Reality of Cardiff’s promotion can wait until after the party

Reality of Cardiff’s promotion can wait until after the party
By Eurosport

17/04/2013 at 03:46Updated

It’s nice to see large groups of passionate football fans enjoying themselves at a game, children hoisted aloft shoulders in a thronging mass, good natured family fun, without a coke-sniffing brawler in sight.

Cardiff supporters have historically been tainted by a reputation not dissimilar to Millwall’s, thanks to the collective naughtiness of the Soul Crew and associates, trouble that has admittedly softened in recent years.

You could have been forgiven for panicking slightly by the sight of thousands streaming on to the pitch following a goalless draw at home to Charlton that saw the Bluebirds promoted. Mercifully it was all good natured fun and frolics, and why not?

Cardiff have been waiting for this for a long time. They have been waiting for 51 years, to be precise, having been relegated from what was then known as the First Division back in 1962.

It has been a long time coming as the Bluebirds have been famously usurped by rivals Swansea, whose rise up the divisions to European candidates and League Cup winners has come at great embarrassment to the arguably bigger club from Wales’ capital.

Let’s take this moment in time to remind everyone of what then-Cardiff owner Sam Hammam said back in 2000:

“Swansea will never be a big club and if they are being honest with themselves they will say so. If Swansea fans are Welsh and want to see top class football in Wales, then they should recognise that Cardiff is the only Welsh club with a cat in hell’s chance of making it.”

Obviously Mr Hammam is bonkers, but at the time it did not seem such an outlandish statement.

Particularly given Cardiff, in addition to their bigger and arguably more passionate support, had significantly outspent not just the Swans but most of the clubs outside the Premier League in their stuttering ascent to the top flight.

Hammam’s post Wimbledon career did see him get Cardiff from the third tier to the Championship in a couple of years, but they seemed to bottom out in the second tier.

A change in ownership saw a spending boost, with the likes of Robbie Fowler, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Michael Chopra – whose £4m move from Newcastle is still a club record – and Craig Bellamy all gracing Cardiff at various points.

There were even a few Cup final appearances, defeats to Portsmouth and Liverpool easier to take than the continued failure to get past the post in league play.

Under the careful tutelage of Dave Jones, they never seemed to have enough steel and confidence to see an entire campaign through: fine starts to seasons saw an inevitable decline, the famous blue shirt hanging heavy on their backs as nerves set in and form tailed off.

Cardiff had become perennial also-rans, a team destined to glorious failure. Despite new ownership making them title contenders, Swansea overtook them, passing their way to promotion by beating a Reading side who had ousted their rivals in the semi-finals.

The 5-0 aggregate defeat to West Ham was hard to take, but Malky Mackay had also taken them to the League Cup final, where they lost to Liverpool on penalties. He was the right man and the Malaysian owners stood by him.

They’ll be happy they did now. Mackay has been able to instil a degree of resistance previous regimes could not, in his own image if we are to trot out a cliché of sorts.

That controversial colour change appears to have had an impact too – perhaps the novelty of not wearing the aforementioned dark (and heavy) blue lightened the mood somewhat; certainly it inspired their best run in recent memory, their 100 per cent home record for the first 10 matches of the season a historic first.

Maybe that’s why Cardiff tailed off over the past month or two – growing accustomed to the red jersey, the old jitters settled in. The delay was enough though, and now we can all look forward to some tasty encounters with their southern Welsh cousins.

The next steps are vital now. That Cardiff squad is a battle-hardened Championship winning outfit, for sure, but it is well short of what is required to ensure comfortable safety in the Premier League, which is surely what Mackay should be aiming for.

Cardiff need to avoid being another QPR, or Reading; a side built to dominate the Championship but well short of the quality and guile to survive in the top flight.

For such a team to stay up requires one of those lung-busting, adrenaline-fuelled starts to the season, perfected by Norwich last campaign but that usually runs out of steam in the busy Christmas period (take a collective bow Burnley, Blackpool and the rest).

Cardiff are obviously going to buy and buy relatively big, but the danger is that they collect a series of Premier League medium-guns that mid-table clubs are willing to let go either due to the onset of physical or attitudinal problems. The likes of Bobby Zamora, Shaun-Wright Phillips, Joey Barton and Andy Johnson were costly disasters waiting to happen.

The good news for Mackay is that money will be close to no object. Much has been made of the £60m or so promotion brings to the coffers; yesterday's revelation that the same amount will be made available in parachute payments to the relegated afford the likes of Cardiff some breathing space in their transfer dealings.

The squad is solid and strong enough; some of the fringe players will need to be moved on, and some of the experienced heads that have fared well this season - the likes of Heidar Helguson - will have to take a back seat for players of genuine quality.

The Swansea and Southampton models have proved exceptional, models not so different to that which Fulham employed on their promotion.

Swansea and Southampton reaped the benefits of excellent youth systems which were directed by a long-standing playing style that dictated the recruitment and development policy, allowing a greater reliance on existing personnel, cherry-picking transfers accordingly; Fulham less so, needing to buy in players to match their rapid ascent. Cardiff will be something of a compromise but they will need to spend, however great the temptation is for Mackay to trust those who won promotion.

No doubt Mackay and his assistants - not to mention a highly ambitious board - have already planned for this and are fine-tuning their shortlists. But it is a conversation for another time, another day.

Until then Cardiff and Wales can celebrate another fine local club in the top flight of English (and Welsh) football, and we can all enjoy the images and footage of grown men and children alike enjoying a delirious, once-in-a-lifetime moment.

And after a week like this, a little joy can go a long way.

Reda Maher - on Twitter @Reda_Eurosport

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