Before we start, let me just remind you that Leandro Bacuna is not a criminal. He is not a threat to society. He is not Ryan Giggs.
A vocal minority of you, that is admittedly growing in to a vocal majority, thinks that he is not very good at football, but he is. Everyone playing at Championship level is very good at their chosen craft. Bacuna’s crime is that he’s not as good, or as good a fit, as you want him to be. Yet four successive managers have rated and valued him.
Cardiff and Bacuna celebrate their third anniversary at the end of the month. The traditional gift for such an occasion is leather or crystal, but some would rather see him receive his marching orders. It’s not going to happen though, for various reasons. The biggest of which being that everyone else in his position have already got one foot out of the door, so the likelihood is that he’s here for another 18 months yet.
This is not a good thing because it has clearly become an abusive relationship. Bacuna is struggling and the way some supporters treat him is increasingly nasty. They’re gunning for him and as disappointing as Bacuna’s performances have been at times, I find this treatment of him far more disappointing. And troubling.
We live in angry times and Bacuna feels like a conductor for that anger. He gets lumped in with all the frustration people are already feeling due to Cardiff’s league position, Brexit, Covid and various other societal issues. A period of games played behind closed doors have seen fans return in a heightened state. Everything is felt more intensely and social media only fans the flames.
Bacuna set alarm bells ringing from the off. Signed from Reading in the Championship, where he was not perceived as a standout performer, he was promoted to a struggling Premier League side and given a bumper, long-term deal. It felt like a lazy transfer at a time when Cardiff specialised in them.
Bacuna was there to be the calm in the storm of Neil Warnock’s frantic midfield, and initially he was. In his second appearance, at Southampton, he replaced Aron Gunnarsson on the hour and made a significant difference. Marshalling in front of the back four, he kept it simple and took the sting out of a game that Cardiff would eventually win.
That appeared to be what he was brought in to do and it was a function that Cardiff had long neglected, but like so many tactical tweaks, it never lasted for long and Bacuna soon became some sort of luxury Greg Halford. A Swiss army knife to be used in a variety of situations.
Short of centre back and goalkeeper, Bacuna has played everywhere else since, but rarely in his favoured, presumably intended role. Neil Harris even commenced a season without a recognised right back because Bacuna was able to backfill, like some sort of footballing secondment.
The biggest problem is that Cardiff’s midfield doesn’t work and it hasn’t for the longest time. The blend is all wrong and it either malfunctions or gets bypassed altogether. This has affected Bacuna far more than say Joe Ralls, who always still finds a way to impact games. If Pack is there to receive and recycle possession and Ralls is putting out fires, then what is Bacuna for? It has not gone unnoticed that he just scurries around unproductively most games without any real purpose.
Don’t get me wrong, Bacuna is far from faultless in all this. The most exciting thing about his performances is often his hairstyle. He was and still remains a bad fit. That, and his hefty contract, are not his fault, but he bears the brunt of this every week.
His contribution in terms of goals and assists are negligible, he often loses possession and while he was always renowned for his shooting from distance, it is a skill that he has kept well hidden. What is he good for? Absolutely nothing. I’ve always kept the faith though. I’ve always held the hope that a manager would use him correctly, he would play to his strengths, thrive and prove the doubters wrong, but I accept that is not going to happen now.
Bacuna’s continued selection has become not just problematic, but also toxic. Some people REALLY hate him and you can see it etched on the faces of people at games. They’re gunning for him and it has become harmful for the team’s chances. His recent sending off has seen that reach boiling point, but you wonder if his desperate lunge was in part a biproduct of this sustained criticism and abuse. It has certainly cemented it.
Cardiff fans appear to have some sort of midfield blind spot. Bacuna is only the latest in a long line of targets in that area of the pitch. Some people could never understand what Stephen McPhail did, until a health scare prompted an overdue reappraisal. Josh Murphy’s withdrawal has been sarcastically applauded on two separate occasions, a humiliation that even Peter Whittingham endured. Marlon Pack and Will Vaulks also often get it in the neck. It never helps.
In a piece recently recirculated, Bacuna, while still at Aston Villa, stated his desire to play in the Champions League. That may seem worthy of further scorn now, but Bacuna was once considered a real prospect. Suffice to say, I doubt he pictured being a hated scapegoat in a poor Championship side at this stage of his career.
Footballers are their own biggest fans and harshest critics. None of them set out to play badly and Bacuna will be feeling all this more than anyone. We’re probably past the point of no return now, but you can’t just dismiss players like you can managers. If you could, Bacuna would be long gone, but so would many others who get a relatively easy ride.
Bacuna is not cutting it, I’m sure we can all agree, but the abuse needs to stop because it harms everyone involved and despite the depth of your frustration and hatred, the fact remains that he still deserves far better than this.