Croeso y Cymru – that’s Welcome to Wales, in Welsh. It’s a phrase we’ll hear more often next season after Cardiff City’s promotion to the Premier League.
A goalless draw at home to Charlton Athletic yesterday was enough to secure Cardiff a return to England’s top division after 51 years, sparking jubilation in the Welsh capital city. So, what can we expect from Cardiff in 2013-14?
Rivalry: the enmity between Cardiff and Swansea is infamously fierce. With Cardiff joining their fellow Welsh club in the top division, it will be renewed after a year’s break. The dislike goes far beyond the pitch – the two biggest Welsh cities have a civic and cultural rivalry, too. They’re not exactly fond of the English, either.
Craig Bellamy: Cardiff’s talismanic forward joined his home-town club on loan from Manchester City in 2010, and made the move permanent in 2012. He’s played for Liverpool, Newcastle, Norwich, Blackburn, and others – never lasting too long in one place thanks to his outspoken personality and reputation as a troublemaker (just ask former Anfield team-mate, John Arne Riise).
Controversial ownership: Vincent Tan is a savior with strings attached. The Malaysian owner’s investment eased the financial pressure at a club that’s had serious money problems for several years and is reportedly about $120m in debt. But some of his bright ideas to rebrand the club and make it more attractive to Asian fans have not gone down well with the locals, who seem to like their club’s traditional colors, its logo, and its name. Thanks to Tan (pictured), Cardiff now play in red instead of their historical blue (hence their nickname, the Bluebirds). He’s already said the club plans to spend up to $40m on players. It’ll be interesting to see what marketing gimmicks Tan has up his sleeves now that Cardiff are in a league that’s hugely popular in Asia. Think of the jersey sales in Kuala Lumpur!
Cardiff City Stadium: It’s not a very original name, nor is the design innovative. But Cardiff’s bland 27,000-seat home is modern – it opened in 2009 – and comfortable, certainly a venue fit for the pinnacle of British soccer. It’s a 25-minute walk from the city center and just across the road from the club’s former home, the outdated, intimidating, Ninian Park. The atmosphere’s less good in the new place but Cardiff fans are fanatical so it figures to be one of the noisiest venues in the Premier League.
Malky Mackay: The 41-year-old manager did what the more experienced Dave Jones couldn’t, and brought Premier League soccer to Cardiff after several near-misses. A former Scotland defender who played for Celtic, Norwich and West Ham, Mackay won’t be one of the division’s most quotable or excitable managers. He started his managerial career at Watford in 2009, doing well with limited resources and switching to Cardiff in 2011. It’ll be intriguing to see if he can avoid the same fate as Brian McDermott and Nigel Adkins, axed this season after taking up Reading and Southampton respectively – both similar-sized clubs to Cardiff.