Often, when a football club employs a caretaker manager on a permanent basis following a small-sample-size upturn in form, it is easy to suggest that the club has taken an easy option viable only in the short term.
But Cardiff City’s appointment of caretaker coach Steve Morison has an altogether different look about it.
There are more reasons to Morison’s positivity surrounding his improved permanence in the Bluebirds’ hotseat than simply an improvement in form. Of course, things couldn’t really get any worse than they had in the latter days of Mick McCarthy, who departed after a club record eighth successive defeat.
The 2-0 defeat to Middlesbrough which prompted McCarthy’s long anticipated dismissal came at the hands of another of the EFL old guard in Neil Warnock, now also out of work. Morison is at the other end of the experience scale, being granted a huge opportunity with Wales’ capital football club who have two separate Premier League spells across the last decade to their name and ambitions of becoming sustained at that level in the medium term.
This season, Cardiff were headed for only one way out of the second tier, a stable start giving way to a dire run of form unmatched by any other club in the EFL this term. Morison has spent the entirety of the post-Covid world and a month prior to the first national lockdown as the head coach of Cardiff City’s under-23 team, from which a number of players – Rubin Colwill, Isaak Davies, Sam Bowen and Kieron Evans – have progressed into the first team this season.
That experience alone stood Morison – who unlike the recent trend of caretaker-cum-permanent managers has no playing days and goodwill from memorable moments in Cardiff blue to draw on in difficult times – in the finest of steads.
It is a travesty that for as long as McCarthy’s reign was allowed to go so sour for so long – with potentially dire short- and long-term consequences – when a plausible ready-made replacement was waiting in the wings all along.
Four points from three games against Stoke, QPR and Huddersfield may not scream excitement or an obvious candidacy for bringing back the good times, but Morison has brought back hope, positivity, and belief in a brighter future.
In his first game in interim charge, 3-0 down at Stoke City and staring down the barrel of a ninth straight defeat, five minutes of second half magic stoked a miraculous draw. In that week’s Championship Winners and Losers, we wrote of how the point in isolation could be small fry, but the turning point in the campaign could be priceless.
That it gave the 38-year-old Morison a springboard to lose narrowly to QPR and then beat Huddersfield on opposing sides of 1-0 scorelines, means it could have turned the fortunes of this tailspin club on its head.
Results, if not immaterial, had not been the primary concern for Cardiff. A succession of managers from the evergreen Neil Warnock to the forgettable Neil Harris and then the bright spark that soon faded out in McCarthy have left Cardiff supporters wondering what much of the point was. Football is about winning, but entertainment has been missing in these parts for far too long.
Morison had spoken, even in his caretaker stewardship when there were no promises of a permanent role, of wishing to bring joy back to the Cardiff City Stadium, while being mindful to not make wholesale changes – too much, too soon.
But in bringing back less stilted and direct football, memorable moments, and the rarest of all in recent months, a win, Morison has changed more than he, or anybody, could have expected.
Morison was not considered in the running as McCarthy’s permanent successor, even when the former Millwall striker was handed the reins on the initial interim basis. It was his former Lions’ strike partner Harris who brought Morison to the club during his short and ultimately largely unsuccessful spell in charge.
For much of what was a forgetful spell, Harris may have brought Cardiff City their saviour. Many names were banded about for the latest stint in the hot seat, some usual suspects, some exciting shouts, and some out of left field. Right now, none feel as suitable for the role as Morison.
Throw in the arrival of former fan favourite Mark Hudson, a highly rated coach in his own right, to the backroom team and Cardiff supporters have a management team they can believe in.
Cardiff’s is a squad that while struggling, aren’t underperforming significantly below their level. It is a deep squad, but there is little above midtable quality in the ranks. The prospects are bright, but raw. Morison has played a big role in getting them to this point, and he can help them to help him to help Cardiff stay in this division.
That has to be the initial goal. Nottingham Forest have shown how much a change of manager and good run of form can completely transcend a season. There are no guarantees of that for Cardiff. There are no guarantees that those four points in three games playing football that is easier on the eye is not the peak.
But what Cardiff have given their fans for the first time in a long time is hope and belief that football can be exciting, that there is a greater point to it all than winning at all costs – and failing all too often to get those victories.
Morison has been appointed full time at the smartest time, during an international break where he is now afforded the opportunity to stamp further authority on the club. Given the changes he has already made, making an entire fanbase believe in their club, making his owner and chairman believe in his new manager’s abilities, and making the watching world think there might just be more to Cardiff than meets the eye.
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