THERE was a bizarre start to Dave Jones’ press conference following Cardiff’s 2-1 win at Barnsley this afternoon, when his first priority seemed to be to make sure that a particular journalist from one of the local South Wales papers wasn’t recording it.
Having established that said reporter wasn’t in the room, Jones then went through every recorder on the desk in front of him, asking who it belonged to. If no one answered, he handed the recorder to another chap (I presume a Cardiff press officer) to turn it off.
From what I can gather, Cardiff’s relationship with the local written media is somewhat fraught. Then again, every local paper falls out with the football club(s) they cover at some point. Trying to maintain both journalistic credibility AND good relations with a club while writing stuff that people might want to read is a balancing act that would test Kofi Annan’s diplomatic patience. (If you don’t believe me, try it.)
Jones made his point, and got his way. Whether it was necessary to annoy a whole load of other journalists in the room to do so, I’m not sure. I would guess he’s not too bothered about that. He’s had far more important things to worry about in his life than handling a press conference, after all.
Thank goodness there wasn’t a Stockport County fan in the room – say, one who admired him for the fantastic job he did as manager at Edgeley Park in the mid-1990s – watching his behaviour in the Oakwell press room and feeling slightly bewildered. Oh, except there was. Never mind, Dave. I’ll always think of you fondly for the 1996/97 promotion campaign and League Cup semi-final run.
Even if your only knowledge of Jones has been corralled from what you’ve read about him, you’ll be aware that he is a survivor, possessed with incredible mental strength – and wily with it when he needs to be. In his autobiography No Smoke No Fire, published last year, he tells an amusing story of how he managed to get a better club car out of Southampton’s chairman.
Just before he was appointed at The Dell, Jones asked a car dealer friend to lend him a top-of-the-range motor. The Saints chairman thought it was Jones’ Stockport club car, and promised to match it. As Jones exclaimed in the book: “Result!”
Applied to management, Jones’ smart thinking and strength of personality have enabled him to take Cardiff to the verge of the Premier League. Those qualities have, by all accounts, made him popular with his players too. Perhaps they also helped him ensure that Craig Bellamy was available to face Barnsley this afternoon.
Mark Hughes said early on last season that Bellamy’s long-term knee problems meant he could no longer play three games a week, and that he had to pick and choose when to field him for Manchester City. The player also needed to follow his own training regime.
Bellamy responded well to Hughes. He found it much more difficult to respond to Roberto Mancini. There was a dispute over training methods, and the manager was not prepared to back down. As a result of a loan move, Bellamy is now the highest-paid player in the Championship, with Manchester City still paying more than three-quarters of his £95,000-a-week salary.
Bellamy is, by a mile, the best player in the Championship too, when he’s fit. His knee problems, exacerbated by over-training at Manchester City in pre-season according to Jones, had kept him out of action for a month.
Brian Flynn, after discussing this with Jones, agreed to leave Bellamy out of the Wales squad for the Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria on Friday and Switzerland next Tuesday. And yet despite that, Flynn stated that he had no problem with Bellamy playing today. As Jones might have said: “Result!”
Jones played Bellamy for the full 90 minutes, and the gamble paid off. Three minutes from the end of a truly awful first half, he slotted Peter Whittingham’s shot into the corner of the Barnsley net. It was the game’s first shot on target. God, it needed that kind of inspiration.
“The game was waiting for somebody to light the blue touch paper,” said Barnsley manager Mark Robins afterwards. “Unfortunately for us, it was Bellamy.”
The second half was approximately one billion times better than the first. Jay Bothroyd had seen what he thought was a second Cardiff goal ruled out for offside before Barnsley captain Jason Shackell tidied up an almighty penalty area scramble by driving in the equaliser. And then things really got going.
Within two minutes, Cardiff had been awarded a penalty for handball by Stephen Foster. Whittingham, who had seen a penalty saved against Millwall last weekend, stepped up again – and suffered the same fate thanks to Lee Steele. Jones said afterwards that Whittingham would not be taking Cardiff’s next spot-kick.
No matter, though, because the Bluebirds scored from the resulting corner. Bellamy’s kick wasn’t cleared, Whittingham drove a shot goalwards and Seyi Olofinjana turned it in.
Olofinjana headed against the post before Cardiff midfielder Darcy Blake was sent off in the final 10 minutes, picking up a second yellow card for clattering Adam Hammill.
The Barnsley winger was then denied a late equaliser by keeper Tom Heaton’s acrobatics. I hope no one left the ground after 40 minutes, as they probably won’t believe any of this.
“Bellers was always going to play in this one,” Jones said afterwards. “We knew this was the one we set out for him. It was just a case of where I played him.
“We’d intended to play him for 65 to 70 minutes. But we had the sending off and we wanted to stretch the game. Opponents can’t leave him up there on his own with the pace he’s got.
“It made my decision a lot easier. All my physios and my doctors were down my ear trying to get him off.
“So I kept asking Craig and in the end it’s worked out OK. But now we’ve got a fortnight’s programme to put him through again.”
I got all this down in shorthand, just in case. But as it turned out, Jones hadn’t turned off my recorder. Perhaps he will next time I cover a Cardiff game, if he reads this.