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Cardiff City: the overestimated expectation of the new blues

Saturday 6th August 2011
It seems all I've heard from the Bluebirds camp this summer are players and staff who are purposefully talking down expectations for the upcoming season. Mackay, Earnshaw, and Cowie have all given press interviews with similar themes:

Robert Earnshaw: "It's going to take a few weeks for Cardiff to actually start off."

Don Cowie: "There has been a lot of change at the club and it might take a few weeks before we hit the ground running."

Anybody else see the similarities here? The usual nervousness of a new, undeveloped squad, or the more perturbed words of a team without hope? What do the fans expect of this new Cardiff side, and how can the players respond to such demands?

Obviously Cardiff City is a club with great expectations, as befits their status. Last year came the play-off semi final, with what was arguably the best, albeit underachieving, squad in the league. The year before saw the narrow defeat to Blackpool in the play-off final, thanks to that Charlie Adam free kick. The season before that saw them miss out on the play-offs by one goal to Preston-North-End, after they were trounced 6-0 in the closing stages of the season. If they had only conceded four goals in that game of monumental significance, Dave Jones would have bagged himself a play-off place three years on the trot. Not only this, but this league success was complemented the twilight of an F.A. Cup Final appearance in 2008. Obviously such domestic success, despite falling just short of the Premier League's holy grail, leads to a great degree of expectation from the Welsh club's sizeable fanbase,

But does it?

All football fans want their respective club's to achieve the best that they possibly can, and now that Cardiff fans have smelt the scent of the big time, they are desperate for a taste. Especially since their bitter local rivals, Swansea City, have beaten them to the pip. Imagine the pain and frustration of chasing the girl year after year, coming so close, only for that one bloke that you can't bloody stand to beat you to her. Now quadruple that feeling, and you're about halfway to the animosity felt by most Bluebirds fans about their arch-enemy reaching the big time before them. But, whilst the local and mainstream press reports that the current unpractised squad holds equal, if not greater, expectation than last year, with the culmination of pressures that would lead us to believe that this year simply has to be our year, the truth is somewhat different.

Let's tackle this realistically. Last year we possessed a squad that many Premier League teams would happily snatch up for their own. Bothroyd, Bellamy, Koumas, Chopra, Whittingham, Koumas, Burke, Olofinjana, Hudson, Marshall, Ramsey, and McNaughton... these are all players would claim a starting position in every Championship side, and a matchday squad place in the majority of Premier League teams. As the season began, with the marquee signing of Bellamy dominating headlines, everybody saw Cardiff City as the near-certainty for promotion, just as West Ham are this year and Newcastle were in 2009. WIth their unbeaten form in October, such ambitious predictions seemed accurate. However, their cataclysmic demise from automatic promotion candidates to play-off fodder (a term acceptable in comparison to their projected achievement) is immensely significant, as it resulted in the departure of a round dozen of their most highly acclaimed stars, and the sacking of the manager which gave us so much of what we didn't really want. Such a destabilisation has rocked the club, as Mackay, the new gaffer on the block, has had the harrowing job of building a squad from the ashes of their former embers. So although the club is the same in name and history, its infrastructure is utterly changed, and thus cannot be expected to push for the positions achieved over the past three years. The football club is changed. The fans understand this, and their true expectations are far more reasoned than the press, who thrive on the potential of an unfulfilled promise, would leave others to believe.

So what do we expect?

The fateful drinking scandal which accompanied the laxness shown in the 3-0 home defeat to Middlesborough, whereby certain players were alleged to have been drinking the Friday before the Sunday match, was a pivotal moment which determined my own expectations for this upcoming season. During that horrendous first half of 'football' I foresaw the rest of the season: the damaged morale, the weakening of the home fortress, the petty loss of 2nd place to Norwich, the lack of solidarity in the loan signings our squad was based on, and the phoenix-like surge of form from Reading in the close season... self-destruction seemed to be on the horizon. What terrified me most was that 2011/2012 would see us turned into the new Leeds United of 2007, or the Charlton Athletic of 2008. Relegation, not promotion, was the fear that blackened pub talk over the dark days of May and June. However, Mackay has so far done a sterling job with the limited resources available, making astute signings in cheap markets. Scottish imports (Burke, McPhail, McCormack etc.) have flourished in Wales and the Championship in the past, and I can see Miller excelling at this level. Conway has been on many a club's radar for many months, and I believe his technical ability on either flank will be a great asset too. Taylor looks like a solution to the second full-back problem we've suffered for a while, partnering McNaughton on the opposite side, whilst Earnshaw will certainly be the one we'll see on the back of shirts in the upcoming season, as kids nag their parents for the newest replica as the parents dig out the old Leekes sponsored Earnie shirts from Division 2 days of lore! Let's not underestimate either the belief shown in Whittingham too, as Mackay somehow managed to hold onto the playmaker by the tips of his fingers. There is still a gap in the team and in squad depth for sure, and I would love Mackay to tempt Jason Koumas into a permanent deal; he is currently a free agent with undoubted quality on the ball, despite questionable fitness, which could be solved simply by the consistent first team action he couldn't get near last term. Looking at the job done thus far, with the dwindling but persistent hope of Bellamy returning for another year, the best we can hope for is a top 10 finish. Challenging for a play off place would perhaps be an unreasonable demand, but with the players brought in, the season is certainly not without optimism.

Some may even argue that the squad has been improved! The lax sense of easy victory from last season has been kicked out of the dressing room, and already there is a feeling around the Cardiff camp that this year they are a team, rather than the collection of 'star' individuals from yesteryear.

As Anthony Gerrard puts it: "There aren't that many cliques and not many egos. Everyone's getting on fantastically well. That bodes well for a happy team and a happy environment."

So perhaps there is hope for us long suffering Bluebirds fans yet? This year will probably be more of a year of transition than a year of achievement, but at least it looks like we will be able to hold our head up with respect. Last year's side symbolised what I believe to wrong about football on many levels, and when 'squeaky bum time' came a-calling, we didn't deserve promotion. Hopefully this year, with a compromise on domestic expectation, we can learn to refuse to compromise on the football itself, with a side that truly earns the support of its following.
James Hitchings-Hales

Total articles: 3

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