Russell Slade divided fan opinion from the day his name was first mentioned as the potential successor to the disaster that was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Although his brand of boring football became intolerable to a lot of Bluebirds supporters who stopped coming to games and perhaps haven’t returned since, Cardiff still owe him a debt of gratitude.
Cardiff City FC were in a sorry state when Slade arrived – Solskjaer had presided over a disastrous transfer policy seeing some 12 players arrive for a combined fee of around £11.5 million. Whilst some of those players have gone on to succeed at the club (Pilkington, Manga and Morrison primarily), others were resounding failures.
One of the most important things that Russell Slade did, which perhaps directly contributed to their later successes, was to trim a massively inflated wage bill. Whether that was by loaning out, selling or terminating contracts. Many of the players just couldn’t make themselves a success as Bluebirds. Who can forget his now famous quote; “We aren’t shopping at Harrods any more”?
Slade’s reign began with back-to-back wins and in his first three months in charge, he oversaw the departure of no fewer than seven players. However, things quickly turned sour with the fan base and he never came close to gaining their favour or the adoration that Dave Jones, Malky Mackay and more recently Neil Warnock has.
During his tenure at the Cardiff City Stadium, Slade oversaw 86 competitive matches, ending with a win percentage of 37.2%, which leaves him ranked fourth out of the most recent six managerial appointments at Cardiff City.
Style of play
Slade always strongly argued that his tactical approach was neither out-dated nor boring to watch, but the dwindling attendance figures at Cardiff City suggested otherwise. You would be hard-pressed to find many Bluebirds fans who will look back too fondly on his reign.
Slade’s teams were generally set up to play in a 4-4-2 formation – or as Slade liked to call it, a “lopsided 4-4-2” – which relied heavily on long-balls to target man Kenwyne Jones. You could also quite accurately predict the line-up generally from week to week.
Slade did briefly oversee a flurry of goals from makeshift striker Anthony Pilkington, but generally preferred the “big man-little man” combination up front. Slade tried and ultimately failed to get the best out of what was on paper a talented squad and this eventually became his downfall.
Sinking ship avoided
Whilst it is undeniable that Slade’s reign was characterised by cost-cutting and bland football, it is also worth noting that Slade was brought in at a time of upheaval at Cardiff City, who were in danger of imploding after the failed vision of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Massive recruitment and serious problems in the playing squad meant that one of the first tasks on his to-do list was to bring some much-needed focus back to the playing side.
One only has to look at Wolves, Portsmouth, Manchester City and more recently Sunderland, to see the dangers of a double-dip from the Premier League into League One and Slade undeniably helped halt that slide.
Smooth ship in choppy waters
Not only did Slade stabilise a sinking ship, he steered it through the choppy waters around the carcass that became the red rebrand. He was in charge of a house divided and subservient to an owner determined to see his vision through to the end, until Mr Tan’s mother stepped in and changed Bluebirds history.
Although it can’t have been easy to have been at the helm as the anti-red sentiment grew and crowd numbers fell, Slade was after all in charge when the much-celebrated reversal took place and should be lauded for overseeing such a turbulent time with class and a steady hand.
Slade’s role in the reversal may have been peripheral, nevertheless he still is inextricably linked with the red becoming dead and blue skies shining over Cardiff City Stadium again.
Russell Slade oversaw one of the darker periods of recent history for Cardiff City Football Club and will be remembered for many things, both good and bad.
He continues to divide supporters to this day, some of whom regard him as a joke and way out of his depth. A manager who employed dire tactics and wasted a talented squad.
Other supporters remember him more fondly as the man who gave his best and helped rescue the club from a disastrous fall into League One and perhaps oblivion.
When you see the slide that Sunderland have suffered, then Slade’s “steady as it goes” approach coupled with him overseeing the rebrand reversal, makes him a hero and certainly an unsung one at that.
One thing is certain, mention his name and you’re guaranteed to provoke a discussion and you can’t say that about every manager.