So finally, after endless play-off heartache, Cardiff City have finally made it to the Premier League. It was obvious to all that certain areas of the team would need strengthening if they weren't to be relegated by Christmas, and with last season's top scorer Heider Helguson and midfield stalwart Stephen McPhail both being released, gaps needed to be plugged. A transfer kitty in excess of £25 million was promised by big-spending owner Vincent Tan, so all eyes turned to Malky Mackay to see how he would spend it. Over the next couple of months, the existing transfer record for fees paid was broken on three separate occasions.
The first capture, 6' 4" striker Andreas Cornelius, arrived in a £7.5 million deal from FC Copenhagen in late June and instantly handed the number nine shirt. He was top scorer in the Danish Superliga last season, with 18 goals from 32 appearances, and has also played seven times for Denmark. No doubt he comes highly rated, but personally I have my doubts and fear another Etien Velikonja scenario. The Slovenian international cost us £1.5 million last summer and played only three times, not making much of an impression in any of them despite scoring goals for fun in the development squad. A closer look at his overall record may go some way to explaining this. For Gorica and Maribor he played a combined total of 152 times, scoring 52 goals. Not that remarkable, especially in one of the weaker leagues in Europe. His scoring record was boosted by a record of 14 goals in 17 cup games, where the opposition was generally very much inferior. In short, Velikonja flattered to deceive. If he can't cement a place in the Championship, he has no chance in the Premier League.
The problem with Cornelius is, as talented as he may be, at just 20 he is very young and untested. Just like Velikonja was when he arrived. Personally, I would have preferred to have signed a more experienced man for that role, to compete with Nicky Maynard and Fraizer Campbell. England internationals Marcus Bent and Carlton Cole were both available, and for considerably lower fees (Cole on a free!). It is likely, however, that they would have commanded higher wages. Not that paying sky-high wages seems to phase Malky or the current owners too much. It is rumored that City are in the market for yet another striker, to add to the considerable options already at the club. If we continue playing one up front, which seems likely, that would probably be an unnecessary expense. Even with injury concerns over Maynard and Campbell and doubts over the ability of Velikonja, Rudy Gestede, Joe Mason, Tommy Smith, and Craig Bellamy are also vying for places, with Rhys Healey banging on the door.
Less fanfare surrounded the arrivals of Goalkeeper Simon Moore and fullback John Brayford, who were brought in from Brentford and Derby County respectively. Third in the pecking order behind established number one David Marshall and his back-up Joe Lewis, it is unlikely Moore will make much of an impression this season, but at just 23, he has time on his side. More is expected from Brayford, generally regarded as one of the best defenders outside the Premier League. At £1.5 million he could prove to be one of the bargains of the season, and is sure to challenge Kevin McNaughton for the right-back slot, leaving Mathew Connolly to push for one of his favoured centre-back positions.
Malky broke the transfer record for the second time in July with the £8.5 million capture of centre-back Steven Caulker from Tottenham. This transfer raised some eyebrows, with the 21-year old being widely regarded as one of the best prospects in the Premier League. He already had two seasons of top-level experience behind him, one on loan at Swansea where he won rave reviews. He had also been a shoe-in in the 2012 Great Britain Olympic team and scored on his full England debut against Sweden. It is believed he agreed to move to Cardiff in order to play more games, instead of being a bit-part player at Spurs, and should go a long way toward shoring up the defence and giving it a more mobile and dynamic look. His centre-back partner is likely to be either Ben Turner or club captain Mark Hudson, neither of whom are exactly blessed with pace to burn.
Then followed the most eye-opening transfer to date, is the £11 million transfer of Chile international Gary 'El Pitbul' Medel from Sevilla. The combative defensive midfielder comes with a little baggage, having been sent off seven times in 90 games for Sevilla, but the 26-year old's pedigree is undoubted. He has been a mainstay of the national team since 2007, racking up over 50 appearances, and is generally regarded as one of the country's best players. Whenever a new signing is made, a good gauge of their true ability is the reaction of the fans at their old club. In this case, the consensus is that Sevilla should have kept El Pitbul. They didn't want to lose him, which is encouraging. He looks set to battle Aron 'Iceman' Gunnarsson for the holding role in midfield. And what a battle it should be!
El Pitbul didn't appear to have been one of Malky's top targets. Negotiations only began after talks with Victor Wanyama and Etienne Capoue fell through, and were eventually finalized while he played for his old club against Manchester United. A game the Spaniards won 3-1, by the way. Let's hope that's some kind of omen. The only concern is that, as with Cornelius, it might take El Pitbul some time to adjust to the Premiership, and to learn English. A safer bet may have been ex Cardiff loan star Gary O'Neil, who signed for QPR after being released by West Ham. Or even Scott Parker, who seems to be in the process of being edged out at Spurs. With their Premier League experience, either one would have been a great addition to the squad.
A few more eyebrows were raised with the capture of 20-year old defender Maximiliano Amondarain from Uruguayan team National for an undisclosed fee following a successful trial. Mainly because nobody has ever heard of him. No comment. Less of a gamble was the £2.1 million arrival of lavishly named 23-year old full-back Kevin Theophile-Catherine. This is a player Mackay, and others, had been tracking for some time and comes with no little experience, having played over 80 games for French League 1 side Rennes as well as representing France at U20 and U21 levels.
The drama continued. On transfer deadline day City paid West Brom £2.5 million for their Nigerian forward Peter Odemwingie, snatching him on a three-year deal from under the noses of Swansea. This one really divided the supporters. At 32, and with over 50 caps for Nigeria, Odemwingie has both experience and ability in spades, but has been frozen out at West Brom because of infamously trying to force through a transfer to QPR in January. I think it's fair to say that he comes with a fair bit of baggage, but on the plus side he arrives at the CCS with a point to prove.
If we shed a little dead weight (Simon Lappin, Filip Kiss, or Etien Velikonja, anyone? Going cheap!) the squad looks in decent shape. Maybe we could also afford to lose either Tommy Smith, Craig Noone or Craig Conway and add a quality winger in their place. I think that was the reasoning behind City's failed approach for Thomas Ince over the summer, though Odemwingie could conceivably fill that role. With Mackay sticking to a 4-5-1 formation so far this season and a clutch of strikers already at the club, it could be the only place for him in the team. Personally, I would have preferred someone else, but still, mustn't be greedy. This team looks much better equipped to survive in the top flight than some.
Croeso y Cymru, boyos!
My new book, From the Ashes - The REAL Story of Cardiff City FC, is out now on Gwasg Carreg Gwalch.