Cardiff City officially confirmed the experienced Neil Warnock as their manager this week in a move that delighted the Bluebirds fan base, but has still failed to satisfy all sections of supporters at the club.
Ever since the ill-fated re-brand was introduced by owner Vincent Tan back in 2012, the fans have been split to the core over a willingness to what extent issues should be accepted.
Some fans felt the colour change of a home shirt was a small price to pay for success where as others felt it was an unforgivable desecration of the club’s history and culture.
Fast forward to 2016 and the negative effects of the re-brand are still being felt at the Cardiff City Stadium even 18 months on from the club reversing the re-brand, and returning the club colours back to blue from red.
The club is currently sitting in 23rd place in the Championship table with just 8 points from their first 11 matches of the season and attendances figures are on the downward slide with supporters voicing their concerns with their feet.
The mood in the Welsh capital is one of discontent, disarray, and disgust suggesting that problems at the club lie far deeper than with just the manager.
New Manager, New Start
The appointment of Warnock was swift and clinical. Cardiff’s CEO Ken Choo and Chairman Mehmet Dalman moved quickly to get their man. It was rumoured that former Yeovil manager Gary Johnson, ex-player Craig Bellamy, and first team coach James Rowberry were also considered for the role but it took less than 48 hours for the club to name their new man.
It was a move that has been widely celebrated by the fans who have frequently spoken of a positive relationship with former Sheffield United and QPR gaffer Warnock. Many have wanted Warnock at the club for years and it is an appointment that many see as long overdue.
Unfortunately, Warnock walks into a side that is bereft of confidence, lacking an identity, and short in depth. Signing a new goalkeeper, solidifying a leaky defence, adding more creativity to midfield, and boosting the quality up top have all been identified as objectives that Warnock must address. However, that simply covers issues on the pitch. It is a much bigger problem off it.
Bringing Back the Fans
In one fell swoop, the 2012 re-brand disconnected a loyal percentage of die-hard and long-term Cardiff supporters. The moment Tan publicly stated that upsetting 20% of his “customers” was worth it to benefit the remaining 80% he severed ties for good with a key quantity of Bluebirds fans.
Labelling some of the most committed fans as “customers” and completing ignoring their concerns displayed intolerable levels of disrespect in their eyes. These fans immediately boycotted games and a large portion still remain absent.
The back-end of the 2015/16 season saw Cardiff make some positive moves to try to lure fans back. Cheaper tickets, fan days, and more communication with the supporters’ groups saw attendances on the increase and the club beginning to earn praise for their concerted efforts. Sadly, those efforts have not continued into the new season.
It has been encouraging to see the club allow season ticket holders to buy four tickets at £5 each for friends or family that wish to attend the Bristol City match at home on Friday 14th October, but even though some see it as the club trying to take advantage of the feel-good factor after Warnock’s appointment, there are a percentage of fans that feel it is simply an attempt to limit the revenue damage of a Friday night match on television where the attendance is expected to be depleted.
It has also seen the loyal season ticket holders express frustration at their own commitment not being rewarded after what has been a tough season.
Faith in the Youth
When former boss Paul Trollope was appointed during the summer he stated a desire to give the fans a side that they could identify with more. He stated an intent to adopt the same philosophy as Chris Coleman’s Wales that had enjoyed such success at Euro 2016 but he also hinted at bringing in more Welsh players and promoted from the development side within the club.
It was the stuff of dreams and that is exactly what it proved to be.
The flawed 5-3-2 set-up never worked with the set of players Trollope had at the club. The two Welsh signings he made in Jazz Richards and Emyr Huws were never given the full opportunity to impress.
Also, the only youth player Trollope showed any faith in was starlet Declan John.
The likes of Semi Ajayi, Matthew Kennedy, Deji Oshilaja, David Tutonda, Rhys Healey, and Tommy O’Sullivan once again being shunned or shipped out on loan.
The heavy investment in the youth academy that produced such talents as Aaron Ramsey, Joe Ledley, James Collins, Adam Matthews, Chris Gunter, and Joe Ralls has been absent for years and the club continues to feel the impact of that.
No Longer A Community Club
The connection with the fans goes deep into the community and has done for generations. Supporters based far and wide had long spoken of the effort City made in giving them a club they felt strongly affiliated to.
Community days, coaching courses, and fan events were commonplace with the club during their dark days in the basement division.
It is something that has become lost over the years. The popular PA speaker Ali Yassine was unceremoniously removed from his position and replaced with the dulcet tones of a yes man.
Pre-match entertainment is non-existent so fans feel no desire to enter the stadium early before games. Free tickets for school kids are now pie in the sky.
Even the fact that loyal supporters are not being shown gratitude for their commitment on a regular basis has left fans feeling that they are just “customers” as Tan labelled them years ago.
The only difference being that customers would probably benefit from more loyalty schemes.
Lacking a Football Brain
One problem that it is hoped Warnock can help to address is the lack of an individual at board level with a football background. The unholy trinity of Tan, Choo, and Dalman is made up of three very accomplished businessmen, but none of them have any vast experience or knowledge of the game.
Decisions that have affected on-the-pitch fortunes have frequently been blamed on the club lacking a football man at the top level.
It is hoped Warnock can change that but the fans are not holding much hope until they see it happen.
Transfers being overseen by the three men named above have led to a number of questionable signings such as Etien Velikonja, Kenneth Zohore, and Frederic Gounongbe over the past few years.
If the club wants to progress then a bit more nous and know-how at the very top is required urgently.
Cardiff are now at a cross roads not only in their season but in their immediate future.
If Tan is willing to maintain an interest in the club then it will make absolute sense to give Warnock as much say over every issue at the club.
By all means keep the budget restricted, nobody wants an Andreas Cornelius again, but allow Warnock to bring in the players and staff he wants and make the necessary changes behind the scenes to improve the club’s fortunes on the field.
Warnock has stated already that he feels the Cardiff fans are his “sort of crowd”. He commented on them being all “blood and guts”.
Changes off the pitch might well be needed and instigated by Warnock himself. Switching the Canton Stand with the Grange End to allow closer interaction between the home fans and away fans will go a long way to improving the atmosphere in the stadium.
It might not be the most cost effective option in terms of health and safety and policing in the short term but the benefits will be seen in the long term.
Tan also needs to show there is a long term plan in place. Warnock will be his fifth permanent managerial appointment in just three years.
Admittedly, the appointments of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Russell Slade, and Paul Trollope were ill-advised but none of those managers were hugely backed from the start. Tan needs to show that Warnock is his man. The Cardiff fans have done this already. If the future is to be bright for the Bluebirds then Tan needs to once again show that the sky is the limit, invest in the future, and show that he is willing to make the required changes to unite a club that has been fractured for far too long.
Cardiff fans… what do you think? Do you agree with this opinion piece or do you have other thoughts on the issues at the club? Let us know in the comments section below.