What to make of Cardiff City's summer transfer business so far?

Last updated : 30 June 2018 By Michael Morris

Last week I commented that the end of June/early July period was usually a busy one when it came to transfers, well with Cardiff City having added two more players to their squad yesterday, this is, surely, a time to say “I told you so”.

I won’t be doing that for a couple of reasons however. First, I’ve always believed that people tend to notice when you’re right about something, so there’s no need to ram it down their throats with proclamations to that effect – if you are right often enough, you will earn people’s respect anyway. Second, and more important, I wasn’t really right – I was referring to Bosman free transfers as players let their contracts run down, the two newcomers were far from being those sort of signings.

My comment was relevant more for us avoiding a Bosman free transfer departure with the very welcome news that the week began with Junior Hoilett committing himself to the club by signing a new deal, with the bonus being that this one was for three years, rather than the twelve month ones he had penned with us up to now.

It’s been said by some that Hoilett agreeing to remain at Cardiff is the best signing we’ve made so far and I can see where those responsible for that opinion are coming from. The Canadian international is one of what is a pretty small number of players at the club with previous experience of the Premier League and, certainly during his time as one of the division’s bright young things at Blackburn, he got by pretty well at that level.

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then for Hoilett though as his career stalled at QPR and I’d say the perception grew that he was someone who was wasting a level of ability that should have ensured that all of his football was played in the top flight.

However, by largely maintaining a standard which marked him out as our most consistent and influential attacking player over the course of a season which began with him playing a series of competitive internationals for his country, I would argue that Hoilett is coming off his best campaign in six or seven years.

If he is able to maintain the standards he set for himself in 17/18, then I’m confident that Junior Hoilett will be one of our players who will be able to cope with the step up in standards next season – it’s a relief that such an important player has decided to stay at Cardiff.

Of course, there is still every chance that one first teamer from last season will not follow Hoilett’s lead and decide to turn down the contract offer that is on the table from the club in the next few days.

As things stand, our longest serving first team player, Aron Gunnarsson, will cease to be a Cardiff City player at midnight tomorrow when his contract with the club runs out. I had hoped that Iceland’s elimination from the World Cup would quickly be followed by an announcement that Gunnar was staying at City, but it’s not come yet and I can’t help wondering if it ever is going to now.

Of course, even if the contract remains unsigned on 1 July, it doesn’t mean that Gunnar has definitely left the club. There have been precedents whereby an out of contract player remains at his club by agreeing to weekly deals while he considers his options and, anyway, I suppose that the lack of an announcement that the Iceland captain will be leaving Cardiff could be taken as an indication that, even at this very late stage, talks are continuing between the two parties.

I’ll return to Aron Gunnarsson and our central midfield later, but I mentioned two new players at the start and so it’s about time I said something about them.

Around the time Junior Hoilett was turning out for Blackburn Rovers, there were very few of my Cardiff City teams on Football Manager which didn’t feature Alex Smithies in goal. Now, my liking for this keeper, who was with Huddersfield at the time, was solely based on a set of figures which marked him out as just about the best young, affordable, goalkeeper in the game, but I think most of those who catch the Football Manager bug make a habit of following the fortunes of their favourites in the game in real life and that’s what I’ve done with Smithies.

If his career hasn’t quite panned out as successfully as the Huddersfield Football Manager researcher of the time thought it might, then I think it’s fair to say that Smithies has proved himself to be one of the second tier’s best keepers year in and year out and, if the theory about goalkeepers peaking later than outfield players is correct, it can be said that his best days are still in front of him.

Although Sam Johnstone of Villa, who was largely responsible for the margin of defeat for his Villa side not being double what it turned out to be, was my pick as the best visiting keeper to be seen at Cardiff City Stadium last season, I would also say that the two best displays came in our first three matches there as Johnstone’s heroics were followed two games later by a fine performance from Smithies as his QPR team were beaten 2-1.

An unfortunate moment for Alex Smithies on his last visit to Cardiff City Stadium as his kick rebounds off Junior Hoilett and into the net for an equaliser in a match we eventually won 2-1. Smithies was played into trouble though by mistakes from those in front of him and his overall performance on the day only added to my feeling that he has always been one of the best around at Championship level.

You only have to read what the QPR fans are saying about Smithies to see how highly rated he was by them – the best keeper the club has had since David Seaman left in 1990 is a compliment I’ve seen paid to Smithies on more than one occasion.

If the reports are to be believed, Smithies, who has signed a deal until 2022, is costing us 3 million pounds with another half a million on top of that if we avoid relegation next season and I think it’s fair to say that the fans at his former club think we are getting him on the cheap.

By contrast, Bristol City supporters, rather like Norwich fans did a few weeks ago when we signed Josh Murphy, seem to be saying that they have got a good price for their top scorer, Bobby Reid, who joins us on another four year contract for a fee reported to be 9 million pounds with the potential to rise to 10 million.

What cannot be denied about Reid, who I can remember seeing play for Bristol City’s Under 18 and Development sides on a few occasions in the last seven or eight years, is that he is coming off the season of his life so far as he gained the approval of his fellow professionals to the extent that he was named in the PFA Championship team of the season for 2017/18 – he was also chosen for the EFL Championship team of the year as chosen bv the division’s managers.

