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Wales Online
Glen Williams

More managers than signings, missed targets and an hour of chaos: inside Cardiff City's transfer window

The curtain has been brought down on one of the most chaotic months in Cardiff City's recent history.

The first 31 days of 2023 saw three managers in the Bluebirds dugout, one signing come through door, seven players leave and a hugely problematic transfer embargo eventually overturned. Oh, and another six games without a win.

Say what you like about Cardiff City Football Club, but it is never, ever dull. Although, just for a little while, wouldn't that be nice?

READ MORE: Sabri Lamouchi shakes up Cardiff City backroom staff as coach leaves with immediate effect

Cardiff had earmarked exits and positions in which they wanted to sign well before the January window opened. Getting youngsters out on loan and exposing them to senior football was a must - while Max Watters needed to leave and regain his confidence, Barnsley were willing to take the chance on the strength of his loan stint in League One with MK Dons last season.

The club were desperate to get Vontae Campbell out the door this month, too. The right-back is behind Mahlon Romeo, Perry Ng and Tom Sang in the pecking order and has really failed to take the chances which were afforded to him so far this term. But, in truth, there was little interest and he will now have to progress with Darren Purse's under-21s.

Those outgoings were all earmarked by Mark Hudson and the recruitment team early on in the window, with the former boss leaning on his contacts at Torquay United and York City to allow James Crole and Ollie Tanner to leave respectively.

At the same time, though, there was a transfer embargo looming over the club. While on the outside it appeared very troublesome, on the inside the club were confident of overturning it in the early throes of the window.

Cardiff knew they had to pay Nantes the £7m instalment for the Emiliano Sala transfer fee to satisfy the criteria which would lift the ban. It took some time for Vincent Tan and Cardiff to get that money out of the bank, but it was eventually paid midway through the window.

The payment coincided with Cardiff trying to recall Mark McGuinness from his loan at Sheffield Wednesday. Unfortunately, that took more than a week to ratify, with Nantes appearing to delay acknowledgement of the fee which would have lifted the embargo on FIFA's transfer software.

Amid all of this, of course, Hudson got the sack following a last-minute equaliser from Wigan Athletic. A real gut punch. And it threw January and its transfer dealings up in the air. Dean Whitehead's week in the dugout was hardly ideal, either, getting slapped by Leeds United up at Elland Road before an agonising 1-0 defeat by Millwall back at Cardiff City Stadium.

By the time FIFA's transfer embargo was finally lifted, there was less than two weeks left of the January window and no business had been done. Throw into the mix the EFL's own ruling which prohibits Cardiff from spending any fees on players and the situation became mired in difficulty.

The need for a left-back then became all the more pressing when Niels Nkounkou, whose defensive errors proved costly this season, was recalled by Everton and then sent immediately back out on loan to St Etienne in France.

Plus, Cardiff scoring just one league goal all month had fans screaming out for a forward. Thankfully, Whitehead said after the Millwall match that Cardiff were close to bringing in a number nine - but the then interim boss perhaps went a bit early on that.

Cardiff were trying to bring in at least two forward players and had identified left-back as a position in which they wanted to bolster, too. Of course, we all know now that things did not work out so smoothly in that regard.

WalesOnline were alerted to as many as five left-backs in the final week of the window, but as the days and hours ticked by, they all found new clubs or opted for other challenges. The uncertainty surrounding the manager position was a reason cited by at least one, too.

Sabri Lamouchi was eventually appointed last Friday, five days before the deadline, and things started to look on the up. The Frenchman made the decision to sanction Curtis Nelson's exit and hoped for one or two "good surprises" before the 11pm Tuesday deadline.

However, spanner, meet the works.

Regarding the striker Whitehead said was close, well, we understood that to be Sory Kaba. However, as of last weekend, we were informed that deal had hit the kibosh and Cardiff began exploring other options.

Late on Monday evening, in typically dramatic mid-season transfer window fashion, we were told a deal was possibly back on the cards, with left-back also a deadline-day priority.

It was hardly ideal that Cardiff had a Championship game away at Luton Town on deadline day, however the EFL made the decision on that after the Bluebirds voiced their preference to play it on a different day.

Left-back looked less likely as deadline day ebbed on. Doors were being slammed in Cardiff's face left, right and centre. While youngsters Jack Leahy and Tom Davies sealed moves to Cymru Premier sides.

But at least it looked like Kaba was coming in. Or did it?

Midway through the Luton game, we were informed there was a potential issue with the Kaba deal relating to the Midtjylland side of things. A potential admin problem which prompted Cardiff, with two hours to go in the window, to actively start looking at other options.

For an hour or so, it was chaos. It became more likely that Cardiff were going to end the window with no new signings through the door and that would have been an utter disaster.

But, just as quickly as it was off, it was back on again and Cardiff and Midtjylland ironed out the kinks to get the Guinea international through the door with just 15 minutes to spare. That went some way, at least, to assuaging the defeat by Luton in Lamouchi's first game in charge.

And, we are led to believe, Cardiff are still looking to bring in a left-back. It is hoped they can get one in the free agent market, however we are some way away yet from that being a certainty. Although confidence was relatively high late on Tuesday evening.

When WalesOnline asked Lamouchi about the free agent market on Tuesday evening, he replied: "I need to talk with the club. They know exactly what we need. Not what the manager needs, what the team needs. We will see tonight and probably in the next day."

The wrong manager appointment and no signings would have been a disaster. But Lamouchi's appointment was met with widespread positivity, while Kaba comes with good goalscoring pedigree - albeit he has seemingly struggled this season. If a left-back comes in, too, on a free, well there is at least something to build upon.

But Lamouchi knows he has his work cut out for him if he is to keep this club, who go into February having not won a game since November 5 and sit 21st in the division, in the Championship.

"This is our season and we need to know that we must fight until the end," Lamouchi said after the Luton defeat. "It will be really difficult, but there have been just three training sessions and one game. I will try to change something.

"I need to find the best solution, the best system, the best players and the best way to move on. It's really important to never give up and to fight until the end. We need to work, but I saw positive things. We will recover, have training and another game at Hull.’


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