Why Cardiff City have conducted the best Premier League business
He’s back, everybody. That wily old fox Mr Neil Warnock made history for himself last year by gaining the most ever promotions in taking an unfancied and much criticised Cardiff City to England’s top flight.
You can bet he’s relishing the prospect of ruffling a few feathers, too. It’s the one blot on his CV – Warnock has never kept a club in the Premier League. Too many egos and pre-madonnas he says, none of that old-school fight he loves to nurture. At Cardiff, though, Warnock has made a team very much in his own image. He is revered in South Wales and has brought about a genuine connection between player and fan. The 69-year-old has struck upon a winning formula of hunger, passion and commitment. He’s not about to change that. Not even for those Saville Row suited-up pundits on SkySports and BT who decry his agricultural approach.
Warnock has learned from his mistakes, and in the same way, so have Cardiff. When the Bluebirds made their Premier League debut in 2013/14 under Malky Mackay they embarked upon an ambitious transfer policy. It backfired, badly. They splashed out £8 million on Andreas Cornelius, hardly played him, then sold him just a few months later (he, by the way, lined up for Denmark against Croatia in the World Cup round of 16). A £11 million purchase for Gary Medel, too, was greeted with excitement; in fairness to the Chilean, he lived up to the hype and performed as well as he could have, but his wages were always going to be hard to maintain. There was the £8 million spent on Steven Caulker who, again, did okay but his salary could not be sustained when Cardiff were relegated – incidentally, Caulker’s time at Cardiff was the last period he enjoyed playing football, he told the Guardian.
Succinctly, Cardiff spent a lot of money without much of a plan of what was going to happen if the worst occurred. It was unsustainable and reckless. The financial fall-out was crippling and Cardiff was sanctioned with an embargo for one transfer window and had to drastically reduce their squad, bringing in players on the cheap just to keep afloat in England’s second division. It was a far cry from the glamour of the Premier League.
The only thing worse than this sorry mess would have been for the club to not learn any lessons. Thankfully, it seems, they have. Warnock, alongside the savvy Ken Choo – CEO – has conducted a number of swift and shrewd deals which has seen them strengthen in key areas and come close to finalising a proficient squad a whole month and a half before the action gets underway at Bournemouth.
First, there was the £10 million purchase of Norwich City forward Josh Murphy, a young and enterprising winger would have bags of potential and drive. A little pricey, perhaps, but with a sell-on value that should only rise if the Englishman follows his trajectory, worth it. Greg Cunningham of Preston North End followed for around £4 million and is a left-back widely regarded as the best in the Championship for the last few seasons. Though Neil Etheridge had a brilliant year in goal for City last season, Warnock is not one to rest on his laurels and approved a move for Alex Smithies of Queens Park Rangers for a fee in the region of £5 million. Once again, Smithies is adept but can develop into an excellent goalkeeper under the right guidance. The best deal of the lot, so far, came in the form of Bobby Reid, who left rivals Bristol City and crossed the river Severn for around £10 million. Not only did it bring pleasure to City fans who, of course, needed no excuse to taunt the enemy, but Reid is a versatile, dynamic and exhilarating player who could thrive in partnership with City’s target-man Kenneth Zohore. 17 goals and six assists for the 25-year-old last season are a reflection of Reid’s direct and adventurous style.
Young, hungry and with room to improve. These traits are perfect for coaxing the best out of players but also hint at long-term planning from the Bluebirds. If all goes well and Cardiff City remain in the top flight, they have a host of players who continue to progress, but if Warnock fails to keep them up, they have two possible options. They’ll have a squad with a breadth of Championship experience, including the cream of the crop, ready to bounce straight back. Or they’ll have retained, if not advance, the value of these signings and could sell them to deal with the financial fluctuations promotion and relegation produce.
Securing new deals for Junior Hoilett – who was the creative fulcrum last season -, Joe Bennett and Neil Etheridge, while looking to tie Aron Gunnarsson down once more and bringing in Marko Grujic, who was on loan from Liverpool last year, are also clever and well-managed actions.
It’s all rather sensible in South Wales at the moment. Something Cardiff City fans have not been treated to for a long time. Shrewd acquisitions are a product of long-term planning and Cardiff will not be following the doomed ‘do or die’ financial gamble that previous clubs – including themselves – have dived head first into.