What Neil Warnock achieved with Cardiff last season was remarkable, but maybe he deserves even more credit than he has already received.
Outperforming far bigger spenders was an impressive feat, but Warnock still spent in excess of £10m, which although small potatoes compared to their rivals, was still a considerable sum for a club in Cardiff’s perilous financial predicament at the time.
But when you look at the four players he spent that money on; Gary Madine, Lee Tomlin, Danny Ward and Omar Bogle, on the whole, he earned promotion without them. After all, the four of them combined played less minutes than Callum Paterson, who was out injured until the end of October.
Take those four players out of the equation and their mostly minimal impact, then you could argue that Warnock pretty much took Cardiff up without spending a penny last year. Now that would have been miraculous, but the fact remains that he did spend that money, they did a degree of influence and those players are still on Cardiff’s books. But do any of them have a future with the club?
Cardiff’s most extravagant purchase was Madine, who ended up costing in the region of around £6m. Strikers live and die by the goals they score, so no goals and 2 assists was certainly far less than expected. Having only made five starts though, it’s not like he was afforded many opportunities to find his groove.
Madine also suffered from Cardiff’s fairly rigid formation. When he did play, it was usually in place of Kenneth Zohore and he was expected to work the channels, which is the great Dane’s forte, but not Madine’s. He prefers to take the ball on his chest and get on the end of crosses, which rarely happened.
In many respects, Madine has had an easy ride. The fact that Cardiff went up has spared his blushes because had they fallen short, fingers would have certainly been pointed his way. The praise that he did get ended up being slightly patronising too, with claims that his arrival spurred Zohore on, like his role was that of an expensive cheerleader.
That missed penalty against Wolves did not matter in the end, but it will linger in the memory. Maybe Madine will stay at Cardiff at prove the doubters wrong in the Premier League, but the nagging suspicion is that he is the wrong player, at the wrong time, in the wrong system.
The transfer always felt rather strange because had Cardiff gone up, you wondered whether Madine would be good enough for the top flight and had they remained in the Championship, they may not have been able to afford to keep him. Already linked with a cut-price return to Sheffield Wednesday, maybe this is the beginning of the end.
Lee Tomlin, who like Madine also made only five starts and eight substitute appearances, felt like an inspired signing. Warnock would be the one to finally tap in to his remarkable talent and have him performing on a regular basis. The reality was that he started consecutive games only once and was promptly shipped out in January.
The reported £3m signing usually records double figures in goals and assists, but found the net only once for Cardiff and failed to create any goals. It all still begs the question of what was Warnock expecting. Tomlin’s baggage is common knowledge, but it seemed to still come as some sort of surprise. His stunning drag back against Norwich had me drooling, but also made me sad for what might have been.
Ultimately, it comes down to a matter of faith and rightly or wrongly, Warnock seemed to quickly lose his in Tomlin. No one could blame him and promotion means that he was vindicated. The talent remains and there are some that would like to see him afforded a chance in the Premier League, where he would get more time on the ball, but that ship has surely now sailed and he will likely depart.
It’s hard to know what to make of the Bogle situation. Signed as a rough diamond, he was forced to bide his time and made the most of his opportunity when it arrived. Three goals in four starts was not too shabby, but he also fell out of favour and followed Tomlin out of the door.
There must be more than meets the eye here because from the outside, his sending off in the Severnside derby aside, Bogle did not appear to do a lot wrong and his departure felt rather harsh. It was telling that he ended up on loan back in League One rather than the Championship and surely his future chances with Cardiff are slim to none.
Of the four, it seems like Danny Ward may have the best chance of featuring next season. Warnock is clearly a fan, having worked with him previously at Rotherham and he did ok before an injury at the start of December ended his season. His record of four goals in six starts is comparable to Bogle, but Ward offers more versatility and can also play wide if required.
Ward’s equaliser at Fulham proved invaluable, at the time and in the long run, while he spanked one in from distance at Nottingham Forest to record one of the goals of the season. He may prove to be an invaluable squad player this season, that could also apply to any of these four because they are all very good players, but it is just as likely that they will be now seen as disposable and be moved on.
Things change quickly in football and for Madine, Tomlin, Bogle and Ward, they may find that their Cardiff careers are over before they ever truly began. Or alternatively, some or all of them may be afforded a second chance. Time will soon tell.
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Header image by Jon Candy.