Steven Caulker happy to kick on at Cardiff City after owner shows colour of money
It must be a source of comfort to Cardiff City, Hull City and Crystal Palace that of the last 12 teams elevated to the Premier League, nine have survived their first season. Defeats for all three on the opening weekend, without scoring a goal between them, had the doomsayers wearing "told you so" expressions, although there were consolations to be had in that none of the promoted trio were humiliated despite playing top-10 opposition, in two cases away from home.
So it was with Cardiff, now flying the red flag for Wales, who on their own admission gave West Ham a little too much respect early in the game at Upton Park, before recovering to record a majority of possession in a 2-0 defeat.
"A lot of the guys were making Premier League debuts and in those first 20 or so minutes, West Ham caught us by surprise a little bit," said Steven Caulker, one of the £28 million worth of recruits, in his case from Tottenham.
"Once we started to play, especially in the second half, we caused them a few problems, and could have got something out of the game. After that we looked like a team that can establish itself as a Premier League side."
Caulker, although still only 21, is one of those with Premier League appearances behind him, 18 of them for Spurs and 26 on loan for Cardiff's bitter rivals Swansea, two seasons ago when they beat today's opponents Manchester City 1-0. "They have a fantastic side, especially with those front five players coming at you," said the defender. "But the key is not to show them too much respect. We need to get in their faces and use the fact that we have the home support to our favour. If you stand off them and let them play, then we know what they can do. We saw that on Monday when they beat Newcastle. They will cause you problems. You need to stand toe to toe and be ready for the fight. A good start will help massively. You need to seize the initiative. If we do that it will help our confidence and then use the fans. We have to get them onside as soon as possible."
With his prospects at Tottenham blighted by Michael Dawson, Jan Vertonghen and Younes Kaboul, Caulker decided a move was necessary and after loans in Wales and the West at Swansea, Yeovil and Bristol City, Cardiff must have had a familiar feel: "It all happened very quickly. My agent spoke to Cardiff, spoke to the gaffer [Malky Mackay] and I didn't feel the need to hang about and wait for anybody else. I liked the plans. I wanted to be part of that and stick with that ambition.
"I understand why people question why I have dropped down. But people who knew me know I want to play football and challenge myself every week, I am young and want to play and get as much experience as I can."
Ideally that would mean a return to international contention. If not, he will go down as one of a rare breed who scored in every England game they played: in Caulker's case the friendly away to Sweden in 2012.
However mixed supporters' feelings may be about the club's Malaysian owners and in particular their decision to turn the Bluebirds red, £28m was a sizeable investment and Mackay has suggested he would like more this week. The greatest deficiency appeared to be a natural goalscorer, no Cardiff player having managed double figures despite winning the Championship. That burden now falls on Andres Cornelius, a £7.5m signing from Copenhagen, who missed last weekend's game but could be fit to play today. Mackay says of him: "He is a top young talent with a lot of potential. We had looked at him for a year or so and saw the progress he had made in such a short space of time."
For Cardiff it will be a season of landmarks: their first at this exalted level since 1962 and today, for instance, a first League meeting with City for almost 30 years. In West Ham, City and Everton, the fixture computer has dealt them a taxing print-out for August and Mackay needs to ensure the confidence of a winning team is carried over from last season. Like Caulker, he believes the crowd will have an important part to play with their hymns and arias.
"I am very proud of the fact we have the Premier League kicking off in our own stadium and associated with the club and city. Have no doubt, our fans will be passionate and supporting of everything we do this season. I probably thought myself that Cardiff was a rugby city from afar. But, from minute one of being here, I quickly realised that while there is a passion for rugby, at the same time there is a huge fan base down here in the city for football."
Cardiff City v Manchester City is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm
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