Reid owes his place among such illustrious company to the twenty one goals he scored in all competitions last season, but it does need to be said that this figure is almost double the amount he managed beforehand in a senior career that started in 2011.

The suspicion is then that we may have signed someone who could turn out to be a one season wonder, but, to be fair to Reid, he was not really the same player prior to 17/18 because he was used by the wurzels in a deeper role than the one which bought him so much success last season.

Indeed, I can remember thinking back in August as he began the season with six goals in his first six matches, that Reid was the reason Bristol City were willing to let us sign Lee Tomlin – from a distance, it didn’t half look as if Reid had been handed the role that used to be Tomlin’s.

Besides the obvious conclusion that Reid offers more goals than Tomlin based on the evidence so far, I’d say that while our new man is less likely to leave fans drooling with the very occasional flash of sheer skill, he will produce far more in terms of work rate than Tomlin and stamina does not seem to be an issue with him.

Reid is one of those signings which came very much as a bolt from the blue with us never having been linked to him until the report on Wednesday that he was having a medical with us. Whether this is because Reid only became a target for us in the last few days after we had not been able to close out a deal for another player is not known, but what is clear is that he fits precisely into the template of player we have brought in so far.

Apparently, new signing Bobby Reid being pictured doing the Ayatollah has not gone down too well with some Bristol City fans – the hack from Bristol Live I saw giving his thoughts on the deal made reference to it, but he also said that he believes Reid has it in him to play for England.*

Back in the quiet days of May when nothing was happening on the transfer front, there was a great deal of speculation as to how we would go about our business this summer. There were plenty who felt that, having got our fingers badly burned in 2013, we would be be very cautious in our spending this time around. Indeed, the local media were reporting that we would be relying mainly on loans and Bosmans because our budget was only 20 million pounds as we targeted players with Premier League experience.

Now, I always found the notion that we would be bringing in proven Premier League performers on a budget that was so small by the standards of “the best league in the world” to be totally implausible – as I mentioned on here before, the only way that could happen was if we were chasing the likes of Phil Jagielka, Peter Crouch and Gareth Barry (i.e. the over 35s market).

Far more sensible for me was to target players from the Championship who were hungry to be given a chance at the higher level. However, even this strategy would be a risky one because the truth is that most of Reid’s team mates in those two select elevens I linked to earlier would be out of our price range if the plan was not to repeat the mistakes of 2013/14.

You only have to look at a situation whereby Nottingham Forest are paying 13 million pounds for players this summer and Leeds are being linked with 12 million rated performers to get an idea of the sort of market we are operating in these days. These are two clubs who, admittedly, get bigger gates than us, but their days of receiving parachute payments are well behind them (that’s if they ever got them in the first place!) and yet they are looking to spend more, as Championship teams, on one player than we have ever done.

Yet, despite this, if the reported fees for the four transactions we’ve carried out so far are correct, we have potentially paid just short of 30 million pounds in transfer fees alone this summer – just imagine what that figure would be if we had signed four players, all under the age of thirty, of proven Premier League quality or a quartet who could be called the best the Championship had to offer!

I don’t think even Josh Murphy, Greg Cunningham, Alex Smithies and Bobby Reid would describe themselves as the best the Championship had to offer if they were being honest with themselves, but I would argue that they are among the best that league had to offer this summer for a club looking to spend at the sort of levels we are.

I may be proved totally wrong here of course, but, curiously, I feel the two cheapest buys (Cunningham and Smithies) are the ones out of the four who are most likely to succeed. In saying that, I recognise that the market for defensive players is a cheaper one than for attackers, but Reid and Murphy carry that element of risk for me.

However, realistically, if we are going to look at improving attacking options on our sort of budget, Reid and Murphy are the sort of players we have to go for – if we are talking about permanent signings anyway.

As someone who urged a middle way (i.e. something like the sort of spending seen from Huddersfield last summer) between the two extremes of Bosmans/loans and 2013 type expenditure, I think City have bought pretty shrewdly so far – it may not be enough to keep us up, but, if it isn’t, we are bringing in players who would do well in the Championship or would have a good resale value if we were forced to sell them.

With Neil Warnock saying he is happy with the defenders he has to choose from and the versatile Reid to cover a lot of the forward positions, it now seems to me that the area crying out for reinforcing most is central midfield. Even if Aron Gunnarsson signs that new contract and, as reported this week, Liverpool are agreeable to letting Marko Grujic come here again on a season long loan, I still think we could do with one more player in there.

It’s frequently said that we need a playmaker in central midfield, I agree with that, but if you are thinking in terms of a Whittingham type “quarterback” spraying defence splitting passes here, there and everywhere, I’d suggest you don’t know our manager.

After all, we are talking about someone who uses the term “bread and butter players” as a compliment when talking about central midfielders – Neil Warnock is a “nowt fancy” manager and this seems to apply particularly when it comes to the middle of the park, can you name a midfield playmaker, in the classical sense of the term, who has featured in one of his successful sides?

No, if we are looking for another central midfielder, I would suggest that, broadly speaking, they will be similar to what we have already, but, hopefully, a little better.

Finally, I wondered last week whether the friendly at Greenock Morton on 31 July would involve the first team or a Development side, well the news earlier in the week that we will be playing at Hereford United on the same night surely confirms that it will be the former rather than the latter that will be turning out in Scotland.