Ross Bowden : Cardiff City squad assessment

By Ross Bowden

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With the transfer window closed and a rare Saturday off for the internationals, I think now is as good a time as any to give my views on the squad Ole has assembled. Right now, I have the opinion Ole has bought very well overall and I applaud him for that, although I still think there are certain areas of the team Ole could have perhaps better spent the kitty. However, despite most people knowing my feelings about Tan and the rebrand, I have to begrudgingly accept Tan has backed Ole to deliver what many of us feel, is one of the strongest squads in our history. I will go through our squad and analyse each position.


David Marshall – In my opinion, the best performing keeper in the Premiership last season and I thought it was absolutely criminal he wasn’t nominated in the team of the season. There is no bias from me with this opinion, Marshall made the most saves, some of them being absolutely spectacular like the save at home to Villa and he won us countless points on his own. Marshall is an outstanding shot stopper and if Marshall was with a top club in a less physical league, he would probably be rated amongst the best in the world.

The reason I say this is because this season in the Championship has posed Marshall different problems. There are more balls into the box in the Championship and Marshall has been seen to flap at crosses already this season. Yeovil’s goal in the friendly was from Marshall not being commanding, strong and decisive enough. I don’t think Marshall will ever be 100% comfortable commanding his box and this is one area of his game he needs to improve on.

Another weakness with Marshall is his kicking. Going back to his incredible save home to Villa, the attack resulted from a poor clearance from Marshall leading to Villa’s attack. But I don’t think Marshall’s kicking is a huge concern at this level. The reason I am being perhaps overly critical of Marshall is because he is such a fantastic keeper and we are lucky to have him. He was the best performing keeper in the Premiership last season and I’m struggling to think of a Championship keeper I would rather to Marshall.

Simon Moore – Moore impressed me from the very little I saw of him with Brentford. I watched him during a playoff semi final and it went to a penalty shoot out. Moore looked a big, commanding keeper back then and his penalty saves that game shows he’s a good shot stopper. We haven’t seen much of Moore in competitive games, but he’s impressed me a lot in the friendlies. He reminds me a lot of Schmeichel or Neuer with the way he comes off his line. Moore’s first involvement in the Wolfsburg friendly was when a ball was played behind the defence and we could all hear a loud shot of “KEEPERS!!” as he charged off his line and dived on the loose ball. I like that a lot with keepers, as a former defender myself, it makes such a difference knowing there’s someone decisive behind you to communicate and take the pressure off you.

I think Moore is unfortunate to be behind Marshall at the moment but the fact he’s overtaken Joe Lewis to be our number 2 shows he’s progressing nicely and will develop into a top keeper for us in the future. Moore still needs to work on his kicking from what I’ve seen, but he’s still very young and has years ahead of him to improve aspects of his game further.

Full backs

Fabio – I will be the first to confess I was totally wrong about Fabio. When we signed him, I thought he was decent going forwards but a liability defensively. My initial thoughts looked correct when he failed to cut out a through ball leading to Swansea’s first goal. Towards the end of last season in a struggling team, Fabio at least showed his commitment running himself into the ground for us. You can’t question Fabio’s effort, he gives 100% every game and he has a resilient, spirited attitude that has made him stand out for us so far this season.

Fabio has also shown his defensive qualities this season, I thought he was awesome home to Wigan in particular. What impresses me with Fabio is his reaction, if he does rarely give it away he will react like lightning to win the ball back. We all know by now that Fabio is a very talented footballer but I think Fabio has proved many of us wrong (myself included) with his defensive qualities. I think Fabio has been our most impressive performer so far this season.

John Brayford – After all the speculation with what happened to Brayford last season, it’s good to see Ole has brought him back into the squad and allowed Brayford to show what he can do. With Fabio and Brayford, I believe we have the two best full backs in the division. Brayford’s pace, energy and commitment has already made him a huge favourite. I love the way when Brayford picks up the ball, it’s head down as he charges forward. Brayford also has a good delivery, I think he will be a huge asset to us this season and he gives us a dimension we were previously lacking.

