Rickie Lambert’s departure from Cardiff City last week was inevitable if not unwelcome. Such is the way Cardiff City have been run in the last few years, it wasn’t surprising to see another ill-conceived signing – having cost a substantial transfer fee and big wages – end with the ‘left by mutual consent’. This is simply the way Cardiff go about things. The list of players have signed and then discarded having provided little use to the club is startling. It’s a list too long here*, but City fans can only hope Lambert is truly the end of the line for this kind of approach.
Lambert – an ex-England international – arrived from West Brom as the marquee signing of last summer. In reality he was the only option available to Cardiff as the transfer window was about to be slammed shut. West Brom knew this, Lambert’s agent obviously knew this; both had Cardiff by the balls. The fee was officially undisclosed, but figures as high as £2 million quoted in some places. Add to that rumoured wages of £20-25k per week for a 34 year-old with a dodgy back, less mobility than an oil tanker and at least two years past his sell-by date. This was truly the most ill-considered of deals – even by Cardiff’s post-relegation standards.
In fairness to Lambert, there were signs in the initial weeks that he was fully committed and not just here for a cushy couple of years. It was obvious he wasn’t anywhere near peak fitness, exacerbated by playing as an isolated front man in a team playing some diabolical football and not set up in anyway close to something that could get the best out of him. There were flashes and touches of top level class here and there, his double at Rotherham a memorable highlight in a dreadful period on the pitch. Nevertheless these moments were fleeting and irregular and it wasn’t long before the cracks in his battered body began to show.
Lambert was officially the most disappointing Scouser to wear the Bluebird since Robbie Fowler stole a wage from the club almost a decade earlier. Once Kenneth Zohore made his breakthrough anyone watching the City knew the game was up for Lambert. By the end of the season Neil Warnock reached a point where Lambert wasn’t even under consideration for selection – even when Kenneth Zohore was out on his arse and carrying a knock from game to game.
The fault does not lie with Lambert, however. You can’t blame a man for accepting such a lucrative contract at that stage of his career. There is no doubt Lambert came here with the best of intentions, the blame lies entirely with the people in the club who sanctioned this deal. It is understandable the club wanted to back their new manager with an ‘exciting’ signing, but it was another example of what appeared to be a lack of due diligence from inside the club.
Every club makes mistakes in the transfer market, but the sheer volume of disasters Cardiff have presided over and the money wasted beggar’s belief. Cardiff have literally frittered away tens of millions on players in the three years since relegation with little very little in return on the pitch or in terms of re-sales. When it came to Lambert the board surely should have looked at the fact that Trollope had already signed two injured players (Emyr Huws and Joe Bennett) and said ‘no’.
Fortunately now Cardiff have a manager in Neil Warnock with a sense of responsibility about how the club spends. This may be driven in part by the fact there isn’t a lot of money around anymore, but Warnock’s experience and pragmatism means, at least while he is in charge, Cardiff should be more sensible in how they spend. It is undeniable that Warnock’s five free transfers (even the ones that didn’t work out) gave the club better value than Trollope’s three biggest signings from last summer – Lambert, Huws and Lex Immers (costing a total of nearly £10 million in fees and wages).
The concern is that Warnock is not a long-term appointment and when he steps aside in a year or two the club’s fate once again rests in the hands of Dalman and Choo again. City fans can only help that some of Warnock’s wisdom and sense gets rubbed off on these ‘experts’ and that hope Rickie Lambert truly marks a watershed for the club; that the era of ill-considered, profligate spending is a thing of the past.
*Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed manager in January 2014 Cardiff have signed 43 players at an approximate total cost of £30 million (that’s just fees). More than half have since left. Of those, 4 players were sold for a fee and only 1 brought in more than they cost (Fabio at £2 million – a ‘profit’ of approximately £500,000). 14 players had their contracts terminated early (several with pay-offs). The average number of league appearances of players signed in this period is 24. This includes Sean Morrison 114 (apps), Pilkington 95, Peltier 84, Manga 74, Fabio 65. Take these five players away and the average is 15 appearances.
Here are some of the ‘highlights’:
The Norwegian Trio
Solskjaer’s first signings was a trio of midfielders he’d worked with in Norwegian football. Mats Daehli, Jo Berget and Magnus Erikson arrived for a combined cost of about £6 million in January 2014. Their stay lasted a year, all three departing in January 2015 having made a combined total of 32 league appearances for the club. With Daehli the only one sold for a (moldest) fee, their departure represented practically a total loss of the club’s original outlay.
Adam Le Fondre
The forward signed July 2014 for £2.5 million with wages in excess of £1 million per year. Made 21 league appearances and scored 3 goals in 3 years. Spent most of his time at the club away on loan. Left when his contract expired this summer.
Signed on a Bosman free transfer in summer 2014 after Crystal Palace refused to meet his wage demands. Cardiff were more than happy to oblige, handing a staggering £1.5 million per year contract to the South African in the Championship. He made 1 league appearance that season, sitting out practically the entire campaign through injury. He made a further 23 league appearances the following season, but often looked unfit and overweight, rather than dominating midfield force he was signed to be. His contract was terminated in the summer of 2016.
Signed August 2014 for £1 million. The midfielder made 20 appearances, the last of which came in 2015. Loaned to Leeds and Rotherham in the last two seasons. Joined Ipswich when his contract expired this summer.
Signed for around £2 million last summer with hopes Trollope would build his ‘Cardiff way’ around the Welsh international. Made 1 league start for the club and played less than 90 minutes in total of league football. Loaned to Ipswich in January, joined them permanently this summer for an undisclosed fee.