How did you find the step up to the Premier League? It was probably a surprise to see you start ahead of the captain Mark Hudson, but you were the better blend to play the other side of Steven Caulker and were one of the players that seemed to thrive in the top flight.
I wasn’t expecting to play and I felt for Huds because he wasn’t playing. I wanted success for myself, but I also wanted success for my friend. Like you say, I was left footed and he was right footed. They brought in Steven Caulker and he had England caps, so he was going to have the first shot at it with one of us. Maybe I was picked for that left foot balance, maybe it was because Huds was that bit older than me. I know now as an older player that the younger lads usually get first dibs once you get to a certain age and maybe there was an element of that.
What I will say about that season is that we improved the squad, in terms of talent, but if you think about some of the lads that came in like Peter Odemwingie, Wilfried Zaha, Juan Cala, they were players in the comfort zone. I think in hindsight, we would have had more of a chance of staying up if we would have kept the promotion group together. That is just my opinion. Caulker was the captain and a good player, but he had his issues off the pitch, which are well-documented and he was in the height of all that at the time. Gary Medel was a good guy and a good player too, but it was hard to communicate with him.
I feel like we changed a lot of players who were unbelievable professionals and we changed the management at a key moment. I think, up until around Christmas, that we had every chance of staying up, but we slowly diluted the togetherness and group of players that would run through a brick wall for each other. Maybe we wouldn’t have been good enough, but that’s my opinion. The team that won the Championship, I feel like we wouldn’t have done any worse if we didn’t change anyone.
Malky was incredibly popular and his time at the club came to an end in a very controversial, drawn out way. How did you find working with him and how did you view that whole situation at the time?
I loved working with him because he got the best out of me. He didn’t let me take it easy and drove me on. The first season, he had to rebuild the whole squad and we got to a cup final and the play-offs. We won the league with games to spare then he got sacked in the Premier League and we weren’t in the relegation zone. As a manager, what more could he have done? All the other stuff off the pitch matters, but until he lost his job and the hacking stuff came out, we weren’t aware of any of it. We were trying to stay in the Premier League. It was news to us.
We ran the extract from Jamie Jackson’s book about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer where you discuss board level interference in squad selection and I know you also mentioned it in that Notts County video. You still seem pretty angry about it. Does it still bother you? I guess it must feel like the pinnacle of your career was taken away from you to some extent?
One thing I’m not is bitter about anything that has happened during my football career. I’m proud that I made it as a footballer, played for the clubs I have and made it to the Premier League. Having said that, do I think I should be called in to be told by the manager that the owner and the chief executive have decided that the new signing has to play, after having kept a clean sheet and got man of the match against Villa? Do I think it’s right that you then get dropped with three of the back four? No, it’s not right. I’ll never forget that.
The next game we played was Hull at home. It was a massive game in the relegation fight and because of interference, you ended up with a disjointed back four and two centre halves that couldn’t stand each other. We got beat by four and it was all pointing fingers. It was wrong what was going on at that stage. The likes of me and Huds weren’t on the pitch and we would have given everything we had. I was told that Cala had to play because the owner had brought him in and wanted to see him on the pitch. People start to realise then that there’s more to who’s picking the team. Then you’re really fighting an uphill battle to stay up.
Are you sure Ole wasn’t just fobbing you off and did you get the impression that anything like this was happening before or after this under Malky or Russell Slade?
Malky, absolutely not. That might have been part of his downfall. He wouldn’t be told what to do. If we hadn’t have played so well against Villa, maybe there was a chance that I was being fobbed off, but Ole was a good man and after what he’s achieved in the game, he doesn’t have to fob me off. What am I going to say if he doesn’t want to play me? I would take it on the chin. I think he was telling me the truth.
I guess that’s a situation where by being honest, he has lost his authority and credibility, so is it a case from then on that you question every decision and who might be behind it?
You were then second guessing who was making the decisions. We got relegated and the next season was the start of me having six ankle operations over the following 18 months. I had four that didn’t work before specialist ankle surgeries on each ankle that did work. I had six months left of my deal and I was in the physio room. The way I was released from Cardiff was with my foot in an ice bucket! Ken Choo came in and told me that I wouldn’t be staying in the club after the end of my contract. He was giving me the heads up so I could look for another club.
I don’t think that’s how football clubs should work. Ken is a nice guy, but if you put yourself in my shoes, I had given four-and-a-half years service to the club and never gave less then everything I had. I was training my balls off to get my ankles right so I could carry on my career and I totally get that you have to decide at that point whether or not they keep me because of my injury problems, but to be released like that was crazy.
Russell Slade was the manager and he had heard about it through other people. He called me in to his office and I told him that I had been released. He said he hadn’t had a single conversation about my contract and it felt like ‘here we go again.’ The way Huds left the club too, it’s not right. Maybe the Malky situation ruined the trust and they felt like they had to take more control over their investment, but like I said, I loved my time at Cardiff and none of this will ever cloud that.
Despite their relative success, Cardiff was in a strange place at the time, off the pitch. You were one of the few players that was there throughout the whole period from them playing in blue, changing to red and then returning to blue and I know you played in the first game back in blue. The players I’ve spoken to from that period have all said that you kind of put that sort of stuff to one side, but it was a big deal for fans and it really divided the club. What were your thoughts and feelings about the change and then the change back?
I didn’t want it to change because you want your fans on board. They are your club ultimately. When we changed back, I was absolutely delighted. That first game back in blue against Fulham was one of the proudest moments of my career. I got to captain Cardiff in a sold-out game, with a sea of blue and we won the game. If I look back at my time with Cardiff, there’s scoring in the cup final, but for me, right up there was captaining them for their first game back in blue. I’ve still got the photo with the lads before the game. I was unbelievably proud to do that because it was a massive day for the club and I felt the pressure because I didn’t want to lose my first game as captain.
During your time at the club, it became apparent that you qualified to play for Wales through your grandparents. Was that ever a consideration for you and have you ever regret that decision?
I’ve got two Welsh grandparents and I was approached by Chris Coleman, who was my manager at Coventry saying he wanted to put me in his next squad. It was a massive decision, but I consider myself English. It wasn’t that I had aspirations of playing for England. I did think about it because I like Chris a lot and I didn’t want to say no to him or seem ungrateful, but at the same time, you’ve got to be true to yourself. I wouldn’t expect a proud Welshman to play for England and that was how I felt.
How do you reflect on your time at Cardiff? It was the club where you’ve played the most games in your career and presumably it was probably where you were at the peak of your powers.
That was me at my best and I honestly loved it. I was able to leave with the respect of the fanbase, I was involved in the first team to ever get promoted to the Premier League and I made some friends for life. The core of that squad still speak regularly and meet up when we can. I wouldn’t have enjoyed my career half as much if I didn’t move to Cardiff. I loved the city, loved the fans, it’s a proper club.