The Championship has established a reputation down the years for being ultra competitive, with it becoming increasingly difficult to call how any given season will play out.
The likes of Nottingham Forest and Leeds United have found the going tough at this level in the not too distant past, while unfancied outfits such as Watford, Burnley and Blackpool have enjoyed fairytale adventures which have led all the way to the Premier League.
The 2010/11 campaign promises to offer more of the same, with any number of sides harboring realistic promotion aspirations ahead of the big kick-off. Unfortunately that analogy doesn’t exist for Cardiff City this season.
When the final whistle sounded at Wembley in the Championship play-off final Cardiff City fans might have felt things could not get any worse. They were wrong. It has been a summer of strife, with barely any positve news emerging from the Cardiff City Stadium.
And while Ian Holloway prepares his Blackpool team for their first Premier League season, having landed tens of millions of pounds thanks to promotion, close pal Dave Jones has only been able to add two players – goalkeeper Tom Heaton and midfield player Danny Drinkwater – to his squad for the new season.
But take a look at our lists of players recruited by Championship clubs thus far this summer, and it’s clear Cardiff have been left behind because of the financial circumstances that have afflicted them in the last few months. Jones has snapped up Drinkwater on a season-long loan from Old Trafford, while he brought in experienced former Birmingham City and Hull City central midfield player Bryan Hughes and Frenchman Kevin Lejeune on trial.
Hughes played against Bath City, but did not go with Cardiff on their pre-season tour to Portugal, while Lejeune was in the Algarve and looked promising in his wide midfield role. Lejeune, though, was not in the squad at Notts County. The Bluebirds are still working to free themselves from a transfer embargo which, unless it is lifted, could mean Drinkwater cannot be registered to play in Football League matches.
These are tough times for Cardiff City and new chairman Dato Chan Tien Ghee, but they are due television payments of £5m over the season – and a big chunk of that is due next month.That means, with matches now starting, there is the promise of better times ahead – if the Bluebirds can deal with immediate issues. That is going to be tough, but the directors have had talks this week to come up with a plan.
City have a wage bill of around £600,000 due to be paid today, while the growing tax bill owed to the Inland Revenue and the subject of a winding-up order in the High Court on August 11 is a massive problem. The Bluebirds also owe transfer money for Mark Hudson (£500,000 still to be paid after his move from Charlton Athletic a year ago), Michael Chopra (£1.5m of his £3m fee from Sunderland) and Paul Quinn (£100,000 to Motherwell).
In all, almost 80 players have already signed for Championship clubs during this close season and the majority of those will be players who have been considered by Jones, even if they were well down his list of possibilities’.
Despite losing free agent Joe Ledley, who left for Celtic and quickly followed out of the door by veteran defender Mark Kennedy, it’s now vital that the Bluebirds tie their star players down to long term contracts. Jay Bothroyd has a year left on his contract and so does last year’s star player, Peter Whittingham.
Star striker Michael Chopra broke ranks with a stinging attack on the way the club is being run and threatened that he wanted out, but Cardiff must do everything they can to keep the striker at the club. Chopra is among the Championship’s most consistent goal-getters, and his value to Cardiff should not be underestimated. He has struck up a deadly double act with Jay Bothroyd and will have his sights set on breaking the 20-goal mark again in 2010/11.
Despite all the doom and gloom surrounding the club, there is a silver lining after all. Step forward Dave Jones. Jones’ has stuck with the club through thick and thin despite interest from the Premier League and has never allowed his focus to waver from the task in hand. He tasted play-off final heartache at Wembley as the Bluebirds came agonisingly close to securing promotion into the Premier League.
Many Cardiff fans will be expecting the same this season but it will take a monumental effort. With the club in disarray and a transfer embargo hanging over their heads, mid-table mediocrity is the most Cardiff City fans can expect this season. However, as previously alluded to, the Championship has a habit of producing the unexpected. Therefore there is every chance the form book will be thrown out of the window and all pre-season predictors will be made to look very foolish!