As much as we all love McNaughton, his final ball usually let him down. I think with Brayford, we get McNaughton’s energy and commitment, but Brayford provides a better end product. I also feel Brayford has that street wise attitude about him which will make him important in those scrappy winter games on poor pitches. I don’t see many opposing wingers getting the better of Brayford.

Declan John – Thrown into the deep end last season in a struggling Premiership team and coped very well. He’s young, he’s learning, he made a few mistakes, but without experience, you’re never going to improve your game. John learned a lot last season and his performances kept improving. I will always stick up for John as he’s one of us, a local lad. You can see John used to be a winger, he has tremendous pace, makes some brilliant runs and is a quality footballer. I think if John can improve his positioning and decision making, he will turn into a cracking left back for us.

John has been very unlucky to have the excellent Fabio in front of him so far this season, but he will no doubt get an opportunity over this long, Championship season and when he gets his chance, it’s up to him to grab it. I think John is fully capable of becoming Wales’ number 1 left back in the future as the talent is definitely there. John’s still only 19 and I think he can become a great player for us.

Centre backs

Bruno Ecule Manga – None of us have seen him play, but looking at his stats, the fact he seems a born leader and marked Ibrahimovic out of the game could make him an unbelievable coup by Ole. I obviously can’t give my thoughts on him until I see him play, but if he plays as well as he’s rated, it will be 5 million well spent!

Sean Morrison – There are differing opinions on how much we actually paid for Morrison, with fees from 1 million to 4 million being quoted. At the moment I’m undecided on him, although I will of course give him time. Many fans (myself included) were criticising Hudson during his first season and he went on to prove us all wrong. Ole has described Morrison as a future captain. He’s commanding enough at 6’4 but I’m still undecided about him on the deck. He doesn’t seem the most pacey or mobile of centre backs and the number of times at Fulham he turned and passed it back to the keeper was frustrating. But obviously, Ole brought Morrison in because he thinks he will be a valuable asset and I think we should all give him a good few months before we can give a fair opinion.

Ben Turner – Turner gets plenty of criticism for his long diagonal hoof ball, but I will take two Ben Turner’s at centre back ahead of two pretty, footballing centre backs every time. Turner’s defensive qualities can’t be questioned. He’s a commanding, courageous warrior who will head, tackle, challenge and block anything in sight. Turner is also deceptively quick with his long stride. Home to Tottenham last season I remember Kyle Walker going on one of his dangerous runs at full flight into our box, Turner sprinted across to slide tackle him. For those who say Turner is slow, how many times have you seen an opposing striker knock the ball past Turner and beat him for pace?

Turner is an excellent defender, a man mountain of a man and although he isn’t great on the ball (when he tries passing it simple, it can get intercepted leading to a goal like home to Man Utd last season), defenders jobs are to defend. Call me old fashioned, but if it was up to me I would field a back line of defenders who can actually defend and leave the midfielders play the football.

Matthew Connolly – I was very surprised to see so many fans willingly casting Connolly aside. Connolly was one of our best performers during our title winning season and will be a very important member of our squad this season. Not only is Connolly an experienced pro who can play centre back or full back, he has achieved promotion from the Championship on 3 separate occasions with 3 different clubs. Connolly has been our best performing centre back this season, he’s been there, done it and is a winner. Surely Ole can’t drop him on current form?

Juan Cala – A typical continental centre back. Comfortable on the ball, but perhaps struggles with the physicality of the British game. I like Cala for his passion, he chipped in with some important goals last season. His celebration after his header away to Everton was great to see and who can forget his screamer away to Southampton? Not many centre backs have the technical ability of Cala, but there’s a reason why he’s with us and not a top level club. Cala also made some mistakes last season to cost us such as Sunderland away and we leaked goals with him in the team. However, the Championship is more forgiving and I would be interested to see how Cala could handle the physicality in this league. But at the end of the day, you need consistency in this league and one thing Cala didn’t give us last season was consistency. My general opinion on Cala, however harsh this may sound is he’s a “poor mans David Luiz”.

