of as his best First XI, thus providing the stability Solksjaer never did. But what happens when that First XI don’t perform? Especially when they begin to get jaded after a long run of games. You have to be willing to roll with the punches and change things up when necessary. Evidently, Slade doesn’t want to do that. He may be used to working with smaller squads, but come on, Russ. It’s almost as if he’s walking around with blinkers on.

Since the transfer window opened, Slade has brought in what the vast majority of supporters see as mediocre signings. Scott Malone, a £100,000 buy from Millwall, is widely-touted as a replacement for Fabio, who Slade sees as a weak link in the defensive line. Yes, Slade is benching a Brazilian international in favour of a player labeled ‘average’ by his own supporters and has never played above Championship level. The fact that he (reportedly) has the same agent as Slade has absolutely nothing to do with it. The other signing was Alex Revell, a 31-year old striker who, in four years at Rotherham, managed just 28 goals in 150 games. This move could well spell the end for Kenwyne Jones.

The two signings could be part of a cost-cutting exercise. Understandably so, considering the wages some of the Cardiff players (notably Fabio and Jones) are on. But if that’s the case, you could argue why the club needed to make these signings in the first place. Declan John is a more than capable left-back, and Matt Connolly an able deputy. As for striking options, I count nine. As Steve Tucker recently remarked, “There are enough of them to have their own Christmas party.”

The original version of this article appeared on the Huff Post UK.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chris-saunders/

From the Ashes – The REAL Story of Cardiff City FC is available now.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/From-Ashes-Story-Cardiff-Football/dp/1845242130


Ravel Morrison – A New Start at Cardiff City?

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It was announced recently that Cardiff City have signed 21-year old winger Ravel Morrison on loan from West Ham, initially for three months. On the face of it, it could be a decent move for both parties, despite Cardiff already having what is being reported as ‘the biggest and best squad ever assembled in the championship.’ Morrison is undoubtedly a player of quality, and needs some game time after finding himself marginalized at the Hammers. When Sam Allardyce signed him from Manchester United he said the England U-21 international needed to “Get away from Manchester and start a new life,” which seemed to hint at some unpublicized issues.

Tellingly, Morrison has played only 18 games for West Ham, and been farmed out to Birmingham City and QPR over the past two seasons. Reading between the lines, I sense there is something about Morrison. Maybe his off-field problems are weighing heavily on his young shoulders – he is due to go on trial over allegations of harassment of a former partner early next year. The question must be asked, do Cardiff really need a player with this kind of baggage? The club is already in the news almost constantly, and usually for the wrong reasons.

Despite having a wealth of luxuries, especially in midfield, the current Cardiff squad has been criticized for having a lack of raw pace. But with ten or twelve potential first-team midfielders already at the club, do they really need another one? I see eerie comparisons between Morrison and a mostly-forgotten player from the Hammam era.

Anyone remember Leon Jeanne?

If not, you could be forgiven. He arrived at Cardiff under similar circumstances from QPR in 2001, having fallen out of favour with then-manager Gerry Francis amid a series of disciplinary problems. Cardiff, his hometown club, was supposed to be a new start, but weeks after joining he tested positive for a class A drug. He was handed a suspended sentence and allowed to continue his career, but when tested again later in the season the sample he gave was not urine. That was enough and his contract was terminated after he had made only two first team appearances. From there his career nosedived and over the following decade he played for no less than 18 clubs, including Barry Town (twice), Merthyr Tydfil and Afan Lido. All in all, it’s very tragic story, and a cautionary tale of a talented young footballer letting it all slip.

I’m not suggesting for a moment Morrison has the same problems, or that his career will follow a similar trajectory, but the similarities are there. At the same stage in his career, Jeanne was a highly hyped, pacey, skillful midfielder with the world at his feet. He had a few off-field issues, but City took a chance on him. Now he plays for Weston-Super-Mare. Nothing against Weston-Super-Mare. It’s a nice place. I visited once. But let’s hope Morrison doesn’t go the same way.

From the Ashes – The REAL Story of Cardiff City FC is out now:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/From-Ashes-Story-Cardiff-Football/dp/1845242130

Originally published by the Huffington Post UK:

 http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chris-saunders/


Cardiff City’s Championship Return

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Cardiff City kick off the new season at Blackburn on Friday 8 August. On paper, for the 2014/15 season Cardiff City probably have one of the strongest squads the Championship has ever seen. If anything, they have an embarrassment of riches all over the park. Of course, that poses its own set of problems. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer showed us last season how much he enjoys tinkering with personnel, formation and tactics. He’s going to have a field day trying to select a team from around 32 serious candidates.

For what it’s worth, here is my pick:

Formation: 4-4-2

GK: Marshall

After last season’s heroics, his place between the sticks is virtually guaranteed.

LB: Fabio

At left-back it was a toss-up between him and young Declan John. Fabio has had an impressive pre-season, and gets the nod because the club have to justify his inflated wages somehow.

CB: Juan Cala

Looked decent after arriving on a free from Sevilla in February, and scored twice in his seven appearances. Should fill the gap vacated by Steven Caulker.

CB: Ben Turner

Closing in on a century of appearances for the club, Big Ben is a shoe-in at this level. His height and physical presence could be key.

RB: John Brayford

Spent last season on loan at Sheffield United, but the 26-year old is back and has a point to prove. In the absence of any stand-out right-backs at the club, I say give him a chance.

LM: Peter Whittingham

Recently signed a new contract tying him to the Bluebirds until 2017. The biggest debate is where his best position is. I think the left of midfield where he can put in some early crosses suits him best. His set-pieces could be crucial.

