I was lucky enough to grab a quick chat with Cardiff City’s keeper of the flame, Steve Borley, recently. Please note that this was before all the Gareth Bale hullabaloo!

Congratulations on the restoration of Llanrumney Hall. That’s not the only development you’re involved with in Llanrumney of course. How is the new training ground shaping up?

We’ve broken ground there and we’ve got the piling in for the academy building. The weather has helped us with the ground conditions as it’s a big cut and fill muck shift project.

What will be the advantages of the new training ground over Cardiff’s existing base?

Over the years, we have outgrown the current building and operating from House of Sport 1 and Treforest has fragmented our operation. The big plus of the new facility is bringing it back in to Cardiff and it gives us a brand-new building, bringing the academy under one roof.  We’ll have sole use of the grass pitches and access to other 3G facilities on the site, which future proofs our Academy.

Will that allow Cardiff to work towards a Category One academy and is that a short-term goal?

My aim was to build a category one academy, so that if we ever did make the step up, we wouldn’t need to make a big investment at that stage. It will be built to a category one specification, but we won’t be running at category one. The danger of too many clubs running at that level is that big clubs will just move the goalposts again and change the criteria and categories.

If you go back 25 or so years ago, there were only about 16 academies, and all other clubs operated   a centre of excellence. When the centres of excellence progressed to academy status, the goalposts moved, and categories were introduced. You must do what works for the club. It’s nice to play against big teams, but the focus is to produce players for the first team.

How will the development be funded and who will own the training ground?

It is being funded by the House of Sport for the academy element and Cardiff University and Cardiff Council are funding the community pitch and hockey pitch. House of Sport are taking a lease on 16 acres and subleasing to the club, working with the Council on the community element, which will be run by a community sport trust

Congratulations too on winning the FAW Women’s Cup. It feels like the team has made great strides in recent years and do not get the attention they deserve. You’ve been a real champion of theirs. Can you explain what changes have been made behind the scenes that have resulted in this improvement?

Our experience at the House of Sport is that the enthusiasm women bring to sport is an untapped resource. Netball is by far our biggest user group and they play all year round. They’re run by volunteers and having all the courts on one site means that its easier for the sport to thrive. We’re converting arena 3 in to a 1,000-seat arena for the Celtic Dragons to call their home and we will then be able to host international futsal. When I saw how women’s sport was developing, I thought it was time we started giving their team equal status, so we moved them to Leckwith and that proved successful.

The problem was that we only had one team. We had no feeder system in place, so last year we formed under-19 and under-16 teams and they brought home a cabinet full of cups and trophies. I think it was a testament to that decision that in the cup final, the two goals were scored by 16-year-olds. The average age of the girls in the first team has dropped dramatically and the facilities at Ocean Park has been a fantastic success. If you go there on a Sunday morning, you can’t get near the car park and there are more girls there than there are boys on a Saturday, with competitive teams playing there in the afternoon.

The FAW have bought in to our programme and we have created the first women and girl’s hub in Wales. Women’s football is a massive growth area in sport and we want to drive participation and the following of women’s football. Sponsors are now queueing up to get involved which will be only positive for the game.

You have other business interests as well as Cardiff, as appears to be the case with most of the directors on the board. How much of your working week are you able to devote to the club?

About 60% maybe across all elements and I’m always available when called upon to help. My main business looks after itself. I have a management group and directors that have taken the reins, which I’ve always encouraged because I don’t like to micro-manage. I spend very little time with the business that I say pays my mortgage and I now spend most of my time on football and sports related projects.

A lot is made and assumed about a perceived wage ceiling at the club. I saw a report recently that had Cardiff’s wage bill for 2020/21 season as the 11th highest in the division, which was less than half of Norwich and Watford. Presumably that decreased again last year and will again next season with the departure of so many senior players. To a large extent, your spend dictates your fate, so is the expectation that Cardiff will be lower mid-table again next season, unless they manage to exceed all expectations and have the club introduced a hard wage ceiling?

There is a hard wage ceiling and it’s not imposed by us, its imposed by Financial Fair Play. Those rules have tightened since the summer conference, so even if you wanted to spend £50m, you’re prevented from doing so. That’s why there is so much talk about the unfairness of parachute payments and the inequality it creates in the division. Therefore, concentrating on recruitment and your academy becomes even more important.

It would be easier for us to spend more money if we had 30,000 at the ground every week because you can only spend the money you bring in. You must live within the rules. They’ve been tightened because of what has happened at Derby and Bury. Clubs have also sold their stadiums and training grounds, then leased them back to comply with FFP and that shouldn’t be allowed, in my opinion. The rules now don’t allow you to do that.

