Tag Archives: Swansea

Cardiff finally rid themselves of “nearly-men” tag

The inevitable was finally confirmed last night as Cardiff’s battling 0-0 draw against in-form Charlton secured promotion to the Premier League.

The Cardiff City Stadium has been a fortress this season

The Cardiff City Stadium has been a fortress this season

Malky Mackay’s team has led the Championship since November and despite a shaky run of results the Football League’s perennial bottlers never looked like messing up their promotion charge. After years of “so near yet so far” the Cardiff fans were finally allowed to celebrate their long-awaited promotion to the Premier League.

When Cardiff were last relegated from the top flight in May 1962 Harold MacMillan was the British Prime Minister, the Algerian War of Independence had just ended, the Cuban Missile Crisis was still a few months away and Elvis Presley was in the charts with Good Luck Charm. To say Cardiff’s promotion has been a long time coming is an understatement.

A deserved promotion?

Cardiff deserve their promotion, having been by far the most consistent team in the division.

The Bluebirds have not played the most entertaining football in the Championship this season and most fans would agree the current squad isn’t as talented as some of the ones which have fallen short in recent years. But the key difference this season has been Cardiff’s winning mentality and the determination of the players to succeed.

Since taking over at the club less than two years ago Malky Mackay has worked hard in the transfer market to bring in young, hungry and ambitious players, with most of his recruits coming from the Football League.

Cardiff’s main strength has been its defence which has been rock solid, especially at home. The centre-back partnership of Turner and Hudson has been reassuring with both players enjoying magnificent seasons. Connolly at right-back has been impressive, and Andrew Taylor has been the best left-back in the Championship this season. The defence has had to cope with injuries, especially in recent months, but young Ben Nugent, the experienced Kevin McNaughton and on-loan Leon Barnett have filled in admirably.

Goal-keeper David Marshall has also shown great improvement this season, possibly due to greater competition from former Peterborough goalie Joe Lewis. Marshall has always been a good shot-stopper but in the past the Scot has been unreliable when dealing with crosses. This season has seen the former Celtic man become a more rounded goal-keeper.

One of the most remarkable things about Cardiff’s season is the way they’ve dominated the league without depending on any one player. It has been a team effort from start to finish, with the goal-scoring responsibility shared between the entire squad. No Cardiff player has reached double figures yet this season and 16 different players have netted for the Bluebirds this term.

Some people have pointed to the £14m spent by Mackay in assembling his squad, but this does the manager a huge disservice. He’s firmly put his stamp on the club, getting rid of most of the worst traits of the Dave Jones era. He’s transformed the team from a dysfunctional collection of perennial bottlers into a well-drilled, determined group of winners.

It’s often said a great team is one which can win while playing poorly. This has been exemplified by Cardiff.

In a season where inconsistency has been rife in the second tier, Cardiff have shown the focus required to string results together. When times have been tough and the team’s been tired the side from the Welsh capital has somehow managed to turn draws into victories. Of their 25 league wins this season 17 have been by just one goal. This demonstrates the pluckiness and resilience of the team, and its ability to consistently grind out results.

Similar to Reading

What may be slightly unnerving for Cardiff supporters is the way their season mirrors that of Reading last season.

Reading too based their promotion push on narrow, hard-fought victories. Reading’s top scorer was super-sub Adam Le Fondre, who only managed 12 goals, with the top-scoring regular starter Noel Hunt scoring just eight times. Much like Cardiff the Royals had a solid defence, which frustrated Championship strike-forces and made amends for the lack of creativity in midfield and up front. Reading’s style of play, tough, workmanlike and resolute but unspectacular, was very similar to Cardiff’s style this season.

Reading now look set for an instant return to the Football League because their gutsy attitude couldn’t compensate for a lack of talent and potency.

But there are two key differences between Reading and Cardiff which could make the difference.

Firstly Cardiff look set to spend big in order to strengthen the squad this summer. Controversial owner and lover of all things red Vincent Tan has hinted at giving Mackay a £25m treasure chest to help him turn his team from functional to Premier League class. Reading’s unwillingness to add to their Championship-winning squad cost them as their team was shown to be inadequate against a higher calibre of players in the Premier League. Early indications are that Cardiff won’t make the same mistake.

Secondly Cardiff will be going up with more momentum than Reading. This is the first time in over half a century the Welsh capital will have a team in the top division of English football. Generations of supporters have never seen their club in the top flight, but all this frustration will now be transformed into enthusiasm and excitement. Having lived in Cardiff I can testify to the passion of Cardiff fans. They genuinely care about their club and desperately want it to do well.