CM: Aron Gunnarsson

In danger of becoming the Forgotten Man, but the Iceland captain loves the club and knows what it takes to get out of this division. Great stamina and tackling ability. Will slot in neatly alongside new signing Dikgacoi.

CM: Kagisho Dikgacoi

I have high hopes for the South African international who has been handed Gary Medel’s number 8 shirt. Grabbing him on a free from Palace could prove to be a great piece of business.

RM: Craig Noone

Showed what he can do when given the opportunity last season. If he can stay clear of injuries, he could be vital to the team’s cause. Along with Whitts on the other flank, he’ll shoulder the bulk of the creative responsibility.

S: Adam Le Fondre

What City missed last season was a proven goal scorer. The new signing from Reading, where he scored 39 times in 104 games, should go some way to addressing the problem. Has been on fire in pre-season.

S: Javi Guerra

Another new signing. This spot could easily have gone to Machida or Jones, but I’m opting for the Spaniard’s guile and experience. Can drop deep when required.

SUBS: Simon Moore (GK), Matthew Connolly, Declan John, Kim Bo-Kyung, Matts Moller Daehli, Guido Burgstaller, Joe Mason, Federico Macheda.

Controversial selection, I know. On last season’s evidence, many would put Daehli somewhere in midfield. But personally I think he’s still a bit lightweight for the rough and tumble of the Championship. For the time being, I think we would be best served to bring him on late in games when teams are slowing down. There could also be a case to include Austrian international Burgstaller on either flank, but he is a bit of an unknown quantity. Kimbo isn’t in my team because he was awful last season. If he wants to get in he has to improve. He’s lucky to get on the bench. Kenwyne Jones wasn’t so lucky.

My book, From the Ashes: The REAL Story of Cardiff City, is out now:

From the Ashes

From the Ashes

Originally published by the Huff Post UK:

 http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chris-saunders/


Cardiff City FC – What Went Wrong?

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.

Ben Turner and Steven caulker leaving the field at St James Park

Ben Turner and Steven caulker leaving the field at St James Park

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.

Tan the Man

Tan the Man

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:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ashes-Real-Story-Cardiff-Football/dp/1845242130


Cardiff City’s Summer Signings – The Good, the Bad & the Average

Red-CCFC-Badge-2013

A few months ago I wrote a summary of Cardiff City’s summer transfer activity. Now all the players brought in have had a chance to show what they can do, I feel a quick progress report is in order.

Steven Caulker

The commanding centre back brought in from Tottenham for around £8 million slotted straight into the heart of City’s back four and has proved nothing short of a revelation. We knew he was good from seeing him during his loan spell at Swansea, but his passing ability, aerial presence and composure, have been invaluable to a side lacking experience at this level. So impressive he was soon given the captain’s armband.

Verdict: 9/10

Peter Odemwingie

The £2.2 million signing from West Brom arrived with some baggage but in all fairness, he started reasonably well. He was enthusiastic and ran hard. I say ‘was’ because he seems to have lost some of that urgency of late as City slumped to the bottom of the league. Being played in a lone striker role probably does him no favours, but to my mind he has a tendency to ‘go missing’ during games and a return of one goal in 15 league appearances is simply not good enough.

Verdict: 5/10

Andreas Cornelius.

The £8 million boy wonder who, if reports are to be believed, was at least partly responsible for Malky Mackay losing his job. Much has been made of his potential, but the fact of the matter is that at this stage in the club’s development, they need strikers who can score goals now. True, he spent the first couple of months of the season sidelined through injury, but judging by what little we have seen of him so far (7 substitute Premier League appearances and a couple of starts in the cups) the club’s number 9 is a mere shadow of the player we thought he was. Unfit, inexperienced and low on confidence.

Verdict: 3/10

Gary Medel

The £11 million record signing from Sevilla has featured in virtually every game this season in the holding midfielder role in front of the back four. He has been very impressive until the past few games, where he has started to look a little fatigued. The fans are divided over whether he was actually worth the money or not. I say he most definitely is. If we had a team of Gary Medel’s we probably wouldn’t break any scoring records (not that we would anyway) but we certainly wouldn’t lose many games.

Verdict: 8.5/10

Kevin Theophile Catherine

A snip at around £2 million and quickly proving one of the bargains of the century, rampaging right-back TC has wowed the fans with some powerful, direct displays. Just what you need and expect from a modern fullback. Gets caught out of position at times, but at 24 he is still learning and well on the way to establishing himself as the best full-back at the club.

Verdict: 7.5/10

John Brayford

The £1.5 million signing from Derby County arrived as one of the most highly regarded fullbacks outside the Premier League. However, apart from two League Cup appearances, he has been unable to force himself into the side and currently finds himself behind TC and veteran Kevin McNaughton in the pecking order. A big disappointment, though maybe through no fault of his own.

Verdict: 3/10

Simon Moore

The 23-year old was brought in from Brentford in League One as back up for goalkeeper David Marshall. And on the bench is where he’s stayed. He gets two points for turning up every week, which is more than some of the other players have done.

Verdict: 2/10

This article originally appeared in the Huff Post (UK):

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chris-saunders/cardiff-citys-summer-signing_b_4636965.html

Read my archive:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chris-saunders/

My book, From the Ashes: The REAL Story of Cardiff City is out now on Gwasg Carreg Gwalch:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/From-Ashes-Story-Cardiff-Football/dp/1845242130


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