Danny Gabbidon – I have fond memories watching us rise through the leagues with Gabbidon oozing class and composure, making everything look so simple. He will surely just be a back up at 35, but let’s not forget he played quite a few games for Crystal Palace. I hope he still has the pace he had when he was last with us. Gabbidon is probably the most classy centre back I have seen for us during my time watching City.

Centre midfielders

Peter Whittingham – I think Whitts will always be held in the highest regard for the years of service and great moments he’s given us. He could have moved elsewhere but has stuck by us all these years. Whitts has a wand of a left foot and on his day, is unplayable at Championship level. His hat-trick home to Wolves was one of the finest displays I’ve ever seen from a City player. However, despite his undoubted talent, it’s frustrating he doesn’t produce his magic more often. It’s interesting to see Ole playing Whitts on the left again, perhaps this is to give Whitts more time and space to utilise his quality, allowing him to get more crosses into the box.

Whitts’ weaknesses have always been his pace and mobility in my opinion and for Whitts to produce, you need an energetic workhorse alongside him who will do the less glamorous side of the game. Unfortunately against better teams who have more energy and quality in the midfield areas, this nullifies Whittingham’s threat and puts us on the back foot. To see the best of Whitts, I think he needs to be part of a 3 man midfield so he can pull the strings and be the playmaker.

Kagisho Dikgacoi – Signed to fill the holding midfielder void left by Gary Medel and as soon as you see him, you can see he’s a big unit capable of doing some crunching tackles. At the Yeovil friendly, it looked like he needed the game but recently at Fulham, he still didn’t look match fit to me which makes me wonder why Ole threw him into the team? I think we need Dikgacoi to get fully fit before we can judge him fairly but from the little I’ve seen, he looks a midfield destroyer who will win the ball and give it simple. His powerful stature could help us in those physical, scrappy games.

Tom Adeyemi – Highly rated at Birmingham winning the young player of the year award and working his way up to be their vice captain. Adeyemi impressed home to Huddersfield and you can immediately see he gives us something our centre midfield area was lacking with his abundance of power and energy. Adeyemi is a decent size with plenty of power, not many players will be able to shrug him off the ball. There is plenty to come Adeyemi and I will look forward to seeing how he develops with us. Not sure why he didn’t play at Fulham, but I think this will be an excellent signing by Ole.

Kim Bo-Kyung – Of all our current players, Kim has been the biggest disappointment. When not included in the squad, I saw Kim regularly working out down the Vale gym, trying to bulk up on the weights. It’s such a shame because he’s willing to put extra hours in off the field. The desire is there and the second half of our title winning season, Kim stood out a mile. I really thought he would kick on and make an impact in the Premiership. Kim gave us some great moments like setting up Gunnarsson’s goal home to Man City and scoring the header to equalise against Man Utd.

Kim has been messed about playing different positions and I think Kim is at his best playing just behind the striker. Unfortunately, he’s a confidence player and now he isn’t featuring this season, I’m not sure he will ever get his confidence back. Kim looked a shadow of the player from 2 seasons ago away to Coventry. Sadly, it seems Kim has lost his way with us and perhaps a move to a new club for a fresh challenge in a less physical league will benefit him.

Aron Gunnarsson – Gunnarsson has made a huge contribution to our club, especially during the title winning season when Mutch was injured. A courageous warrior who would run through a brick wall. You can see how much it means to him when he achieves something for our club and I think Peter Whittingham has a lot to thank him for with the amount of running he did alongside him in midfield during our title winning season.

Unfortunately, since his shoulder operation, Gunnarsson doesn’t quite look the same player. His long throw weapon is gone but I now see Gunnarsson getting shrugged off the ball more often and I’m convinced that wouldn’t be happening if his shoulder was still 100%. Gunnarsson’s tenacious competitiveness made him the player he was but since his shoulder operation, it seems some of that has been taken away. His weaknesses such as ball retention were more exposed in the Premiership but in the Championship, I still feel he can be a useful player for us this season.

