While Cardiff City prepare for life back in the Championship following relegation from the Premier League, one man who could soon find himself not just back in the top flight but playing Champions League football next season is captain Steven Caulker.
There were reports toward the end of the season Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers was interested in the former Tottenham defender, 22, who cost the Bluebirds in excess of £8 million last July.
Such reports have continued to circulate, with Rodgers is keen to bolster a defence which leaked 50 Premier League goals last season.
Rodgers signed Caulker on loan in 2011 when he was Swansea City manager and was reportedly interested again last summer until Tottenham refused to sell to a rival club.
The Anfield boss is still believed to be targeting Southampton’s World Cup defender Dejan Lovren, but Caulker - who was tipped as an England World Cup squad contender earlier in the season - may prove to be a cheaper and more accessible alternative.
Caulker earned a number of plaudits for his performances last season. He started every Premier League game and scored five goals, including the winning goal as Cardiff beat Swansea 1-0 in the Premier League’s first ever South Wales derby last November. He was made captain by former boss Malky Mackay, a status he retained when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over the reins in January 2014.
Although Caulker’s form tailed off towards the end of the season and with it his World Cup hopes and Cardiff’s top flight status, he is not short of admirers due to his athleticism, composure in possession and gutsy defensive displays. Caulker’s ability to play out from the back will certainly fit the philosophy Rodgers has instilled at Anfield.
While Caulker is a player of promise possessing all the attributes desired of a modern day central defender, there may be questions as to whether he is the man to improve Liverpool’s vulnerable backline.
After all, Caulker was ever present in a Cardiff backline that conceded 74 goals last season and towards the end of the campaign there was a feeling on the terraces of the Welsh capital that the ex-Tottenham trainee had lost heart and some of his earlier commitment.
Former Cardiff favourite Nathan Blake has even suggested Cardiff would be able to cope without Caulker and questioned his defensive ability. He told WalesOnline:
"I'll be honest, I'll say it. I think Caulker is a great athlete but defensively he has got a lot to learn. If you look at some of the goals conceded, even at Newcastle, he could have done better.”
The former Wales striker added: "I think [Cardiff] got a better opportunity without Caulker in the Championship.
"He is a great athlete but leaves a lot to be desired defensively…People who watch football should go and analyse it. I'm telling you, he has been at fault just as much as anyone else. He has not stood head and shoulders above anybody.”
"For me, losing Caulker and Gary Medel would not be a problem at all."
Caulker has previously stated that he wants to stay in South Wales and help get Cardiff promoted back to the Premier League, but he may find the lure of joining a club that is expected to challenge for the Premier League title next season too hard to resist.
Additionally, if Liverpool can at least match what Cardiff paid for Caulker last summer they may not be averse to selling in order to generate funds for Solskjaer to spend.
Meanwhile, bookies have installed Cardiff as early favourites for promotion next season, with Paddy Power offering odds of 8-1 for Cardiff to lift the Championship title next May.
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