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Friday, November 05, 2010

Don't Ever Change

Ahead of this weekend's South Wales derby, Nobes reflects on why continuity is key to the success of Championship high-fliers Cardiff City and Swansea City.

Old and New: Cardiff and Swansea's managers are key to their success

Two teams flying high in the Championship playing attractive, attacking football and scoring plenty of goals.

Throw in the spice of a local derby between two bitter rivals, and it's not hard to understand why the BBC cameras will be in Cardiff this weekend for live coverage of Swansea's visit.

However, it's not just the purists who would be well advised to tune in on Sunday lunchtime, but other clubs aspiring to be just as successful.

That's because this Welsh derby should not just be viewed as a feast of football, but a celebration of how continuity is the key to success. In different ways, the Bluebirds and Swans are reaping the benefits of having firm foundations.

For Cardiff, currently two points clear at the summit, boss Dave Jones is now in his sixth season in the Welsh capital.

Since 2005, he's twice taken City to Wembley for national finals. They finished runners-up to Portsmouth in the 2008 FA Cup and then, last term, were edged out 3-2 by Blackpool in the play off final.

It is testament to the former Wolves manager's experience that, instead of allowing the heartbreak of last term to negatively affect the club, he has instead used it to spur them to go one better this time.

It was the same motivational tool he used to great effect 12 months previously when, having missed out on a place in the top six only on the final day of the 2008/9 campaign, Cardiff came back stronger.

Critics will, quite rightly, point to the fact that Cardiff are a club who regularly appear to be living beyond their means.

Indeed, it seems like they've made more appearances in the High Court than the new 25,000 stadium they moved into last year.

The rights and wrongs of a club so frequently on the
financial edge signing the likes of Craig Bellamy and Andy Keogh on loan are much debated.

It would be fair to say that, for Championship rivals, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth as they question how an almost perennially troubled club can afford to sign Bellamy and turn down offers for other stars like winger Peter Whittingham?

Ultimately, Cardiff's chickens may well come home to roost in the future if their financial footing is proven to be far less secure than City fans hope.

However, for now the firepower of their loan signings - allied to the attacking talents of Whittingham, Jay Bothroyd, Michael Chopra, and Chris Burke - provides Jones with striking power the envy of the rest of the league.

Bothroyd in particular, after a frustrating and often ill-disciplined start to his career, is now flourishing with 12 goals already this season.

His injury and subsequent substitution in last May's play off final was undoubtedly a massive blow to City's chances on the day.

If he can remain fully fit - and not serving a suspension as he will be on Sunday - his goals can fire the Bluebirds into the top flight for the first time in over half a century.

However, perhaps even more key will be, for all the off-field worries, the stability from the dugout provided by the manager.

Cardiff's strength this term is not the result of a quick turnaround as with promotion rivals QPR. Rather it is the culmination of many years of building and Jones gradually improving his team's quality and depth.

It would have been easy for him to walk away after their near misses - or for the club to decide they needed a new man to take them one step further. Fortunately for all involved at Cardiff, neither party did.

Jay Bothroyd and Scott Sinclair are the main men for their clubs this term

In contrast to 54-year-old Jones, his opposite number this weekend, Brendan Rodgers, will be taking charge of his first South Wales derby.

The Northern Irishman was appointed to the Swans hot seat after Paulo Sousa jumped ship for Leicester - a move the club have come much better off from than the Portuguese.

It meant City, for the second year in a row, started the new season with a different man at the helm. Where's the continuity there, you might ask?

True, the man picking the team may be different, but it is the culture of the manager that is more important.

Ever since chairman Huw Jenkins replaced Kenny Jackett with former captain and club legend Roberto Martinez, City have been establishing their own brand of football.

Their easy on the eye, fluid, short passing game swept them to League One glory in 2008 under Spaniard Martinez, who followed it up with a more than respectable 8th placed finish back in the second tier.

However, Martinez's departure to Premier League Wigan left Swansea supporters angry and concerned that their progress was about to stall.

Not so, and Jenkins must take huge credit for it. After all, how many other chairmen have taken a gamble on appointing successive managers who have been sacked after short and difficult times at their previous clubs?

That was the case when Sousa was installed in 2009 - fresh from a trip on QPR's managerial conveyor belt. The Portuguese was still untried and untested.

However, Jenkins knew he was appointing someone who would buy into Swansea's philosophy. Last season's finish of 7th featured an agonising late slump which cost them a place in the play offs.

After the turmoil of Martinez's departure though, it had still been a season of success and progress for City.

The appointment of Rodgers - who was fired from Reading last December with the Berkshire club struggling towards the Championship's foot - seemed to be another gamble.

Swansea were once again looking for somebody who would continue to build on the foundations his predecessors had left though.

Unlike with Reading, Rodgers's approach to the game was already established, and this season's impressive start is testament to a manager and group of players in sync with one another.

His connections from days at Chelsea also allowed him to snap up winger Scott Sinclair who, with 11 goals so far, is proving one of the signings of the season.

Despite their lofty finish, City were the Championship's lowest scorers last term, but now with firepower added to their silky approach, they look genuine top six contenders currently sitting in 3rd.

While it remains early days, it now seems the top flight of the English game could feature
at least one club from Wales next season for the first time in 30 years.

Welsh football has had new life breathed in to it. The idea of stability must now follow suit.

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