TEAM PREVIEW: Cardiff City – Kevin McNaughton remembers the good times

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Last season didn’t go as planned for Cardiff City. With a promising young manager in charge, the team failed to hit the ground running in their attempts to get back to the Premier League, with Russell Slade coming in during October. But things didn’t get much better, although Cardiff did finish safely in mid-table and will now be looking for a big improvement come 2016.

Last Season: Championship (11th)

Manager: Russell Slade

 

Squad

GKs: David Marshall, Simon Moore, Ben Wilson, Joe Lewis
DFs: Lee Peltier, Fabio, Scott Malone, Bruno Ecuele Manga, Ben Turner, Declan John, Matthew Connolly, Semi Ajayi, Ben Nugent, Sean Morrison
MFs: Peter Whittingham, Kagisho Dikgacoi, Craig Noone, Aron Gunnarsson, Anthony Pilkington, Joe Ralls, Stuart O’Keefe, Matthew Kennedy, Kadeem Harris, Sammy Ameobi, Filip Kiss, Jordan Blaise
FWs: Kenwyne Jones, Adam le Fondre, Eoin Doyle, Federico Macheda, Joe Mason, Alex Revell, Javi Guerra, Etien Velikonja

 

Transfers

In: Semi Ajayi (Arsenal), Jordan Blaise (Bordeaux), Sammy Ameobi (Newcastle United – Loan)

Out: Maximiliano Amondarain (Released), Charlie Horton (Leeds United), Danny Johnson (Released), Nicky Maynard (Released), Kevin McNaughton (Released), Kevin Theophile-Catherine (St. Etienne), Josh Yorweth (Ipswich Town), Tom Adeyemi (Leeds United – Loan)

 

First Six: Fulham (H), QPR (A), Blackburn Rovers (A), Wolves (H), Nottingham Forest (A), Huddersfield Town (H)

Likely Lineup: (4-5-1) Moore – Peltier, Morrison, Turner, Fabio – Kennedy, Gunnarsson, Whittingham, Ralls, Ameobi – Mason

 

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A word from…Kevin McNaughton

On his time at the club It was a great experience, obviously to get to two cup finals, promotion. The [2010] Play-Off Final [which Cardiff lost 3-2 to Blackpool] was a bit of a let-down but apart from that there were a lot of great experiences and a lot of great memories.

[Losing the play-off Final] was a very tough experience to be honest with you. I hadn’t really experienced that sort of low before in football. You had the whole summer to think about it, then you saw the other teams who went up playing in the Premier League week in, week out. It was difficult, but it was motivation for a lot of the boys at that time. A few boys actually went on to play Premier League football at different clubs. Eventually [Cardiff] got there, I think that’s what made the actual promotion that little bit special, because we’d got through the heartache of [losing] the play-offs.

On his own pre-season I broke my leg at the end of last season, so the last two, three weeks have been [about] building up my fitness, looking to train. This week I’m going to try and see if I can get into a club to do a week’s training, and see if I’ve got any sort of trials lined up. I’ve got another week training at Bolton’s facilities at the moment, just trying to get myself back up to 100%. It’s been strange, I’ve not experienced it in my career before, I’ve been quite lucky to be honest. Being a free agent at the moment is a new experience. I still feel like I’ve got a lot of football left in me. I’m just trying to get myself fit and get a new club.

On the step up from the Championship It’s massive. I’d played quite a few cup games against Premier League opposition, so I knew what to expect. It’s cruel – you get punished for every mistake you make at that level, I think that’s the main difference between Championship and Premier League. Probably nine times out of ten, you make a mistake and it goes unpunished. In the Premier League, you don’t get away with one. You make a mistake, it’s a goal. That’s the harsh reality of the step-up. But yeah, it was enjoyable, a great experience, playing against the best players in the world, in one of the best leagues in the world. It’s something I’ll take with me when I finish football.

It was good to be part of the first [Cardiff] team [to be in the Premier League]. That goes down in history. To be part of it, to be on the pitch as well when we got over the line was great, a special night. It was real highlight of my career, something that I look back on fondly. Especially my time at Cardiff, I had some highs and lows, but that’s definitely a real high.

On the off-field issues You can’t affect it, that’s the thing. The boys had heard whispers of the changes that were going to be made, but I don’t think we realised the sort of effect it would have on the supporters to be honest with you.

