Contrasting day of emotions in a tale of two cities

Cardiff City Managers Swansea City

A feature on an eventful day for both Cardiff City and Swansea City.

Bank Holiday weekends are not traditionally a time of significant events, but for Swansea City and Cardiff City this particular May weekend will be remembered for two very different reasons, as the events of the day launch the dawn of two new-era’s at both clubs. Less than a month ago the two sides were separated in the Championship table only by goal difference, now Swansea City find themselves in the promised land of the Premier League, while Cardiff City plan start their search for a manager to lead them into yet another Championship campaign on the back of play-off disappointment.

As Swansea City rolled into Wembley on Monday lunchtime, news filtered through that Cardiff City had parted company with manager Dave Jones after six seasons at the club. For the second successive season he had suffered play-off disappointment, a convincing defeat against Reading in the semi-final following on from last years final defeat against Blackpool, but this season was different for Cardiff City and for Dave Jones. The club had significantly strengthened the squad since last years play-off final defeat and it was widely-accepted that this would be a make-or-break season for Jones at the club.

Jones sufficiently re-motivated his side to come close to automatic promotion, although his cause in inspiring his side was benefited from the arrival of players such as Craig Bellamy, but a heavy home defeat against Middlesbrough cost Cardiff an automatic promotion place and exposed the vulnerable side of his team. The next home match for Cardiff would be in the play-off semi-final against Reading, and the Royals cruised to Wembley with a result that eventually cost Jones his job.

But Cardiff are indebted to Dave Jones. During his tenure the club have come through one of their toughest financial periods, and while events off the field stole the front and back page headlines of the South Wales press, Jones maintained the professionalism in his side and Cardiff continued to achieve results against the odds. Transfer embargo’s, late payment of wages, lack of funds and pressure to sell his best players to keep the club afloat were all issues that tested Jones’ resolve and his true ability as a football manager. He succeeded.

Cardiff City emerged from the bad times to find themselves pushing for promotion to the Premier League in a new stadium and new money available to finance and strengthen the squad, but two subsequent failures to reach the riches of the Premier League have now cost Jones his job. The new man at the helm will need time and patience in what will be a new era at the club, and he will join a club in a very different situation to the one that Dave Jones arrived at in 2005.

From the Welsh capital to the English capital. As Dave Jones cleared his office at Cardiff City Stadium, Swansea City manager Brendan Rodgers was fine-tuning his pre-match preparations to take on his former club Reading at Wembley. Reading had already cost Dave Jones his job, but there would be no chance of a repeat result for Rodgers should his side fail to become the first Welsh club to join the Premier League. In what is his first full season in senior club management, Rodgers has transformed Swansea City into one of the most attractive and talked about teams in the Championship, with his inspired signings and approach to the game enabling the club to punch well-above their financial weight in the second tier of English football.

Rodgers experience of Swansea’s rise in fortunes has been limited, when he took charge of the club last summer the financial position and policy of the club would have been explained to him by Chairman Huw Jenkins in extreme detail. The club have learnt from the lessons of the recent past and do not spend money that they do not have. Swansea City are proud to be one of the few professional football clubs in Britain living within their means, but like Cardiff City, they have also experienced the financial lows all-too recently.

Less than ten years ago the club came through one of its darkest periods. Swansea City were in the bottom-tier of the Football League and were on the verge of closure. A new consortium stepped in to steady the sinking ship and as Jenkins and his board assessed the financial mess that they had inherited, the club faced their own on the field battle to stay in the Football League. A last day victory over Hull City in 2003 achieved survival, and the hat-trick by James Thomas that day meant as much, if not more, than Scott Sinclair’s treble at Wembley that booked the side a place in the Premier League.

Both victories, against Hull in 2003 and against Reading in 2011, sparked new-era’s at Swansea City. Both were inspired by a hat-trick and both score-lines finished 4-2. The similarities are uncanny but symbolic and the latest triumph makes for another historical piece of Swansea City folklore. Like Cardiff, Swansea City have emerged from their darker years to become a club challenging for a place amongst the elite of the Premier League in a new stadium. The difference being that Swansea City have now achieved their goal of promotion with an incredible victory at Wembley.

The current situation for both clubs is now very different to what it was less than a month ago. Then they were equals, now they are one league apart, but the difference in the league makes Swansea City the haves and Cardiff City the have-nots. The estimated £90m reward for Premier League promotion will enable Swansea City to significantly improve not only their squad but also their training and academy facilities and the prudent financial approach and skills gained from the boards first challenge in saving the club from extinction will ensure that every pound is well-spent. Brendan Rodgers has earned himself one of the safest jobs in football and he will now lead Swansea City into this exciting new era.

Cardiff City now also enter a new-era of their own. The club find themselves in a different situation than when Dave Jones first took charge although concerns over their financial situation and management remain significant. The move to the Cardiff City Stadium has been a major positive in the club being able to progress to the level they find currently themselves, but the appointment of a new manager must be the right one, as the pressure will be on Cardiff to at least emulate their recent league form and challenge again for promotion especially now that their bitter rivals are rubbing shoulders with the elite instead of them.

Swansea City have emerged and produced when it mattered. Cardiff City must now find the same ingredients as their South Wales rivals. A new challenge now emerges for Swansea City and Brendan Rodgers will need to make some tough decisions regarding his current squad, but he has earned the right to make those decisions and will be supported in whatever action he takes during the summer by both the board and the fans. Cardiff City must ensure they follow Swansea City in making the right appointment, and bring in someone who can inspire their squad to build on their recent years of steady progress.

Brendan Rodgers and Dave Jones have spent their Bank Holiday Monday on the end of two of football’s most contrasting emotions. Rodgers has successfully guided his club to victory in the games most lucrative fixture, while Jones was suffered the sack for failing to reach the heights that Rodgers has. Both Swansea City and Cardiff City now move into the relative unknown and there will be changes at both, some for the better, some for the worse, but fans of both clubs have learnt not to expect anything less.

The article was also published on the WalesOnline Magazine Sports Blog here – http://blogs.walesonline.co.uk/sport/2011/05/contrasting-day-of-emotions-in.html