Sol Has Bluebirds’ Promotion Trophy And Won’t Let Go

When Cardiff City earned promotion via the play-offs in 2003 captain Graham Kavanagh and his team-mates immediately lost the trophy.

It was forgotten when the majority of Bluebirds players abandoned a sponsors evening at the Marriott Hotel and dashed just across the road from Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

The party began in a bar owned by former Cardiff player David Giles – now Bar 44 – and the guys completely forgot about the play-off winners trophy which had been left in the away dressing room in the stadium.

It was found by kit man Ian Lanning when he was tidying up and locked away in the Ninian Park boot room for the next two nights. The players didn’t have a clue where it was until they returned for post-season meetings with manager Lennie Lawrence and his staff after right partying had subsided.

There was no such problem for Sol Bamba. He isn’t team captain – Sean Morrison has that honour – but he was self-appointed guardian of the Championship runners-up trophy.

He even brought it with him into the media conference after Cardiff had clinched promotion to the Premier League thanks to a goalless draw against Reading at home.

“I can’t stay away from it now,” said Bamba. “I’m in dreamland. It’s going to be great.”

Ivory Coast international Bamba has never played Premier League football, but he looks certain to do so in 2018-19.

Warnock has made it clear he rates Bamba in front of Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk, who was signed from Southampton fro £75m and became the World’s most expensive defender.

The Bluebirds boss is adamant he would not swap his Ivorian warrior for Van Dijk. Never.

“Now I have to prove I am as good as the gaffer reckons,” says Bamba. “It means everything to be in the Premier League with Cardiff City.

Happy days!

“The gaffer is an honest guy and players respond when somebody is straightforward and always honest. He knows the league inside out and gave us a lot of confidence.

“He’s been promoted eight times, four of those to the Premier League with different clubs. I told him after the match against Reading ‘You’ve worked your magic again.’

“He is unbelievable and passes his passion onto the players. He is one of the best managers I have ever worked under.”

Bamba worried his mum when he stayed on the pitch as Bluebirds fans in the 32,000-plus crowd swarmed onto the pitch.

Cardiff City – a Premier League team.

“My mum was at the game and was concerned, but I wanted to get involved a special moment,” said Bamba. “That memory will stay with me forever.”

The Bluebirds’ celebrations went on late into the night, but Bamba insists he does not lead the way in those circumstances.

“No, that’;s just not me,” he said. Moose (Sean Morrison) leads celebrations. He is number one for that.”

Neil Warnock leads the cheers.

Bamba was signed on a free transfer in the first week of the Warnock’s reign back in October 2016. He has been reliable and solid throughout the season.

Morrison was voted player of the season by fans, but he was less than one per cent ahead of his centre-back partner.

That combination at the heart of defence was a key factor in Cardiff’s promotion success.

Bamba was born in France and is 33-years-old. He has played for eight clubs across six nations – England, Wales, Turkey,  Italy, Scotland and France – during his career.

He is one of the most welcoming footballers I have ever met in a journalism career which has spanned five decades, but a snarling, bruising defender when it comes to matches.

Look at the faces of Sean Morrison (left) and Sol Bamba.

“When Sol’s moaning you know you are in a good place,” says Warnock. “You don’t want him happy.”

Bamba has a style which picked him out among the best defenders in Championship football. His telescopic legs seem to extend and whip the ball away from strikers – Warnock describes them as octopus legs – and certainly frustrate the opposition.

He blocked more shots and made more tackles than almost any defender in the second tier.

The big Frenchman was a forward who only became a defender when he was playing in the Paris St Germain youth system and a team-mate was caught up in a traffic jam.

Bamba went into the back line and stayed there through his career.

Warnock says he will bring in up to six quality players for Cardiff’s second season at Premier League level. There is, though, no doubt in my mind that two of the first names on a team sheet for the start of next season will be Bamba and Morrison.

Bamba’s professional career has covered 15 years so far, while he has played in 348 first team matches. He will hit the landmark 350 at Premier League level – and he can’t wait to take on the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United.

The big boys may be shocked by Cardiff’s competitive edge.

Warnock is clear, saying: “Take the top six Premier clubs out and there is a chance that anybody can beat anybody.

“We will compete every step of the way.”

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