It is a big deal, you know, changing colours. Cardiff fans are known as pretty die-hard supporters, and they took [the change from blue shirts to red in 2012] quite badly. There was a rift in the club, it’s all sorted now, it’s one of those things. The owner did change [the strip colour back]. As a player you can’t really affect things like that, you do notice it, the off-field goings-on. I remember the protests, but as a player you’ve just sort of got to switch off from things like that, get on with your job.

On the effect of a new manager taking over during the season That affected players more than anything else really to be honest with you. You’ve got to adapt to a new manager coming in, a different style of play. When you’re deep down at the bottom of the league, you’re struggling, you’re just trying to keep your head afloat, when a new manager comes in it does make life a little bit more difficult.

You’ve got to try and adapt. It’s one of these things that happens in football, I’ve experienced it a lot, I think maybe the younger lads had not experienced things like that happening, but I’ve experienced the ins and outs of managers leaving, things like that. For the older, experienced heads they were probably used to it. It comes a shock, it’s not easy. It either works or it doesn’t and in our case it didn’t work.

On challenging this season Yeah, I think they’ve got the backbone of a good team. I think they maybe need to add two or three players, they need to get in quality players. They’ve accumulated a massive squad over the last few years. Probably last season was a bit of a transitional period. They’ve chopped up the squad a little bit now and I think they’re probably looking to bring in maybe one or two bodies. If they get some decent signings in they’ve got a good chance of getting minimum play-offs. If they get a good run together they’ll be pushing for the Top Two but I think a good season for Cardiff next season is making the play-offs.

[The Championship] is definitely one of those leagues, I think if you start well, it gives you a good basis to go on. The only team I can really remember who didn’t start well and who got promoted was Sunderland a few years back. If you have a decent start to the season you give yourself a good chance to at least make the play-offs. There are a few teams who can maybe come and make a late surge, nick into the play-offs. It’s one of those leagues where there is so much to play for, right up until the end of the season. Last season was probably the prime example of that, you had six or seven teams all pushing to get promotion, all in with a shout. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was similar again next season. The teams coming down, they might find it difficult. It’s not easy dropping down to the Championship. A lot of teams struggle, the likes of Wigan, teams like that.

On Russell Slade To be honest, I didn’t actually work with him at all. Towards the end of the season I was at Bolton on loan, so when he came in I was already away. But the lads seem to like him, I think he was a breath of fresh air really, just in terms of what type of player he wants to bring in, training methods, things like that. He’s a bit more suited to Championship football I think. He’s got a few of his own players now, so next season will be a real test for him, whether he’s managed to bring the right bodies in. He can begin to put his own stamp on things. If he does that, gets one or two signings that are needed now, it should be a good season for Cardiff. They’ve got a chance to push for the play-offs.

On leaving the club It’s difficult! I remember when I went down at the end of last season to speak to the manager, I knew that I wasn’t going to be signing. It sort of sunk in then, when I was leaving the training ground. It was emotional. I’ve had quite a lot of highs and lows there, experienced a lot of good times at the club. I’ve made a lot of friends down in South Wales. It was sad, but I try and think of the good times and look back on them fondly. In this day and age it’s quite unusual for a player to stay at a club for that length of time, so I think myself fortunate.

On being a club’s cult hero It’s great. I remember the first time going down [to Cardiff], the stadium at the time was Ninian Park, and the sign was falling off! Within a couple of weeks of being there, playing a few games, I’d seen the sort of passion that was around the place, in terms of support. I thought, ‘This is brilliant.’ [Cardiff fans] warmed to me, I think it was just general work rate, I was never the best player that’s played there, but in terms of giving everything, I think supporters appreciate that.

 

The Offside Rule Podcast Prediction: With a lot of players still to get off the wage bill and not many first team players coming through the door, Slade still has a lot of work to do to mould his team together. A quiet season of consolidation may be just what they need, anything else is a huge bonus.

Key Player: Peter Whittingham – The one constant for Cardiff in recent years, he still has plenty of quality and bags of experience to go with it. If he ticks, Cardiff will tick too.

One to Watch: Matthew Kennedy – The 20-year-old made a big impact when arriving in January, man of the match on his debut, Kennedy made a midfield position his own and could have plenty more to offer Cardiff this season.

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