Cardiff City: Crucial summer ahead for Bluebirds and manager Slade

Russell Slade
Cardiff City were playing in red when Russell Slade took over as manager

It comes to something when a change of kit colour is the highlight of your season.

Yet owner Vincent Tan's unexpected decision to return Cardiff City's colours from red to blue in January was the most memorable event of a turbulent 2014-15 Championship campaign.

Manager Russell Slade, who succeeded Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in October, has borne the brunt of the criticism for a mid-table finish and a failure to return to the Premier League at the first attempt.

But he seems to have the backing of Tan and a crucial summer lies ahead for both of them.

Of course, any close season activity is dependent on whether Tan decides to spend or save in the transfer window.

This season has proved the current squad is not good enough to sustain a promotion challenge.

Vincent Tan watches Cardiff City against Wolverhampton Wanderers in February, 2015
Vincent Tan watches Cardiff City against Wolverhampton Wanderers in February, 2015

Optimism was high when the Bluebirds kicked off among the favourites for Championship honours after Solskjaer's busy summer recruitment.

If anything, the former Manchester United striker was spoilt for choice and became a manager for whom the description ''tinkerman'' might have been created.

There was little consistency in selection, indeed 30 players featured in his nine league and cup games at the helm before he stepped down in the wake of the 1-0 home defeat by Middlesbrough in September.

Solskjaer was appointed to succeed Malky Mackay in January 2014 in a bid to stave off relegation from the Premier League.

The former Molde coach lasted just 30 games as he and chairman Mehmet Dalman cited a ''difference in philosophy'' for his departure.

Slade, recruited from Leyton Orient, was the surprise choice to take over after club stalwart Scott Young and Danny Gabbidon carried the baton for five games.

The former school teacher started and finished with wins over Nottingham Forest, eventually steering the club to a final position of 11th - their lowest finish in seven years.

Kenwyne Jones
Kenwyne Jones helped Bournemouth's promotion to the Premier League

The critics point to uninspiring recruitment and dull, unimaginative football. Slade denied the football was ''boring''.

To be fair to Slade the January signings took place in the throes of cost-cutting ordered by Tan.

And at the end of the campaign he had to cope with Matthew Connolly and top scorer Kenwyne Jones being loaned to Championship rivals Watford and Bournemouth, respectively, for ''business reasons".

Their unispiring form in the second half of the season has not helped Slade win over the sceptics.

Cardiff's 1-0 victory over Fulham on January 10 - the day after the kit colour switch back was announced - was one of only three Championship home wins in 2015.

Contrast that with a run-in to the season which saw Cardiff beaten just once in their last nine away matches.

A side-effect of the return to blue was that negativity over events on the field - which previously had often been directed at Tan - was then targeted at Slade.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lasted eight months as Cardiff boss

Paul Trollope's arrival as coach in February has clearly been a help in building for the future. Now, as Slade said after the Forest game, the hard work starts.

Top of the summer agenda will be a get together with Tan, whose funding decision will surely be the key to the quality of signings Slade can make to revamp his group.

Goalkeeper David Marshall - sent off against Forest - and player of the year Bruno Ecuele Manga are both capable of playing at a higher level and could be potential transfer targets.

A proven striker or two, to supplement the promising partnership of Eoin Doyle and Joe Mason, must be a priority.

Joe Ralls has been a rare bright light in a season of gloom, so Slade will hope he continues to progress.

Wales international Declan John, who has puzzlingly been on loan at Barnsley, will want to make an impact too.

David Marshall
David Marshall's career began at Celtic

The summer recruitment will not only be the method by which fans judge Tan's commitment to securing a return to the Premier League.

It will also go some way to ensuring whether Slade can improve his reputation with the Cardiff faithful.

Even with more than 700 games as a manager under his belt, he has much to do to convince the fans, both in terms of the football his team plays and whether he is the right fit for a club with such a high profile - and therefore intense scrutiny - for a club in the Championship.

As ever with Cardiff City, the summer is unlikely to be dull.

But the fans will hope the season's break will give them renewed hope of being truly proud to be wearing blue again.

BBC Radio Wales Sport has a review of Cardiff City's season between 20:00 and 21:00 BST on Wednesday, 6 May.

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