Cardiff, Blackpool seek EPL jackpot
Cardiff manager Dave Jones insists his team won't crack under the pressure of playing in English football's richest single match when they face Blackpool in the Championship play-off final on Saturday.
Jones' side will book a place among England's elite teams for the first time since 1960 if they win at Wembley and, just as significantly for a club struggling with financial problems, net an estimated £50 million ($71 million) jackpot in the process. Taking on the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal in the Premier League will bring the south Wales club massively increased income streams through television revenue, merchandising and gate receipts.
It would also be the perfect way to welcome Malaysian tycoon Vincent Tan's consortium, who are ready to put a substantial stake into a club which only avoided a winding-up order over an unpaid tax bill earlier this month. Jones is confident playing in such a high-stakes encounter won't reduce his players to a bag of nerves because they have already proved they can handle the play-off pressure by winning their penalty shoot-out against Leicester in the semi-finals.
"In the main I have nothing but admiration for these players," Jones said. "We have battled injuries, illness and retirements as well as all the off-the-field problems. We haven't carried the biggest of squads but we have a camaraderie that binds the squad and staff together and they have all been superb.
"Some of the best players in the world have frozen in big games but we have got to go out and play with freedom. If you make a mistake, don't worry about it and get on with it. If anybody is not looking forward to it then get out now because this is what we all aspire to in the game."
Jones knows what it takes to win a big game at Wembley after leading Cardiff to FA Cup semi-final success there against Barnsley in 2008. That result brought Cardiff's first FA Cup final appearance for 81 years but defeating Blackpool would mean much more to a club starved of top-flight football for over half a century.
Not that they will get an easy ride against the Championship's surprise package. Few pundits expected Blackpool to achieve anything more than avoiding relegation this season. But, under Ian Holloway's astute management, they clinched a play-off place on the final day of the season, then eliminated heavily favoured Nottingham Forest with two impressive victories in the semi-finals.
Key to Blackpool's bid for a first promotion to the top-flight since 1971 has been the form of captain Charlie Adam. Former Rangers midfielder Adam, 24, quit Ibrox after struggling to hold down a regular first-team place but has scored 18 times for the Seasiders this season.
The Scotland international credits the mad-cap but always-engaging Holloway for his renaissance at Bloomfield Road. "The manager is mad but you'll never change him. Everybody thinks he's a joker and he is with the media," Adam said.
"But when it's time to work on Monday to Friday, and on matchdays, the lads respond in the right way. You can count on one hand the amount of bad performances we've had this year. That tells you everything.
"Winning promotion would show that I made the right decision to come here but I've got nothing to prove to Rangers or anybody else. All I have to do is show my manager here what I'm capable of and hopefully we can earn the right to face some of the best players in the world and walk out at Old Trafford, Anfield and Stamford Bridge next season."