CF10’s position has always been that it wishes to be seen as a “critical friend” by the club. Criticising when necessary and telling home truths when the club needs to be told some home truths. Because we want the club to succeed. Our criticism comes from a place of love.
This intention needs to be kept in mind, because there is about to be a lot of criticism.
On Saturday, despite recent performances, the Arms Park was packed, perhaps more out of hope than expectation. After the game, not many of the paying public will have still felt proud to associate themselves with the club. It will be very difficult to persuade many to return if we continue to be served up appalling, shameful displays like the one we witnessed on the weekend. Asking people to continue handing over money for performances like that is an insult.
How did this happen? Lets go back a year….
In April 2021, Dai Young selected a Cardiff team to face the Ospreys in the Rainbow Cup which confused a lot of supporters. It was a selection featuring many 3rd and 4th choice players, some out of position. Some of us were in fact saying that the team selection indicated that Dai had thrown the game before kick off.
My personal feeling was that a last chance was being handed to some players. The new coach was surely about to clear out players he didn’t feel up to it ahead of reshaping the squad. Some of the players in that team were likely playing for Cardiff for the final time. It was the last chance saloon.
Or so I thought. After the match, Dai Young revealed that everyone in that team was in fact contracted for at least another season. He was indeed giving them a chance to show what they could do, but regardless of their performances, his hands were tied and they would be staying.
Later that year as the new season came along, it began being reported anecdotally that in private Dai Young was deeply frustrated by the contract situation limiting his ability to reshape the squad for at least another season. Some players were either sent out on loan or released to other clubs in what looked like a determined effort to cut the squad by any means available.
In the week prior to Saturday’s capitulation Dai finally went public with his frustration. Some of the language used (“nobody has got a job for life”) is very telling in the light of the performance that followed.
Why were so many long term contracts handed out?
The contract extensions, which limit Dai’s ability to overhaul his squad, were put in place due to COVID. Players accepted 25% pay cuts and were rewarded with extended contracts.
Covid was a time of unprecedented challenge. Difficult decisions had to be made and innovative solutions found. But as far as we’re aware, not all clubs took the step of handing out extended contracts. It could well be that Cardiff found themselves with bigger financial challenges than others and so had more reason to offer the contract extension as a solution. But at this point we have to ask why this decision had to be made.
Because these extended contracts are now casting a dark cloud over the club and, with wholesale changes still unlikely, how much unintended damage has been done by this decision?
It’s true that Dai Young may have made a bad situation worse. If he has been telling players that in the long run he doesn’t see them having a future at the club and has been actively trying to move them to other clubs, it cannot be a recipe for positive squad cohesion. The low morale plain for all to see may well be a result of Dai Young’s poor man management.
But the COVID contract mess seems to be an extension of a problem that has been part and parcel of Cardiff rugby club for too long.
Sometimes it feels like it’s harder to get out of the 40-50 strong Cardiff squad than it is to get into it.
How many times over the years have we seen players come into the squad, establish themselves as a 2nd or 3rd choice and then remain year on year, not pushing on and seemingly happy to make occasional appearances of average standard, only to keep getting a new contract?
We’ve been told many times over the years that Cardiff is a friendly club where players and staff all get on well, are good mates outside work and look out for one another. Something of a family. That's nice. But is it really the recipe for a thriving sporting environment?
Lets digress for a moment….
An 18 year old rugby player named Thierry Futeu left his home in Cameroon after picking up rugby in school and deciding to become a professional. To this end, with a friend he drove through Cameroon, Nigeria and Niger until arriving in Algeria. There, after three attempts, dodging police, they made the five hour trek across the desert by foot to the city of Tamanrasset. From there they made it to Morocco, where he lived for months in forest camps near the Spanish enclave of Melilla, before finally making it onto Spanish soil. He now plays for Alcobendas in the Spanish first division and is able to send money home.
An extreme example for sure, but a reminder that playing rugby professionally is a privilege and a distant dream for many. Its not something to be taken lightly. Nobody is entitled to play sport for a living.
The joy of Cardiff’s quarantine enforced “misfit” squad’s matches against Toulouse and Harlequins was that players were getting a completely unexpected chance to play at that level and thriving in it. Some were too young to think that the chance might be around the corner. Some were older and had long given up any thought of playing on such a stage. They responded with commitment and rugby played with a smile on it’s face. After the match, the players talked about the matches in terms of a dream come true. It painted the club in a wonderful light and was in stark contrast to recent performances by the supposed senior team.
Throughout the Welsh Premiership and RFU Championship there are players, not least in our own Cardiff RFC “Rags” squad ,striving to become full time players. Across the world there are 1000s of players doing the same. Some of our most committed players over the years have been North Americans thriving at the chance to play the game for a living. Another local success story has been Cardiff Met, where a squad largely made up of players released by English academies work hard to find an alternative route to pro rugby.
Why then should we tolerate players who appear to feel entitled to keep picking up easy contracts? Who is this serving?
You start to wonder who the club is being run for.
Ultimately, professional sports teams need to be run for the fans. They need to be a source of pride for the people of the city they’re based in and beyond. People should be proud to associate themselves with the club. Running a professional sports club for any other purpose will not end well.
The second or third choice player in his fourth year as a professional may feel that he’s part of the furniture and enjoy coming to work every day. But he is nowhere near as important as the guy who began supporting the club twenty years ago and is now bringing his son and daughter along. The 70 year old who has stood on the terraces since he was a child, through good and bad years is far more important than any superstar on an elite 38 deal. The assistant coaches who have worked their way up the ladder for years may feel they’ve earned their lot the hard way, but far more important are the groups of friends who have been going to matches for years and always try persuading other friends to come along with them.
