Joe Ralls is one of those Cardiff City players who could easily be taken for granted.
He has been at the club for a very long time now, more than a decade, in fact, and has served the club tremendously during that time.
To think he is still only 28 is exciting from a Cardiff standpoint. In theory, he should be entering the prime years of his career.
One thing which just plants a seed of uncertainty, though, is that his contract at the club runs out next summer.
He is not the only one, either. There are huge decisions to be made in the coming months, with Josh Murphy, Ciaron Brown, Alex Smithies, Sean Morrison, Aden Flint, Marlon Pack, Isaac Vassell and Will Vaulks all seeing their current deals expire next year.
It is likely we could see a situation in which just a couple of those mentioned above are at the club next season as Cardiff look to trim the wage bill and build a more youthful squad.
In fact, decisions over who should be kept on next year, or, more pertinently, who WON’T be at the club, will likely be made in the coming weeks. It would be smart for the club to ship out one or two early, if possible, in January, if they know they won’t be here from next season, if only to recoup some money on wages and nominal transfer fees.
Supporters will have their views over which players should be offered new deals and who should be cut free, but there will be few who would argue against Ralls’ case for a new contract.
He has been a big loss this season. He has missed eight games through illness or injury, with Cardiff having won only two of them.
He has had his critics along the way, too, but like any player, he has dipped in and out of form. He is more consistent than most, that’s for sure.
But, importantly, the shift to Cardiff’s style of play suits Ralls down to the ground. He has been head and shoulders above the other midfielders during his last three outings.
His forward-passing mindset has closed the gap between the midfield and attack in recent matches and his boldness with the ball at his feet has lifted the rest of the side.
Cardiff have been crying out for a bit of dynamism and go-forward in the middle of the park and Ralls is carrying that out for Steve Morison at the minute.
His pass to James Collins against Luton Town on Saturday was sublime, a diagonal, behind-the-centre-backs type of ball which gave Cardiff impetus and field position. Perry Ng’s subsequent cross landed on Rubin Colwill’s head and, well, we all know the rest.
Cardiff’s midfield has been typecast as one-dimensional or one-paced for some time now, but with Ralls in there, Marlon Pack, Will Vaulks and Leandro Bacuna all look better players for it. It allows the others to focus on the more defensive side of things while Ralls acts as the perfect foil to carry the team forward.
If he does leave in the summer it would be a crying shame and there would be no shortage of clubs willing to take him on a free transfer.
It is unlikely the club will let it get to that situation, or at least that’s what Cardiff fans hope. Any vision the club have moving forward surely incorporates Ralls in some shape or form.
But at the minute, he is flourishing in this new-look Cardiff team. He is enjoying the freedom he is being afforded in midfield and is visibly growing as a leader – the captain’s armband certainly suits him.
There are other decisions to be made which will have knock-on effects. For example, will all of Ralls, Pack and Vaulks be offered new deals ahead of next summer? It looks unlikely at this stage.
While the lion’s share of Cardiff’s players have looked much-improved since the change of management, Ralls looks like the midfielder to have benefited most. He has more influence now and is taking that responsibility seriously.
Cardiff will hope he can stave off any more injuries – it is crucial he plays the vast majority of games if the Bluebirds are to be successful in getting out of the mire in the coming months – and continues to perform as he has done in recent weeks.
Steve Morison himself admitted that he might have little say in contract negotiations, because his own contract is currently up next summer, too. But, surely, Ralls has let the powers-that-be know in his last few outings that he is worthy of a new deal.
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