Thursday, 26 January 2017

Warnock Bringing City Back

This week saw the fifth anniversary of the night that Cardiff City beat Crystal Palace to reach the League Cup final, their fourth trip to Wembley in as many years.

That team was led emotively by Malky Mackay, a man who effortlessly ingratiated his way into the hearts of the fans of the club. The final, however heartbreaking the ending turned out to be, was one of the last few occasions that it felt like you were watching City.

In the half a decade since that penalty defeat to Liverpool, following the club has often seemed a chore; a weekly punishment for an unknown crime.

It's not been the same since Ben Turner's goal against Liverpool in 2012

It's pretty baffling that such a feeling could arise when you consider that during these five years, the Bluebirds comfortably won the Championship, and achieved Premier League home wins against Swansea City and Manchester City in their short stay in the top division.

The rebrand debacle ensured that the soul of the club had been tarnished. The unique aspect that made it Cardiff City, the distinguishable feature that over the years had entrapped thousands on a lifelong roller-coaster, had vanished.

Mackay's sacking, Solskjaer's overspending, relegation and the underwhelming appointment of Russell Slade followed. Cardiff were on a never-ending downward spiral.

Slade wasn't fancied from the start by a large number of City fans, mainly because he was perceived to be another 'yes-man' to Vincent Tan. With his quiet, often self-depreciating and uninspiring demeanor, the former Leyton Orient boss didn't fit the ideology of what some fans identified as a City manager. An ideology that was executed impeccably by Mackay and one that every future manager will be compared with for some time yet.

In fairness to Slade, for what he lacked in persona and charisma, he made up for with results.

He was the one that eventually steadied the ship, after all. Despite being restricted by the now financially astute Tan, Slade led the club to 11th and 8th respectively.

The ship was safe, but was it going to go anywhere?  Although possessing a squad capable of challenging, Cardiff's play-off push never really got going. This, coupled with the fact that there some animosity still lingering in the stands towards him, meant that Slade's time as Cardiff boss was over.

Moved upstairs (for a fortnight at least), he was replaced by Paul Trollope, an appointment that offered more evidence of the cost-cutting efforts by Tan.

Although a good coach for City and Wales, it quickly went downhill for Trollope. Winning only twice in eleven league games, the team were sinking at an alarming rate and were likely heading to League One.

It was clear that the club needed a hero. A firefighter that would not only douse the flames of relegation but could also be the orchestrator of something far bigger in the seasons ahead.

There was only one name that fitted the bill - Neil Warnock.

With seven promotions already noted down, Warnock added a great escape to his CV following his saving of a seemingly doomed Rotherham United last season.

At Championship level, his pedigree is second-to-none.

Not only does he fit the bill in terms of the club's aspirations (from relegation candidates to promotion candidates), he also fits the fans' ideologies previously mentioned.

Passionate, explosive and successful - Warnock is the type of person that is equally loved by his own as he is hated by others.

On his Wikipedia page, not only does he have a 'Disputes' section - something that is impressive in itself - he has five subsections within that. From arguments with players to having rows with entire clubs, there are not many people out there that Warnock hasn't pissed off at some point.

But that's what's needed in this league, especially when you're at the wrong end of the table trying to work your way up.

Nice football is all well and good, but when teams get in your face, you better have some steel about you. The Championship is 46 grueling games of 'in your face' football. Cardiff didn't have that nasty streak under Trollope but have it in abundance now.

After every game, I look at the opposition's forums to see what they thought of City's performance etc. More often that not, they all follow the same pattern. They moan about how we nullified them, how we stopped them playing and how we outfought them.

I don't rate Warnock purely because of his fiery temper, his robust style of football and the fact that he makes it seem like it's Cardiff City against the world. Most importantly, he's successful and ambitious. He's made no effort to hide his need for a record eighth promotion.

How the table looks since Warnock was appointed on October 5th, 2016. 

The table since he's joined shows how well he, his staff and some of his signings have done to guide Cardiff up the table and on the cusp of safety. Tuesday night's spirited defeat at table-toppers Brighton is a testament to how far this side has come.

It's been reported that this season is an audition for Warnock. If he does well, he'll be backed considerably by Tan for a promotion push next year. However, if he doesn't show enough, the Yorkshireman's time in South Wales will be cut short with Warnock admitting he'll only stay if his aspirations are matched.

Tan only needs to look at the above graphic to see that with the extra 3/4 players that are needed, a play-off challenge is achievable.

But, along with the relative success on the pitch in his short time here, Warnock has achieved something far more remarkable off it.

This may just apply to me or you might feel the same, but, for the first time in years, I'm really enjoying my Saturdays. It's great going to games knowing that we're at least going to give it a go and that the players are going to show a bit of bottle and fight.

That's all the majority of football fans want; a bit of heart. I don't care if we fail to win every game. If that mattered, I'd follow Barcelona via Sky Sports.

Nor am I bothered about an amazing possession-based game with hundreds of three-yard passes. That's not the Cardiff way, nor the British way. Goals, shots and full-blooded tackles - that's what I like to see at a game.

City have never been perceived as a 'nicey-nice' and fashionable club and we probably never will be. I've always heard people call Cardiff a horrible club and having Neil Warnock in charge will only enhance that, but I think that's a great thing to have.

We may as well embrace it, I quite like the thought of teams dreading playing us. It's how it used to be.

When Warnock signed, he said: "This is my type of club - blood and guts."

We're his type of club and he's our type of manager. It feels good to have the old City back.