Thursday, 25 March 2010

Cardiff City: Bigger than Barcelona?

An exasperating 1-1 home draw with Sheffield United may not represent the makings of a European superpower, but Cardiff City’s capacity to underwhelm has earned them comparisons with Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Sam Hammam’s infamous reign as Cardiff’s owner was littered with claims of being ‘bigger than Barcelona’, only for these boasts to be tempered by defeats to the mighty likes of Darlington and Bournemouth.

Hammam has since departed with a debt-ridden vapour trail in his wake, but Cardiff’s current manager, Dave Jones, has now added his voice to the unlikely correlation between the Bluebirds and the Catalan giants, claiming that expectations at Cardiff are as high as those surrounding Barcelona and Real Madrid.

And while Cardiff’s debts of £1.75m seem modest in light of Real Madrid’s summer splurge of over £200m, Jones’s association is not as incongruous as first impressions may suggest.

The historian Gwyn Alf Williams was right when he referred to Welsh people as ‘Italians in the rain’, alluding to their Mediterranean passion and emotional extremity, albeit in a rather less glamorous climate.

Although it is uncertain whether Jones is familiar with Williams’ work, the manager did seem to echo the historian’s sentiments when he said: "You lose a couple of games around this part of the world and it's as if it's all fallen apart."

As well as recognising the volatile nature of Cardiff City fans’ reactions, Jones also appears to have grasped how heavily the national mood of Wales is influenced by the fortunes of its sports teams.

The national rugby side, for example, spark a glowing sense of nationwide glee whenever they win a Six Nations Grand Slam. Parties are thrown, newspaper headlines boast of imminent world domination, and calls for a commemorative national holiday are vociferously backed at an impromptu Shakin Stevens concert staged at Cardiff Castle.

Losses to England or Italy, however, prompt deep and gloomy self-reflections, as the country slumps into a state of misery usually only applicable to a child who has excitedly opened a Christmas present, only to find a copy of Danny Dyer’s Football Foul-Ups DVD, staring blankly from the debris of wrapping paper.

The same is true of football fans, and Jones’s tongue was not quite so firmly in his cheek as one would have first thought when he said: "You have the expectation levels of Barcelona or Real Madrid-types here.”

Grumbles of discontent filled the rain-sodden Cardiff City Stadium as the home side were held by the artisan Sheffield United this week, but as the Bluebirds still occupy a play-off spot in their quest for promotion, it seems fair for Jones to think that expectations may be a little lofty.

Jones’s Spanish connection might also add another dimension to Cardiff’s upcoming derby match against Swansea – what we may now consider to be South Wales’s answer to ‘El Clasico’.

Swansea, playing in white, will at least be wearing a kit similar to Real’s, while Cardiff have a squad oozing with as much flair and panache as any Barca side. The Catalans may have Thierry Henry, but Cardiff’s attack is led by Jay Bothroyd, and Barcelona’s so-called best player in the world, Lionel Messi, is little more than a poor man’s Peter Whittingham.

When Swansea visit, the Cardiff City Stadium (a name no catchier nine months after its unveiling) will be rumbling with animosity, and perhaps in this hateful cauldron befitting of the Nou Camp, Jones’s comparison may seem a little less fanciful as South Wales’s superpowers collide.

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