Cardiff City’s summer transfer window was curious, it must be said.
They swelled their spine, adding a central defender, central midfielder and striker, but neglected their flanks.
Ryan Giles’ loan signing to Wolves was a big blow to the club, and he looks like a real find on that left wing. It’s no coincidence that his absence over the past week coincided with a miserable pair of losses.
This only underscores how weak Cardiff is in those large areas, but particularly on the left.
On the right are Tom Sang and Perry Ng, who didn’t enjoy the frenzied start to the season but will no doubt be good, while Rubin Colwill and Mark Harris take to the wing.
On the left, the situation is a little more unbalanced. But we knew that would be the case after the transfer window closed.
Junior Hoilett, Joe Bennett, Josh Murphy and Sheyi Ojo played leading roles on this flank last season, all experienced at this level and having, to varying degrees, been successful.
It’s a huge relief that Giles performed so well, in fact, because while he showed glimpses at Coventry and Rotherham, his two former loan clubs, he barely lit up the division.
But when it comes to the save options on the wing, they look very thin on the ground.
However, the winger role in particular is of the greatest concern.
There is no doubt among the club members that Joel Bagan will become a very good footballer for Cardiff City in the years to come, but he started this campaign a little shaky.
He was given the No.3 jersey after Bennett left, just a reward for his development over the past two years or so, but he looks a little nervous at times. This is understandable and you would expect from a boy who is still only 19 years old.
He does, however, have a magnificent left foot and can strike a beautiful cross. He rarely makes the wrong decision too, which is encouraging considering he’s still so young.
But to give Bagan such an important role, given his inexperience, is a big call and we hope the club are right. Time will tell, but for now it could do it with a little help.
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Ciaron Brown, unfortunately, is just not the answer. Left central defender, yes, left-back in a four-back, pushing, left-back, no.
Despite playing as a winger, Brown’s average position against Bournemouth this weekend was the deepest of all 10 outfielders. He’s a defensive-minded defender, which is good, of course, but he’s not a winger.
Cardiff also can’t let Giles down in this position as he is needed higher up the pitch. He is one of the very few of this team to have any real quality at the top of the field and his attacking skills are too good to be wasted in a more defensive role.
It is curious that Cardiff has not played seriously for another left-back this summer. They spoke with Adam Reach, but a deal couldn’t be made and he ended up in West Brom, while Hull City’s Callum Elder was supposed to be on the radar.
It is of course admirable that the club place their faith in the youth and Bagan is someone the club has high hopes for. Everyone hopes that its potential is realized.
But there’s no shame in admitting that help is needed too.
Cardiff are already struggling to launch their attack this season and if Bagan were to suffer an injury or suspension, trading Brown on that flank would not be an appropriate solution.
Another dimension added to all of this is that Scottish giants Rangers and Celtic are reportedly monitoring Brown’s situation with the Northern Ireland international’s contract ending next summer. He could face even more transfer interest in January, with Middlesbrough having seen an offer rejected this summer.
The currently available benchmark free agent is Robbie Brady, everyone knows that. Mick McCarthy will know him from his connection to the Republic of Ireland and the manager enjoys bringing in players he knows – see Irish duo James Collins and Mark McGuinness and former Ipswich Town moneylender Jonny Williams.
Brady is wanted, however. He will undoubtedly have admirers in the elite and abroad. His salary demands are likely to be high, but Josh Murphy’s departure on deadline day was an unanticipated payroll cut that may well offset costs and make a deal more viable.
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He’s the kind of player who could really strengthen that left side and bring more set-piece quality to complement what’s already in situ and the giants Cardiff tend to put in the box.
This summer, President Mehmet Dalman said that “it’s no secret we need to bring more quality to the team”. It was true, but Giles is arguably the only summer arrival to surpass the starting XI. It is suspected, however, that McGuinness will do so in the years to come.
The left-back was a concern throughout the window, hence the Reach and Elder ties, but a decision was made somewhere along the line that there was already enough of it. Why they added another central midfielder instead is still a bone of contention for many.
This is now reaching a climax and presents Cardiff with a problem at the start of the season. If it can’t be resolved by Brady’s free signature – or some other suitable addition – then it needs to be dealt with in January.
McCarthy, however, has recently poured cold water on the potential to dive into the free agent market, which has frustrated some supporters.
To be fair to McCarthy, he does all of this on barely a small budget per minute. He brought in five players, all free or on loan, with Williams and Wintle both gone, the former released and the latter loaned to Blackpool.
No less than 13 players have left since McCarthy entered the building, including the returns of Harry Wilson and Sheyi Ojo and the curious exit of Marley Watkins.
It’s all a deficit and the manager and the club have to be applauded for throwing their faith behind the talented youngsters who are arriving.
At the very least, this season will provide aspiring young stars like Bagan and Brown with the opportunity to improve and become more accomplished league players for years to come.
It could mean Cardiff doesn’t have enough quality or experience to fight at the top, but again they could surprise us and sneak into the top six one way or another.
Let’s not forget that this is not a catastrophic start to the season. Cardiff is 10th and has barely come out of second gear with their best player, Kieffer Moore, yet to appreciate pace and form.
But there are certainly areas that are starting to emerge as a cause of urgency and the competition from this left side is one of them.
Brady would be the lift this Cardiff side need, and one that would add quality to the starting XI, but it seems highly unlikely that he will end up in the Welsh capital.
Nonetheless, Cardiff’s next transfer priority, whether in the free agent market or on January 1, is already becoming clear.