Cardiff regrouping in bid to return to the Promised Land
Cardiff City, who are favourites at 15/2 into win the Championship, are aiming to bounce straight back to the Premier League after a disappointing relegation. The Bluebirds have the money and talent to do so but, in such an unpredictable league, they must take nothing for granted.
Last season was turbulent, and it`s difficult to avoid the topic of Cardiff`s controversial owner, Vincent Tan, when discussing why. A blatant disregard of fans` wishes, a very public falling out with then-manager Malky Mackay, and an apparent desire to dress and behave like a James Bond villain put the club in the media for the wrong reasons.
Of course, had on-field matters been more successful, this wouldn`t have mattered so much – but they weren`t. When Mackay was sacked around Christmas, the club were just above the relegation zone. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came in with new ideas and players, but failed to stop the rot and won just three out of 18 Premier League fixtures. The Welsh club ended the term bottom, six points from safety.
Despite this, the Norwegian ex-Manchester United striker remains in charge. He also has outspoken support from Tan, but only as long as they go up. For Solskjaer, the challenge of getting Cardiff promoted will be a more familiar task than saving them from relegation. In Norway he managed Molde, where he was given the money bring them silverware, which is exactly what he did, with two league tiles and a cup win in three years.
The team`s Norwegian players, all of whom were managed by Solskjaer at Molde, are young and attacking, and will be more comfortable in a promotion challenge than a relegation scrap. Mats Daehli especially has the capacity to tear second tier teams apart. The 19-year-old learnt his trade in the youth academy at Oslo based Lyn FK, before moving onto better things with Stabaek and Manchester United. His rapid movement and intelligence won him praise in the Premier League last term. He will boost his team`s chances massively if he plays up to his abilities.
Solskjaer`s system and tactics should also be more successful in the Championship than in the top flight. He likes to keep the ball on the ground; pass-and-move rather than kick-and-run. This romantic ideal is perhaps the reason he was so unsuccessful at the end of last season. Passing football is not always very helpful in the middle of a relegation fight, but at a lower level it will be more effective.
Without good players though, good tactics are useless, and Cardiff are losing some of their best men. Steven Caulker and Fraizer Campbell will almost certainly be off, with attention from Premier League clubs. QPR, Liverpool and Crystal Palace are vying for the services of Caulker, while Campbell is wanted by the Eagles and Leicester City. There is also reported Premier League interest in star goalkeeper David Marshall and Jordon Mutch.
However, Cardiff are one of the Championship`s most resourceful clubs, and should be able to replace these players adequately. They have already completed five signings, including three new strikers, proven second tier scorers Federico Macheda and Adam le Fondre, with a Spanish 32-year-old, Javi Guerra, as the challenger.
The two other additions are midfielders Kagisho Dikgacoi, on a free transfer from Palace, and Guido Burgstaller from Rapid Vienna. They are also rumoured to be bringing in Brede Hangeland. The 33-year-old Norwegian has been released by Fulham and would be a suitable replacement for Caulker.
Solskjaer will surely have good enough players to go up. The question is whether he can get them into the right state of mind. The Championship is an underrated league, and there`s no room for complacency.
When Wolves were relegated to the second tier in 2012, another Norwegian, Stale Solbakken, was charged with the task of getting them back up. Before the season, everyone talked about a promotion challenge, but by Christmas they were in the bottom half of the table, and Solbakken was sacked. Wolves ended up going down to League One, where they faced the likes of Notts County, Stevenage and Crawley, a fate Cardiff supporters will be eager for their team to avoid. In order to do so, they have to be prepared and fully focussed.
Can the Bluebirds get promoted this year? Of course. They have the money, the players, and the manager. But the Championship`s no walk in the park. If the off-field problems persist, it could be the distraction the players don’t need.
Cardiff are 9/4 to be promoted.