Those are the people who put their hands in their pockets and who really do bleed blue and black when you cut them. The club has to be about making those people proud. Not about keeping under performing players and staff in jobs.
When the club makes those people proud, the terraces will be full, the jerseys will be sold and the rest will fall into place.
So what has to happen next?
No doubt there will be all kinds of internal, emergency meetings this week (if not, Christ almighty why not?!). Two things have to be established:
1) Why precisely were contract extensions agreed to and were all other options explored? Why weren’t all clubs forced into this policy?
2) What can now be done about this?
Criticism of Dai Young and his coaching staff is perfectly legitimate. But there is little sense in seeking to replace Dai at this point, even though his recent interview hinted very strongly that he has lost the support of at least part of the changing room:
“The last 12 months has been trying to raise the bar and improve players. Some have got behind it, some still need a bit of convincing."
The ones who need convincing have to go. Whoever the head coach is, they will want to put their stamp on the team and build their own squad. And, frankly, if some players really do need to be convinced that they need to improve, there can be no valid argument for them remaining part of the squad aside from the lengthy deals they’ve been handed.
If he hasn’t already, Dai Young needs to provide a list of players he doesn’t think he can work with and they need to be excluded from any further selection this season and next. If they have to continue being paid while not playing, so be it. Going by recent displays some won’t be too concerned. If there's no money to replace them? So be it.
If this means drafting in academy players en masse to see out the season, so much the better. As many a junior rugby coach will have said to underperforming players, “If you don’t want to be out there, there are plenty of other boys here that do.”
Many fans would probably at this point welcome a Toulouse/Quins solution where we select young inexperienced teams and may not expect results, but will be confident that the players are playing their hearts out.
Doing nothing is not an option. Recent weeks have to be a watershed moment when finally, a much needed change of culture happens at the Arms Park.
And if anyone at the club disagrees that there needs to be a change of culture? Perhaps they need to ask themselves if they are in fact part of the problem.
An excellent article Steve.
An excellent write up/response, articulately put across.
Ditto as above
I watched the game on the TV fn North Norfolk so did not fully share in the sense of shame. However....
Conceding 42 points in the second half without reply must be the worst result ever for a Cardiff team. Moreover this was a side at full strength playing opposition who were in the bottom half of the league.
There are surely some questions to be asked and answered by someone.
hi, my name is mark Lewis, and i am a scarlets fan.
Cardiff did the double over us last season, when we were in transition of a new coach(glen delaney). I did'nt work out for him and he was sacked.
I have no doubt, given the current strengthening of the squad, Dai Young will turn fortunes around at Cardiff, and I rate him very highly.
This excellent article however deserves a lot of praise, and its clear, that the game seems to be moving away from the fans, and their importance vis taken for granted.
Its not just contract extensions, but ridiculous kick off times. Many in our region, travel miles and miles to attend home games, returning at ridiculous hours due to the repeated 19.35 KO'S
Some players, who jog along, need to take a leaf out my daughters book. She is a teacher, who has just halved her salary, just to play for Wales by taking a pro contract. We were hammered by England, who are three years down the road from us. Despite this there were tears in my eyes as she ran on to that field to represent her country against the old enemy.
Yes some of our regional players may want to take a leaf out of her book, and the determination and pride that goes with it
A great article, measured, factual and insightful.
Excellent post. Absolutely first class.
I do feel it was right and proper for players to be rewarded contractually for the sacrifices made as a result of Covid, FWIW. I did not believe for one second, however, that this would result in far too many (seemingly) coasting along in the way that we've witnessed with alarming regularity. The pride and the love I feel has not turned to apathy, it's far worse than that. It is actually becoming a simmering sort of anger, which does not make me proud to admit to, I can assure you.
But I do want to differentiate between the players and staff who (I think) clearly do not deserve criticism. Far too many, however, absolutely do.
And there have been positive moves, let’s not totally dismiss those (the name change, the jerseys going back to Blue & Black) and many of the youngsters are shining brightly. I still firmly believe in Dai, but...but...
...your article pretty much otherwise says it all.
Great write up, and points hit.
Can I start by saying I am a long term Cardiff Rugby/Cardiff Blues Season ticket holder. I was there for this game and a message that no matter how thick skinned the Cardiff board are (I struggled not to emit the word skinned) they must have noticed what was a decent crowed getting up and leaving. The message is this. Regional Rugby is a professional game and needs to be run by professionals. That is not you. I am a Cardiff Rugby Season Ticket holder so in a way i have an investment here. For me Saturday was indeed a watershed moment. The acceptance of poor Rugby seems to be coming to a head in regional and the international game. There was the biggest early exodus that I have ever seen. The governing body at Cardiff seem out of touch with the modern professional setup. The contract situation being a prime example of poor management. There are some truly great players still wearing our shirt but some who are simply not good enough. Some of these still feature on the international stage. Dai also needs to take responsibility for this. The front five are poor. Front row especially so. Yet Dai has recruited his son, a decent flanker for sure but the one position we are genuinely strong in. I also read Dai praising his management team. The line out is a coached/practised set piece exercise that we are now losing with no pressure being put on us. That’s coaching. I am not calling for Dai to go, I think there are others who should. Season Tickets, Tickets, Replica Shirts, Beer, Hospitality, TV money. These are your revenue streams. Your product is rugby, if you don’t improve your product all of these streams will dry up. Some of those fans who bailed out at on Saturday won’t be back for a long time. The board need to take responsibility. If you don’t you won’t be able to give those £90 shirts away with a Happy Meal. To the board this is down to you. Cardiff Rugby-Cardiff Blues-Cardiff is a great historic Rugby City and it’s going down the toilet on your watch. DO SOMETHING and that may mean resign.
A fine article Steve.