It’s one of the most anticipated pre-season dates: the announcement of squad numbers for the forthcoming season. It shouldn’t really matter because in the modern game the number on the shirt is largely irrelevant, even if there are some numbers that still carry significant importance and supporters of any club always try to draw conclusions from the numbers assigned (or in some cases no assigned) to players.
Ahead of the Championship kick-off this weekend Cardiff City have announced their squad numbers for the forthcoming season. While most of the numbers remain the same as last season, there are some telling changes, including vacancies in a couple of the symbolically significant numbers being filled. Let’s take a look.
The two biggest vacancies were the number seven and number ten shirts. Peter Whittingham was Cardiff’s number seven for a decade and as City’s best player over that decade there was always going to be some interest in who took the number this season – although I did see some suggestions Cardiff should retire the number. Well, the honour goes to Lee Tomlin, which is very little surprise. Cardiff’s new playmaker was always the most likely successor to Whittingham in spirit and number, even though his role is that more traditionally associated with the number 10 jersey.
Speaking of ten number, Cardiff haven’t had one since Lex Immers departed in January. This season Kenneth Zohore takes the number and having such a senior number validates his status as Cardiff’s main attacking threat and the man likely to lead the attack most of the time. If you want to a tactical pedant you could argue that Zohore should have taken the number nine, since his role as the focal point of Cardiff’s attack is that of a traditional number nine. Fred Gounongbe was Cardiff’s number nine last season, but he relinquishes that status to new signing Danny Ward – who seems more like a secondary or auxiliary striker, which is usually a number 10. Oh well, does it really matter?
The wider ramification for Gounongbe is that he doesn’t have a squad number at all. Again, this is hardly surprising news since it has been obvious for months the forward has no future at Cardiff. His spell has been a disaster and his Cardiff career was more or less over before it even begun: his open goal miss on the opening day last season hinted at a lack of quality to make it in the Championship and so it proved. Too slow, not physical or fit enough, and barely getting in shooting range of the goal, let alone threatening to score, Gounongbe never looked cut out for it, even when a desperate Warnock threw him a bone pre-Zohore renaissance.
Gounongbe signed on a three year deal last summer, so he may take some shifting; especially as the level he’s suited for is unlikely to pay him what Cardiff probably are. As this is Cardiff we are speaking about, don’t be surprised if the Benin international is on a five-figure weekly wage. Cardiff won’t get a fee for him, so expect him to eventually move back to the continent either on loan or following another mutual contract termination.
Back to the squad numbers and the most significant relegation in status sees Craig Noone deposed of the number eleven shirt he’s held since his arrival in 2012. Kadeem Harris’s improvement has earned him the promotion (if you can call it that). Noone is notionally Cardiff’s number twenty-one now, although his days at the club also seem numbered so emphasis must be placed on the ‘notionally’.
Given that Warnock has been pretty vocal about the lack of future for Craig Noone and Declan John especially, the fact they do have squad numbers and Frederic Gounongbe doesn’t – well that’s the full stop on that point.
The only other number assignment of note is the number one. Usually this would indicate the club’s first choice goalkeeper. For years it was David Marshall – a player more irreplaceable than Whittingham it would seem – and now it is Lee Camp. This is interesting because Neil Etheridge started every one of Cardiff’s first team pre-season matches, but he will wear number twenty-five. Warnock did reveal that Camp has been recovering from injury and will miss the start of the season. Whether being given the number one shirt is indicative of his long-term primary status among Cardiff’s goalkeepers remains to be seen. But for the short-term it looks like Etheridge is Cardiff’s man between the sticks.
Apart from Gounongbe there aren’t any significant omissions. Stuart O’Keefe will continue to wear number twenty-two, even though it looks like he’s going on loan to Portsmouth. Of Cardiff’s other new signings, Loic Damour will wear number twenty, Natheniel Mendez-Laing number nineteen and Callum Paterson number eighteen.
Beyond the numbers themselves the squad announcement reveals that Cardiff look a little short in central midfield. If the reports about O’Keefe are true it means Cardiff have Aron Gunnarsson, Joe Ralls and Loic Damour as the only recognised central midfielders. Greg Halford is a utility player who can ‘fill in’ in as a defensive midfield, but he is not an option you want to consider except when you may be looking to shore up the middle of the park late in a game.
Cardiff have been linked with a few central midfielders this week (Wigan’s Max Power the most noteworthy) and by the looks of it Warnock is going to need to bring in at least one more. An injury to one and loss of form to others could leave Cardiff short in one of the most important areas of the field. Sol Bamba and Greg Halford did okay as stoppers on the odd occasion, but neither are players you want to rely on except for emergencies or tactical necessity.
It seems probable that Warnock has somebody lined up, however, and the O’Keefe move is merely part of that process. After the club spent the best part of £3 million on Lee Tomlin, it was always likely any future transfers would be on a ‘one out, one in’ basis, especially as the budget remains pretty tight these days.
There are many fans who would love it to be Joe Ledley. I don’t see that move happening. Ledley is too expensive and his stats for the past 18 months to two years indicate a player in physical decline. Given the physical demands of the Championship and the emphasis on running in Warnock’s system there is every reason to be sceptical about signing a player that struggles to get through sixty minutes of football these days.
The romance of a Ledley return is certainly tempting, but rekindled relationships more often than not lack the magic of the first time. Water under the bridge and all that. It’s a move neither club or player needs at this time.