SOL BAMBA INTERVIEW
Prior to a much-awaited return to the Premier League, Charlie Cottrell caught up with Cardiff City’s treasure, Sol Bamba.
Cardiff City’s return to the Premier League feels like uncharted territory. Strange, since their last promotion, a romp to the Championship title in the 2012/13 season, is still fresh in the memory. Yet marred by managerial scandal, red shirts and a prompt return to the Championship after a 20th place finish, many consider that infamous Premiership season to be nothing but a false start for Cardiff’s intrepid voyage in the pursuit of success.
Following a multitude of tepid efforts by the likes of Russell Slade and Paul Trollope to restore Cardiff’s passion and grit, a sense of indifference began to submerge the club on all fronts. Then, as Cardiff City lingered at the foot of the Championship in the 2016/17 season, in stepped Neil Warnock. Guiding them to safety that season, he proceeded to propel his group of players into the annals of Cardiff folklore with a seemingly implausible promotion back to the big league. Now, Warnock and his men look forward to a new challenge, and it’s one to be relished.
There is no more fitting a player in Warnock’s current side who epitomises the perseverance, tenacity and passion that resonates through the dressing room than Cardiff’s towering Ivorian centre-back, Sol Bamba. Much like Warnock, Bamba has been a fan favourite from the beginning of his City career. Arriving soon after the Yorkshireman in October 2016, Bamba capped his debut against rivals Bristol City with a winner in what was a ferocious Severn-side derby. Since then, he hasn’t looked back.
This season, Bamba was involved in all 46 of Cardiff’s league games, and helped himself to four goals – including a stunning volley against Brentford that earned him Sky Sports’ accolade of Championship Goal Of The Month. Some feat for a centre-back.
Speaking to Sol during Cardiff’s second summer stint in Cornwall in as many years (a favoured preseason destination for Neil Warnock), the 33-year-old is perpetually calm, much like his on-pitch presence. His voice, an unusual French-cum-Scottish hybrid, booms.
Despite being included in the PFA Championship Team Of The Year, an innate humbleness surfaces immediately. “I say this a lot: it doesn’t come down to any one player. I can’t do what I do without any one of my team mates, and vice versa. And that’s good. I think that if we carry on like that, working and fighting for each other, we’ve got a chance of having another great season.”
Cardiff have been busy in the transfer market this season, despite their budget being somewhat meagre in comparison with the big boys. However, having snapped up Bamba’s PFA Team Of The Season cohort Bobby Reid from Bristol City, as well as Norwich winger Josh Murphy, Derby’s Greg Cunningham and QPR keeper Alex Smithies, Warnock has hardly had to scrape the barrel. And Bamba attests to how well the newbies have slotted into the tight-knit squad. “I think that’s one of our strengths as a team. If a new player comes in, they only need a few hours to feel welcome, and then it’s as if they’ve always been a part of the dressing room.”
Bamba has established himself as a treasured member of the Cardiff community, and is keen to reciprocate his appreciation to a city that has made him feel like part of the furniture. “Everywhere you go, the people are very nice to me, and to my family – even when we don’t win!
“Some people might say to me, these people are nice because you are at Cardiff, but I don’t think that’s the case. I just think the people of Wales are nice, good people. Cardiff as a city is growing every day, and I’m so happy to be a part of that.”
No one underestimates Bamba’s pivotal contribution to a transformation that has seen Cardiff City proudly return to the top flight. Last time around, Cardiff hearts were blue, but the shirts were red. This year, to save us from tears, Cardiff hearts belong to Sol Bamba.
Cardiff’s Premier League season kicks off at AFC Bournemouth on Sat 11 Aug, with the first home game against Newcastle United on Sat 18 Aug. Info: www.cardiffcityfc.co.uk