The whole city will get behind the Bluebirds and create a feel-good-factor. When a whole city, especially one the size of Cardiff, unifies behind a team it creates a buzzing atmosphere, which the players and staff can feed off. This was seen when Cardiff’s bitter rivals Swansea were promoted, provoking a wave of positivity which was essential in keeping the club in the big league.

Reading fans had already experienced promotion once, and couldn’t recreate the excitement felt under Steve Coppell. Last year’s promotion lacked the buzz of their first one in 2006.

Can Cardiff stay up?

Of course they can, but they undoubtedly need plenty of fresh faces, especially in midfield and in attack. It’s essential they add players capable of making the difference in the Premier League.

Players such as Gunnarsson, Mutch, Cowie, Helguson and Gestede simply don’t have the required ability to compete in the top flight, while flair players such as Kim, Noone and Mason may find it tricky to adapt at first. Bellamy’s best days are behind him and Peter Wittingham is thought to be considering his future.

The acquisition of Fraizer Campbell in January was a positive move which showed Mackay’s ambition as well as recognition of where Cardiff need to strengthen.

The fans must also stay patient next season if they hit rough patches. Cardiff’s fans are renowned for their passion but they can also be incredibly impatient when things don’t go their way. They can’t afford to turn on the team if they go on an unfavourable run of results. Unity and support is imperative in what will probably be a tough season.

The club’s Malaysian owner Vincent Tan also has to give his controversial rebranding a rest. Last summer’s kit colour change caused outrage among supporters and a similar fiasco this summer could take the shine off the promotion and draw attention away from the players.

But Cardiff shouldn’t fear the big step up. There is a considerable difference in quality between this season’s opposition and next season’s opposition but the bottom of the Premier League is weaker now than it has been for years. With some wise investments and the passionate backing of the club’s fans Cardiff could definitely stay up next season and succeed in the long run.


A tribute to Europe’s fattest footballer

Adebayo Akinfenwa: Europe’s fattest footballer

One of my favourite players in the Football League is in red hot form at the moment and I think it’s about time he gets the credit he deserves.

Adebayo Akinfenwa is famous for being Europe’s heaviest footballer. The Northampton striker weighs a staggering 16st 7lbs (106kg or 233 pounds) and has a BMI of 30.6, which means he is technically obese. This means he weighs the same as Welsh international hooker (rugby) Huw Bennett and Denver Broncos linebacker (American football) Von Miller.

His size has led to Akinfenwa being ridiculed throughout his career and he’s often been seen as a big fat joke. Opposition fans regularly target Bayo with chants such as “who ate all the pies” and “You fat b******.”

Unfortunately for Akinfenwa his weight has also had an adverse effect on his health over the years. Akinfenwa picks up many injuries due to his size and it also means he takes longer than the average player to recover. Bayo once broke his leg jumping for a header in his Swansea days, the weight of his torso too much for his bones to handle as he landed.

It’s quite easy to see why people view Akinfenwa as a freak-show; he doesn’t look like a footballer, in fact he doesn’t look the least bit athletic.

But for years Akinfenwa’s been bulldozing his way through League 1 and League 2 defences, using his massive frame to good effect.

Few players are as naturally strong as Akinfenwa so he uses this strength to brush off defenders and create chances. But there are plenty of physical, combative forwards in League 2, and I would be doing Akinfenwa a great disservice if I didn’t mention his other attributes.

What sets Akinfenwa aside from other big, hulking strikers is that he can move with the ball. He lacks pace but he has great ball control for a big man and this control, coupled with his physical presence means he dribbles like a tank. He moves slowly across the pitch but it’s very hard to steal the ball from him. The ball sticks to his feet when he runs and it can get very comical watching misguided defenders literally bounce off Akinfenwa as they try to tackle him.

His goals record proves he’s an adept poacher. He’s scored seven goals in his last four games for Northampton, including a hat trick at Accrington on November 10. He has a strong aerial presence and constantly gets into good goal-scoring positions.

Akinfenwa, one of the football league’s great journeymen, has 12 league goals for Northampton this season, which makes him the 3rd top scorer in League 2 this season.

Akinfenwa is a formidable striker and a nightmare for most League 2 defenders but it’s his personality that really endears him to football fans. A deeply religious man, he is often seen as a gentle giant off the pitch. Regardless of form he’s always positive and he’s one of the changing room’s liveliest characters.

Akinfenwa’s uniqueness means he’s very well-known among football fans but all too often people look at him and fail to see beyond his size. In fact Akinfenwa’s skill and goal-scoring deserves far more credit than it currently receives.