Magnus Wolff Eikrem – Despite joining us last January, I don’t recall Eikrem ever having a run of games. He’s a tidy footballer and is an obvious centre midfielder, but Ole has played him out wide all this season, which I don’t understand. Ole described Eikrem as a quarterback who can pick the ball up and get the team playing when he signed him. I would like to see Eikrem being given a run in the centre to see what he can do at this level, as the jump from the Norwegian league to the Premiership looked a step too far for him. Eikrem is a wicked dead ball specialist and I can see us scoring quite a few goals from his corners.

Matts Moller Daehli – I think only Ramsey and Koumas (first time around) can match Daehli for natural born talent. He reminds me a lot of Iniesta with the way he can twist, turn and wriggle out of tight situations. Obviously, Daehli has a long way to go until he can get to Iniesta’s level, there’s been games this season where he’s looked ineffective and anonymous, but I think he’s wasted out wide. I think Daehli should be in the middle at this level so we can get him on the ball as much as possible. Daehli rarely gives the ball away and can open defences up, so why not get him more involved? Daehli’s still only 19 and I will be excited to see how Daehli develops for us and if he will go all the way to the top in the future like I think he will.

Joe Ralls – I have saved Ralls till last as I think this will be his breakthrough season. When he left us to go to Yeovil on loan, he was a boy. When he came back to us from Yeovil, the experience has turned him into a man. Ralls stood out a mile at Yeovil, bright, buzzy, mobile, demanding the ball, giving it, receiving it back, everything was going through him and he’s a fantastic footballer. I can see him taking over from Whittingham in the future. I watch Ralls play and think he can do everything Whittingham can do, but quicker. Ralls has already scored some spectacular goals of his own such as his goal away to Hull when he burst on the scene. Ralls is yet another very bright player for the future. I am comparing him to Whittingham because they are both left footed and both talented footballers and I think Ralls is now ready to break into the starting 11. If given a run of games, I’m convinced Ralls will shine and keep his place.


Craig Noone – Ole recently described him as an 8 million pound player and you can see why. How we are missing him! Noone’s performance away to Man City was the most impressive performance I’ve seen from any winger playing for City. Every time he got the ball, he skinned an opponent. Noone is a Premiership player, in some ways it’s lucky he’s injured as we would have had some clubs bidding for him this transfer window. Noone’s pace, dribbling ability and trickery will twist and turn many full backs inside out. We have been severely lacking someone who can pick up the ball, beat a player and create openings.

Anthony Pikington – Norwich fans weren’t happy to lose him and considering he’s had a successful period in the Premiership, you can see why. It’s too early to judge Pilkington, nothing came off for him at Fulham but home to Wigan when he came on, I saw a refreshing directness in his game. He’s both footed and was willing to try taking the full back on at every opportunity, instead of taking the safe option of turning back and passing it simple. Pilkington’s directness will create plenty of chances for us.

Guido Burgstaller – I haven’t seen enough of Burgstaller, even though I’ve seen him play a few times in friendlies. He’s hard working and scored against Coventry, but at the moment I feel he’s still adapting to a new league in a new country and hopefully, there’s more to come from him. Home to Huddersfield, Burgstaller did some good things and some not so good things. From what I’ve seen so far he’s a hard working winger without a great deal of pace or flair, he cuts in quite a bit but has a decent end product. Some of the crosses and balls he plays through are clever, need to see a lot more of him to give a fair judgement mind.

Kadeem Harris – I was hoping Harris would be given an opportunity this season but that doesn’t seem the case. Harris is up to this level, his 11 appearances for Brentford, helping them to win all 11 games showed that. With Harris standing out that much in League 1, why isn’t he at least on the bench in the Championship to be an impact sub? It’s frustrating to see Eikrem coming on to the right wing when Harris would be a much better option to run at tired legs towards the end of games. If Harris isn’t given an opportunity, loan him to a smaller Championship club so he can get a run of games at this level to show what he can do. He has too much talent to be wasted like this.


