Tag Archives: Ole Gunnar Solksjaer

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

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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


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