There has been a marked change in Cardiff’s approach to transfers recently. The club appear to be working within a more sustainable model. Steve Morison has talked about the process of selling the club to prospective players, but how do the club identify their targets and is there still a transfer committee in place for final approval?

There’s a recruitment process and then the manager has got to come in and put a good case to the board. He will have a budget, put forward his choices and if it meets the criteria set out, it gets done. There can’t be a situation where we pick the players. We ‘ve had the odd instance of that and it doesn’t work. You can’t impose a player on a manager.

It was disheartening to see so many players head out of contract together this season, especially for the outlay involved in originally acquiring them. I know that the nature of the transfer market is changing and there appears to be far more expiring contracts these days.

A lot of those players were on Premier League or parachute payment wages. Unless they wanted to take a big cut, and I haven’t met too many players that want to take less money than the last contract, we couldn’t afford to renew contracts on what they were earning and still comply with the rules, otherwise we would end up under an embargo. Some of the players naturally move on its all part of the game. Players get older and we’re changing the way we’re playing. Bear in mind some of the players were from Neil Warnock era, some from Neil Harris and some from Mick McCarthy. The fans are demanding a different brand of football, so you need to have a different type of player. We’re trying to get more, pace, youth and attacking quality, so change of playing staff is inevitable.

I attended a supporter meeting a little while back and Mehmet Dalman was asked about Cardiff’s strategy. He conceded “we don’t have one” and that the club were “a work in progress.” He added that; “when we do have one, we will be more than happy to share it with you.” That was when Mick McCarthy was in charge and he said that appointment would allow them to formulate a strategy, so has that happened and if so, what is the club’s ethos?

I like to think that we’ve listened to supporters, who want a different brand of football and to be fair, I think last year we produced that when Steve took over. It wasn’t always successful, but I think fans recognise that we started this mid-season, so there was always going to be a learning curve. I think, if you look at our strategy now, we want to produce more of our own, which is why we’re investing in the academy, and we’re looking to play a brand of football that people will want to come and see. Hopefully it will also be successful, but when you have such a big transition, it’s very rarely instant.

The Supporter’s Trust recently criticised the lack of communication and interaction with the club. I broadly agree with their point and it is one of the reasons I reached out to you. It feels like good communication is essential because if the club explain their actions, supporters will understand, but if that communication doesn’t exist, they will fill in the blanks, while spreading misinformation and uncertainty. Do you understand the criticism?

I do, to a certain extent. Since that comment was made, I’ve met with the Supporters Trust. We’ve also always had a terrific relationship with the Supporters Club. They’ve supported us through thick and thin. When I came in 25 years ago, we couldn’t afford a tractor to cut the grass and they stumped up to pay for one. Their support has always been tangible. You can touch and feel it. I just think that the Supporter’s Trust need to sometimes think about the impact some of their views many of which can be taken out of context and I don’t think they engage enough. For instance, it would help if they attended travel group meeting, which is more than discussions about buses.

In terms of communication, I know one recent thing that drew criticism recently was how long it took to confirm the retained list. Steve Morison confirmed at the back end of last season that the decisions had been made, but it took about two months for that information to be shared, the day before the official deadline. I understand why you wouldn’t want to announce that during the season, but once it ended, why was there still such a lengthy delay in the announcement?

Some clubs announce it early and some on the last day. Sometimes you’re still in negotiations with contract offers and you can’t tell people in January if you still want them to play for you until May. Contracts must be earned by performances.  If you’ve ever met a footballer, they tend to be the most insecure people you’ll ever come across. They sign a contract and they’re already worrying about the next one. To a certain extent, you can understand that because you don’t want to end up in a situation like Joe Bennett or Sean Morrison where you get injured in the final few months of your contract. You know it will take you 12 months to get fit and may affect chances of earning another contract

How are the court cases Cardiff are involved with progressing?

All I can say is that they’ve concluded and we’re waiting for decisions. One we would have expected a decision by now, the other one could be months or years.

To finish, what are your hopes for Cardiff going forward?

I’ve always been a positive person and I’ve never left the house to go to a game, expecting to get beat. Even when we were in the depths of the bottom division. I think we’ve got a decent strategy, but it would be nice if we had more money. Although that leaves openings for the youngsters. It’s been a long time since we’ve produced any and now they are starting to make their mark on the squad. The danger is that managers are only ever six losses away from the sack, so you can understand them not wanting to take a risk on players that may let them down because sometimes, young players can be naïve. We used to have a situation where kids would give up because they couldn’t see a way from the Under-23’s to the first team, but now the door is ajar, they can smash their way through it, which is what we and the supporters want to see.