Malky Mackay is Cardiff City's greatest advantage

Michael Steele

A glance at the promoted Cardiff City side reveals little in the way of an obvious strength - until you look at the manager.

Cardiff City's promotion is not the first time Malky Mackay has been involved in a club going up to the Premier League. He did it with Norwich, too - before promptly being sold to West Ham. Fortunately for the Scot, the Hammers would soon embark on a successful promotion campaign too. Unfortunately, he was then promptly released before ending up at Watford, where he eventually succeeded in having a season in the top flight.

Despite Vincent Tang, the Cardiff City owner, choosing to praise "lucky red!" after his side's promotion before Mackay's talents, the Scot will be in no danger of getting ditched once again ahead of the campaign. Yet in the curious story of the club, his achievements have been curiously sidelined with the excuse of the owner's riches.

Great wealth is rarely a guarantee of success at any level of football, but it seems to be particularly the case in the Championship. Queens Park Rangers are well acquainted with that fact. Cardiff City's promotion has been greeted with shrugs as if it was a foregone conclusion, but having made the playoffs the last three years running, this is probably their worst squad in that time. If one of their teams was going to go up in that period, it was the one that was defeated by Ian Holloway's Blackpool, with Jay Bothroyd and Michael Chopra's goals added to the creativity of Peter Whittingham and still possessing a relatively solid defence.

The side that has gone up is simply not of that quality, as is evidenced by the many acquisitions they'll need to make next year. It's very, very rare for a side without a goalscorer to get promoted, let alone to win the league by such a margin. Their top scorer, ancient Icelandic carthorse Heidar Helguson, did not even get into double figures, with as many goals coming from each of their midfield duo of Peter Whittingham and Aron Gunnarson. It's there that Mackay's real magic has worked, spotting his side's strength and playing to it, with that duo most responsible for their success.

Furthermore, the amount of money pumped into Cardiff has not been too disproportionate, particularly given the fact that the club has lost an alarming amount of talent for almost nothing in those four years.The home-grown Adam Matthews and Joe Ledley departed without compensation, along with key players like Jay Bothroyd, Chris Burke, and Dekel Keinan. Robert Earnshaw and Craig Bellamy have declined with age. Even the players they sold were shipped off for well under their value - a measly £400,000 for Ross McCormack being a prime example.

In short, the idea of Cardiff's success being bought and paid for, a foregone conclusion, is nonsense. If they had luck, it was in the fact they are in a very unusual year where all of the three relegated sides from the previous season have struggled - Wolves and Blackburn instead preferring to flirt with the drop while Bolton have not competed for automatic promotion. It is a weaker league at the top level than it would ordinarily be, but this is not the Premier League - the Championship is fiercely competitive from pretty much top to bottom, and maintaining that level of consistency over 46 games is remarkably difficult.

Mackay, then, deserves credit for finally getting them over the line with such ease. Had they appointed him two or three years earlier, they'd probably already be up, although at the time he was working miracles with a Watford side that had appeared to be doomed to relegation. It's often forgotten, but at Cardiff he had to do a similar job - after their second playoff defeat, the club suffered a mass exodus and few expected them to make the playoffs. It will be fascinating to see how he gets on in the Premier League, but for now, he appears to be their most valuable asset.

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