When Malky Mackay took over at Cardiff City, his second job behind signing a whole new team, was keeping hold of one man. I'm not even sure if signing a whole new team was more important than keeping hold of Peter Whittingham. Let's say, for arguments sake, that it wasn't. Peter Whittingham has gone from Cardiff City misfit to our most pivotal player. After much posturing by Malky, Peter Whittingham finally penned a contract extension on August 26th. A collective sigh of relief was breathed by Cardiff City fans as the most laid back player in the world was tied down until 2014.
Peter Whittingham's journey at Cardiff didn't get off the most auspicious starts. Signed from Aston Villa for a fee of ￡350,000 in January 2007, it seemed to take a while for him to find his feet in the Championship. The best way, it seems, to a Cardiff City fans heart is to be a blood and thunder player. If he had come in and dived into tackles and run around like a headless chicken, he would have been a fans favourite in minutes. This has never been Whittingham's style. He's not a flashy player. His hair has never changed style in the nigh-on-five years he has been at the club. His player profile pictures always give the impression of a man who is startled to be a professional footballer. In an interview, then manager Dave Jones said 'I actually asked him once, "What will you do when you retire?" He said, "Sit in front of the telly and become a fat bastard”'. His face on the pitch never goes beyond mild indifference, an occasional smile when he scores.
His first half-a-season passed and his second season began in much the same way. He was in and out of the team, never really holding down a regular place. But it was the F.A. Cup run where he really started to shine. A potential banana skin at Chasetown saw Whittingham start his goal-scoring run. He then scored the opening goal in the fifth round against Wolves; a calm finish after a run from the halfway line. His goal against Middlesbrough in the quarters was a sign of things to come. The ball came to him around fifteen yards out and after some nifty footwork, he hit a curling right footed shot that left the keeper rooted to the spot. It was a world-class strike under pressure. His free-kick for Roger Johnnson's diving header was a superlative cross too. Whittingham had shown sparkles of his talent but this was when he burst into life.
2009-10 saw Whittingham burst into life completely. It was make or break. If message-board managers had had their way, he would have been out on his arse. But as it was, Dave Jones kept faith with the Nuneaton man and Peter Whittingham completely repaid him. Whittingham was placed on penalty duty and displayed and ice cold streak as he effortlessly slammed penalties away. He scored 25 goals and was the key link in a team that eventually failed at the final hurdle.
Whittingham was placed on penalty duty and displayed and ice cold streak as he effortlessly slammed penalties away.
It was hard to see what Whitts was doing differently and perhaps that still is the case. He was being played down the right hand side, a new position for the left-footed wizard, but his all round play didn't drastically evolve overnight. He has always been a technically gifted player. When Jason Koumas had his glittering loan spell with us, and people were looking for players to fill that gap, I always suggested that Whittingham was good enough to fill that role. And he's proving to be less mercurial than Koumas was.
This season especially has seen Whittingham evolve into a more rounded player. His goal-scoring exploits of two seasons past will probably never be repeated; as much as the boy is top drawer, it's hard to see him scoring 25 goals again even if we do get an obscene amount of penalties. Malky has trusted Whittingham with a central midfield berth this year. Dave Jones tried it last season and it started to yield rewards; indeed, he was the only player to come out of the Reading aberration with any credit.
His role this year is akin to that of a quarter-back. At times, he's the deepest lying midfielder, collecting the ball from the centre-half and bringing it forward. This plays into his hands. His eye for a pass is sometimes unnervingly quick. Though he is tremendously laid back, his quickness to launch a pin-point pass is unparalleled. He's still scoring. Free-kicks are now almost certainly testing the keeper and if he's shooting from anywhere around the box, it's probably going in. But he's added a new dimension to his game. Accusations that he is lazy are all in the past now. He gets up and down the pitch as much as Gunnar or Kiss and he's even been spotted making last ditch tackles; something rarer than Roy Keane shying away from controversy. Sometimes, mind you, he gets the tackles completely wrong. His lunge at Rhys Williams in the recent loss to 'Boro was wince-inducing. He had previous in that department. Former Bluebird, Chris Gunter, was on the receiving end of a Whittingham-special two seasons. Something that Cardiff City fans really enjoyed.
But through all this, credit needs to go to Whittingham. He's stuck out a change in manager, system and several player changes. He's seen F.A. Cup finals and play-off devastation and through it all, he has gotten stronger and will rightly go down as a Cardiff City legend. His ability is finally being recognised by fans, pundits and the board. His contract extension was a much heralded piece of news. The team is built around him and rightly so. January will bring the tedious rigmarole of rumour and hear-say but I am convinced he is staying put. His commitment to the club can, finally, stay unquestioned and if he can help lead this club to glory, he will seal his place in Cardiff City folklore. A place he rightly deserves.
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