Kenwyne Jones – What a transformation in Jones this season! A few seasons ago, I went up to Newcastle to watch us get stuffed 5-1 on the Friday night. The following Saturday, I took the train to watch Sunderland home to Wigan, which finished 1-1, but Jones played up front for Sunderland that day and had an absolute stormer. Wigan couldn’t knock him off the ball, he went on a run past 3 players before smashing a shot against the outside of the post and banged in a header to equalise in the second half. I left that game thinking how I wish we could sign a striker like Jones. When we did in January, you can imagine my disappointment. What a difference this season and I think Jones’ rise in form is because he sorted his personal family issues this summer and is much happier now. He’s started well, scored goals, his confidence is up so Ole has to keep playing him. What I am now seeing the same player that I saw for Sunderland that day and long may it continue!

Adam Le Fondre – To be honest, when we first signed Le Fondre, I wasn’t at all inspired. My opinion was Le Fondre was an Earnie sort of player, a poacher but did little else to contribute. I didn’t see the point of signing Le Fondre when I thought at the time, Campbell, Maynard, Guerra and Mason would be more than good enough for this division. I then watched Le Fondre against Yeovil and Wolfsburg and changed my opinion. Le Fondre showed in those games that he has a lot more to his game than I initially thought. I thought Le Fondre and Maynard linked up superbly against Wolfsburg and I stated I wanted Le Fondre and Maynard to start at Blackburn and keep building their impressive looking partnership.

However, Le Fondre was played out of position at Blackburn and he hasn’t produced anything near that Wolfsburg performance since. He needs a goal and once his confidence grows, hopefully he can reproduce that Wolfsburg form. Instead of Le Fondre continuing up front at Blackburn to build on his Wolfsburg display, he was messed about and played in midfield. The change to then take Maynard off and put Le Fondre up front at Blackburn once he had already run himself into the ground for 70 minutes did him no favours whatsoever. I can’t fault Le Fondre’s effort but with Macheda returning from his injury, I would probably rest Le Fondre and give him a couple of games in the development team so he can hopefully score some goals and get his confidence back up.

Nicky Maynard – I am a big fan of Nicky, he’s always been one of the best Championship strikers going back to his Bristol City days and he’s one of those strikers who can create chances for himself and score some great goals. He was really looking the business for us before his cruel injury and until he gets a run of games, I’m not sure he will ever get back to the way he was. Nicky at his best is a quality striker at this level. He looked great against Wolfsburg but has had a few indifferent performances since and like Le Fondre, he hasn’t really done enough to keep his place. I hope Nicky gets a goal to get his confidence up because when he’s fully sharp and at his best, he’s a fantastic striker at this level.

Federico Macheda – As soon as I saw Macheda play at Bath, he reminded me of Bothroyd a little because he’s tall, but very good with a ball at his feet. He showed glimpses of his class when he came on at Fulham, casually rolling his foot over the ball to control it and run in one motion. There’s no doubt he has talent, he showed what he can do with Birmingham last season and if he hits that form for us, he could potentially destroy this division. Hopefully Ole is the man to get the best out of him. I would personally start Jones and Macheda up front at the moment. They’re both mobile, they both hold the ball up and I think they could be a formidable partnership.

Javi Guerra – Has come with a big reputation being one of the top scorers in the Primera Liga. You can instantly see what a clever player he is with his movement and decision making. He rarely gives the ball away and his touch, link up play and quality shows what a classy player he is. His hold up play, turn and through ball for Macheda’s goal at Port Vale shows what he can do to open up defences.

That concludes my squad analysis and like I said, I think Ole has spent very well overall. My main question mark is whether we will get value for money with Ole’s signings and if other areas of the team needed strengthening more? I think we are missing a midfield general, a Scott Parker type of player who can put his foot on the ball and dictate.

My main concern is our playing style, Ole rotates way too much for my liking meaning we will struggle to get a settled, organised team. At the moment, it looks like Ole has just thrown individual players on the pitch to see what they can do. We don’t seem to have a game plan or style of play and until the chopping and changing stops, we will continue to see misunderstandings on the pitch with players not knowing each others game inside out.

When you think of the great striker partnerships, they say their understanding is “telepathic” and that’s why the partnership is successful. They don’t have to look up before passing, they just know where each other will be and because of the understanding, they can do things more quickly. We’re not seeing any successful understandings on the pitch at the moment but hopefully with the international break, it will give us time to get there.

What does everyone else think?