Walk through the streets of Cardiff trying to find somebody who considers Swansea as a model to emulate is a bit like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. People in Cardiff never took their West Glamorgan neighbours too seriously, until Swansea reached the Premier League while Cardiff kept falling short of promotion.
Truth is, though, that Swansea are exactly the sort of club Cardiff should aspire to be, if they want to ensure that Tuesday night’s jubilant scenes won’t become a fading memory within the next 12 months.
Like any other team making the leap to the Premier League, Cardiff face a tricky summer, which will go a long way in shaping their destiny in the top flight. As Reading and QPR have demonstrated before them, dominating the Championship doesn’t necessarily translate into an easy Premier League campaign for, while the second tier of English football is highly competitive, the gulf in guile and class with the top flight isn’t going to be bridged anytime soon.
QPR and Cardiff both have wealthy Asian magnates behind them, but Tony Fernandes’ money has seemingly done more damage than good to the West Londoners who, after escaping relegation on the final day of last season, now found themselves destined for the drop, with a wage bill syphoning 90% of the revenues.
Vincent Tan, Cardiff’s Malaysian owner, has made clear that the manager – whoever he might be at the start of the season – will be given all the financial backing required to strengthen the team over the summer. The £25m Tan has spoken of are significantly more than Reading have spent, but a sum that, in the current climate, could still not be enough, considering the amount Southampton have coughed up since returning to the Premier League.
Furthermore, Cardiff would have probably had to spend even had they failed to achieve promotion, for some of their key players have entered the winter of their careers. Cardiff’s top league scorer, Heidar Helguson, will be 36 in August, Craig Bellamy will be 34 in July and Tommy Smith turns 33 next month.
The line between underspending and overspending is a very fine one and many clubs end up trapped on the wrong side, for one reason or another, resembling either a shopaholic or Scrooge McDuck.
Obviously, there’s the odd the tale of success and, while Bluebirds fans might admit it through gritting teeth, Swansea epitomise everything that a newly promoted club should do.
After entering the Premier League last season, the Swans have not only gone on to produce entertaining football, which has led them to mid-table respectability and to a League Cup trophy, but they have done so by gelling together a mixture of smart buys, youth and players that had been in their ranks for years.
Swansea and Cardiff might share the same language and relatively new grounds, but that’s where the similarities begin and end for the Welsh rivals. Swansea, who reported a profit of almost £20m at the end of last year and have their fans represented on the board are in a better position than Cardiff, who are £83m in the red – a colour Cardiff fans were controversially forced to adopt last summer.
Despite the debts and the switch from blue to red, Tan’s plans seem to be clear:
“We can invest a bit more money than Swansea. They have managed to strategise well, so we would like to strategise well too, but finally we would like to have some lucky breaks,” he said.
“We would like to buy, for example, someone along the Michu model, pay £2m to [have a player who'll] do very well for us, or pay £5m and do very well for us. But not pay £20m or £30m. We’re not going to buy a Fernando Torres for £50m who doesn’t score a goal for you. So we have got to be moderate, reasonable and hope for a good break.”
The Premier League has shown that the latter often comes only when the former two requirements have been satisfied and, should Cardiff secure another season in the Premier League, people in the Welsh capital might even admit that Swansea were their model all along.