It was the perfect 10 for Mick McCarthy’s Cardiff City last Tuesday. Ten games, seven wins, three draws with a landslide 4-0 win over Derby County in the bag.
Everything looked so rosy. With the exception, of course, of the horrific injury suffered by Joe Bennett.
As we all know, football is a finicky industry; one minute you’re riding the crest of a wave and the next you’re crashing into rocks, that’s the nature of the beast.
There’s a reason Bennett has been the premier left-back under Neil Warnock, Neil Harris and McCarthy. Yes, he has suffered drops in form over the past 18 months, but which player hasn’t?
This season, and the last few months in particular, Bennett looked younger and somewhere close to his best.
Although it was noted that the system change helped Aden Flint, Perry Ng, central midfielders, Josh Murphy, Leandro Bacuna, Sheyi Ojo and even Kieffer Moore, Bennett was quietly enjoying a good spell on that flank. left. .
Because this system suits him right down to the ground.
If there was one criticism fans leveled at the left-back, maybe it’s that he has his limits defensively. But as an attacking left-back he certainly holds his place in this division. So the shift to the left winger was right in his wheelhouse and he was starting to blossom again.
Emboldened by the added blanket behind him, we saw the Bennett of old; marauding the left flank, creating overlaps and whipping crosses. We even saw him appear at the far post against Rotherham to score a spectacular late winner.
It all came after WalesOnline learned it had entered into contract talks with the club in January over a new deal.
He’s out of contract this summer and he and Junior Hoilett were two players Harris had a very high opinion of and the club had started initial talks on new terms.
Fast forward a few months and the situation remains the same. While there is a big change, Bennett has an ACL injury and needs to have surgery to repair the damage.
As with all of those large ACL trades, the best case scenario could see Bennett return within six months, the most likely time frame, however, is closer to eight or nine months.
This puts him in a somewhat precarious position, with his contract expiring at the end of this season.
Few would say that Bennett, who turns 31 this month, is not a top operator at this level. Indeed, Watford, looking for automatic promotions, inquired about taking it last summer.
But he is based in Cardiff and over the course of the five seasons he has been loved by a large part of City fans. He has 177 games with the Bluebirds under his belt and boasts a promotion medal.
Following the overhaul of the Harris team, this promotion know-how is thin on this team. Only Sean Morrison, Hoilett, Joe Ralls, Sol Bamba and Bennett remain. Three of them are also out of contract this summer.
There is merit in thinking about reducing the average age of the team and chopping down deadwood, of course. But there is also something to be said for the experience, especially on the relentless battlefield of a championship campaign.
Bennett has this experience.
There is hope for young Joel Bagan, who had a shoulder dislocation against Huddersfield last Friday night after it looked like he was going to get a big point in the squad. He’s 19 and many insiders think he’s the future, but at such a tender age he can’t be expected to carry the bucket load for an entire season.
Bennett has more than shown himself to be a more than capable full-back and will also be important in helping Bagan’s development.
There will be hope for Bennett, however, after McCarthy’s future was secured last week. The manager has already spoken a lot about him, calling him a “good player” and “very experienced” following his injury.
Cardiff’s transfer tenure has changed slightly, as we all know they are looking to keep the squad’s average age much lower than it has been in recent times but that doesn’t mean they are looking exclusively for young players.
In a sense, City want to have a hybrid squad, made up of a core of young players but with older, more experienced heads to guide them. And that’s where Bennett comes in.
It would be wrong for City to scrap him this summer after five years of loyal service. There will undoubtedly be plenty of other league clubs ready to take on him if they do.
But he still has something to offer, that’s fair to say. If McCarthy continues to implement this rear wing system next season and beyond, it would suit Bennett down to the ground and there’s no reason he couldn’t play a big part in it just yet. the future.
Greg Cunningham’s loan to Preston was made permanent last month, while Ciaron Brown, also on contract this summer, appears to be more of a center-back than a left-back at first glance.
Letting someone of Bennett’s quality go for free would leave a bitter taste in their mouths for many, especially since we’ve seen a few big, expensive players go for relatively paltry values over the past four or five windows.
It’s an awkward position for Bennett, with months of rehab ahead of him and his future still hanging in the air beyond this summer.
As the weeks go by, the problem becomes more and more pressing.
But if the manager’s recent success is anything to see; in the right proportions, there really is no substitute for experience in this division.