Odd couple on course for big time at Cardiff

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The Independent Online

Take a look at Cardiff City's impressive start to the season and you can't help but acknowledge that it has more than a little to do with the ongoing relationship between the club's chairman and manager.

Loyalty is an increasingly precious commodity, but Peter Ridsdale and Dave Jones are proof that sticking together through hard times can reap its reward if the chemistry works.

Ridsdale and Jones, who is the Championship's longest-serving manager, are hardly bosom buddies. Yet they share a professional respect and a burning ambition. Beat Nottingham Forest today and the Bluebirds will go top, a pivotal step towards making up for the gut-wrenching disappointment of missing out on the play-offs on the final day of last season.

Both have something to prove. Ridsdale, whose name is still synonymous with the demise of Leeds, wants to show he can be successful at a club run on a sensible financial budget. Jones, a Premier League manager at Wolves, believes he should never have left the top flight in the first place, a reference to dark days at Southampton, when he was forced to step down in the wake of false, malicious child-abuse allegations.

With the best goal difference in the division and a new £48 million stadium and training ground, Cardiff are as geared up for the Premier League as any club aspiring to reach the holy grail. "When I arrived, it was a free-for-all, a shambles on and off the pitch, no cohesion, no vision," said Ridsdale. "Now the club is run on a structured basis. Everyone knows what their job is. If I am away for a week, no one has to ring and ask what to do next."

Yet despite reducing massive debts since inheriting the club from Sam Hammam and beating possible bankruptcy, Ridsdale believes no tears will be shed if and when he gives up the job. "People still begrudge the fact I came, mostly because of what happened at Leeds, where I suffered the biggest character assassination ever.

"I was recently described as an entrepreneur plying my trade at yet another club. What nonsense.

"Are you telling me Roman Abramovich was a Chelsea fan before he built Chelsea? People see me as a necessary evil, it's almost tangible.

"I don't feel a genuine warmth to me and that's a shame," he added. "Anyone who sees me on a match day can see I'm as passionate as anyone in the stadium."

Such perceived hostility – he suffered taunts of "wanker" at last year's FA Cup final – will not steer him off course. "When we arrived, neither Dave or I were welcomed with open arms. In October 2007 some fans were ready to throw bricks through the windows unless we sacked Dave. But we told them to get lost. At the end of last season some chairmen would have panicked, but we backed Dave.

"Even now, the fans tolerate us rather than embrace us, but I am delighted we have got Dave. I don't think he gets the credit he deserves. He's an experienced manager who is better than the Championship with a lot to prove. As chairman I've been there, seen it and done it."

For Jones, the progress being made is tinged with frustration at always having to balance the books. Since he arrived four-and-a-half years ago, £33m of talent has been sold. "I know the parameters I have to work within because we are paying for old debt," he said. "I don't agree with everything Peter does but if he could give me more, he would. This club would never have moved forward without Peter grabbing it by the horns."

Cardiff City v Nottingham Forest is on BBC2 from 4.45pm today (5pm kick-off)

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