The 200% Premier League Pre-Season: Cardiff City
Between now and the start of the season, we’ll be writing up all twenty of the Premier League clubs before it all kicks off again. If you’re here looking for transfer gossip, you’ll likely be disappointed. Quite asides from anything else, it’s the second week in July (a necessity borne of the fact that these have got to be written around work commitments, amongst much else), so most of the transfer rumours circulating at the moment are the result of the fevered imaginations of the sort of fifteen year olds who spend their lives on Twitter pretending to be agents. Others will be along in the coming weeks to fill you in on that sort of thing, and we’re happy to leave that job to them.
A fight, of sorts, remains in progress, but it feels as if the greatest battle over the rebranding of Cardiff City Football Club is over. It might be argued that a majority of the Cardiff support have effectively offered their approval of owner Vincent Tan’s changing of the club’s colours. Season ticket sales for a first season in the Premier League – a first season in the top division of the English league system since 1962 – have been high, the arguments on the subject on internet forums have receded, and the future for the club is safe, for now. Still, though, it’s difficult to believe that a large proportion of the club’s support wouldn’t have thought, as the club lifted the Championship title trophy at the end of last season, “Wouldn’t this have been so much sweeter if we were still wearing blue and white?” There are still some protesting about it all, but the likelihood of the club changing its colours back before the point at which Tan leaves the club now seem to be extremely remote, and those that have walked away from the club, have walked away from the club.
Ultimately, though, money talks more loudly than anything else and Cardiff City do at least have an outside chance of repaying the loans that Tan has put into the club by getting promoted into the Premier League. They’ll receive a minimum of £60m in television money next season, and these are the sort of figures that rationalise why getting into the top twenty was so important at this particular time. No-one knows at the moment what sort of effect the widening of the financial gulf between the Premier League and the rest will be in the long-term – suffice to say that there are few who genuinely believe that it will have a positive effect with regard to the social mobility of football clubs below the Gilded Twenty – but if the importance of money is as great as received wisdom would have us believe it is, this promotion, at this time, is something approaching Shangri-La for the club.
Even if we were to assume a worst case scenario for the club’s entrance into the Premier League, in which the club was relegated after a disastrous first and only season, the £60m in television money and the extra money from what will likely be a sold out Cardiff City Stadium for most home matches wouldn’t be the only benefit that club would reap from such a sojourn. It is a subject that has caused considerable tension between the Premier League and the Football League over the last few months, but even relegation after one season would guarantee the club a further £59m over the four years following relegation – £23m in the first year, £18m in the second, and £9m in the third and fourth. There is so much wrong with this lop-sided distribution of television money, but to say that there would be no beneficiaries from it all wouldn’t be strictly true. This, however, make it fair or reasonable, but that argument is for another day.
This, however, all remains a worst case scenario. The club has had a quiet time during the first couple of the weeks of this summer’s transfer free-for-all – they lost out in an attempt to sign the highly thought of defensive midfielder Victor Wanyama from Celtic to Southampton and their only signing of the summer of significance so far has been that of the twenty year-old Danish striker Andreas Cornelius, who recently signed a five year contract for the club after leaving FC Copenhagen for a record £8m. Cornelius is highly rated, having scored eighteen goals in thirty-four matches in his first season in the Danish Superliga and he has already made seven appearances for the full national team. In the rough and tumble of the Premier League it is difficult to say whether Cornelius will be a hit or a miss, but such a signature is a bold one from manager Malky MacKay which hints that he will seeking to build the club’s Premier League destiny using youth rather than merely trawling around those familiar faces who skip from club to club offering little but a difficult to quantify reputation for “experience.” Similarly, a bid to bring Blackpool’s Tom Ince to the club also indicates a focus on steering clear of over-familiar journeymen.
So Cardiff City have a squad which – at the moment – is low on Premier League experience, and experience might be presumed to have a value of sorts. But Norwich City, Swansea City, Southampton and others have all had reasonable first seasons in the Premier League without attaching electrodes to the likes of, say, Tal Ben Haim or Marcus Bent’s testicles and pointing them in the direction of a football pitch. This will be a squad of players with a lot to prove in the Premier League, and they demonstrated that they deserved to be there in winning the Championship – a division which otherwise last year exhibited a most unusual egalitarianism – with a little room to spare. As for this season, if Cardiff City’s first target is seventeenth place in the Premier League, then the natural question to ask is that of whether there are likely to be three worse clubs in the Premier League than them this season, and the answer to this is that, with the bottom half of the Premier League being filled with clubs who have largely been treading water in recent years, there most likely are. The bookmakers may well have them marked down at present as third favourites for the drop this season, but these are odds against which might be further lengthened should the club become further involved in the transfer market over the remainder of the course of the summer.
To what extent, however, were the supporters of Cardiff City pacified by the success of the team on the pitch last season, and how might the mood around the club turn if results don’t go their way? Football supporters are not universally known for their consistency, and the majority of protests over the rebranding were effectively silenced by a team that just carried on winning matches. The likelihood of it all being reversed may be minute right now, but there is no way of knowing how a battle of attrition to avoid relegation might focus minds back on what happened to their club in the summer of 2012. It is also worth pointing out that, while a young team is bold and shows considerable imagination on the part of MacKay, it comes with an attendant degree of risk. Paul Lambert is carrying out a similar experiment at Aston Villa at the moment, and there were points during last season when his team looked frozen to the point of near-paralysis with the pressure that they were under. Protecting the confidence of such players, which may be fragile, should results start going against them will be the clearest possible test of MacKay’s man-management skills and only time will tell whether he is up to a challenge of this scale.
Still, though, at this time of year there’s all to play for and everybody starts the season with the same number of points, so to write this team off before a ball is even kicked feels somewhat premature. Malky MacKay’s class of 2013 has a somewhat enigmatic look about it at present, and this might just as easily be a blessing as a curse for the coming season. In addition to this so much managerial chopping and changing in recent months in the Premier League might well lead to the possibility of another club or two’s tinkering going drastically wrong, and these factors, coupled with the fact that Cardiff were clearly the strongest of the three clubs to get promoted into the Premier League at the end of last season, mean that avoiding relegation is far from beyond this squad of players. With the momentum of promotion still behind them, Cardiff City should be strong enough to avoid relegation by the end of the coming season. This isn’t, however, to say that it won’t be a challenge.
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