How is Steve Morison getting on? It should be a simple enough question, but it’s anything but.
Were you to ask how Chris Wilder was getting on at Middlesbrough, the answer would be very well, thanks. In roughly the same amount of time, he has taken Boro from 15th to 6th. It’s a tangible, clear sign of progress. They are no longer looking over their shoulder, but instead now have designs on promotion. Look at what you could have won, Cardiff.
When assessing Morison’s tenure to date, it feels like there is a lot to unpack.
I asked on Twitter’s hive mind the other day what it would take for Morison to warrant longer terms. Contracted until the summer, he is effectively on trial. What does he need to achieve in order to secure a long-term deal? The general consensus was that he has improved the style of play, so to keep Cardiff up would suffice.
I have to admit that I was quite surprised by that, and for what its worth, I think the club will be looking for more than mere safety. Four wins, three draws and six defeats is not exactly a ringing endorsement. Admittedly, there have been some tough games in there, but those results suggest that you never know what you’re going to get. Yet the mood feels far better than results suggest.
There is a feeling that Cardiff are finally on the right track. They’re playing more football, utilising their best academy prospects, lowering the average age and generally going about things the right way. That is all true, but is that merely the upside of Mick McCarthy’s oppressive regime and accentuating the positives, or something more significant?
If you look at the form table from Morison’s time in charge, they are exactly where they currently are in the Championship table; 20th. Most of Cardiff’s current problems were inherited, rather than created by Morison, but he hasn’t managed to address them either. There is still a disconnect between midfield and the attack and opponents still charge through the centre of the pitch at will, despite the presence of three central midfielders and three centre backs.
Morison is either rather blunt and chippy in press conferences, or he takes no prisoners and tells it like it is, depending on your side of the fence. The mood appears to have improved in training, as the clips the club are so keen to show us attest, but that is likely to be as much due to the removal of Mick as the introduction of Steve.
My gut feeling is that were a decision to be made right now, that Morison, despite the things in his favour, wouldn’t get the job long term and there are various reasons for that.
One of the things that remains in Morison’s favour is that he was cheap. He was an in-house solution and bailed them out when they were unprepared for such a rapid downturn under McCarthy. Wilder would have been the golden ticket, but likely out of Cardiff’s price range. You do tend to get what you pay for though, especially with managers. Maybe Michael Beale would have been a better bet, but we’ll never know and by the time they were able to arrive at a considered decision, Morison had already had chance to impress and had started to win over supporters.
Mehmet Dalman didn’t want him though and was very clear on that. He didn’t want to place the future of the club in the hands of such an inexperienced manager and you can understand why. It’s a perfectly valid concern and to some extent he has been proven correct. They would probably have hoped to see Cardiff climb the table a bit by now.
What surprised me is that they didn’t pair Morison with a more experienced assistant or first-team coach. Morison, Tom Ramasut and Mark Hudson, who has freshly minted coaching badges, are all wet behind the ears and learning on the job. It’s a big undertaking and they remain bold, high-risk appointments, with very little experience between them to fall back upon.
Morison cashed in on his cushy Under-23 job to take charge of a job he probably wouldn’t have been entrusted with anywhere else at this stage of his career. He probably reasoned that it was a risk worth taking, but he still may end up out of work in a few months.
At a time when people can’t seem to agree on anything, whether that be Brexit, Boris Johnson or wearing a mask, most people seem to be united behind Morison, which is as encouraging as it is surprising. Whether that lasts remains to be seen, but a united front certainly gives Cardiff the best chance of staying up.
If we’re asking how good will be good enough for Morison to remain in charge though, I expect the answer is probably better than this.