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Cardiff City fans waited to see the best of Josh Murphy but the brutal reality is that it happened a long time ago – Scott Johnson

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Josh Murphy’s departure was supposed to be a gut-wrencher. Having arrived as a 23-year-old, rich in promise and for an eight-figure sum, the expectation was that should he leave, it would be a return to the Premier League for a healthy profit.

Anyone that witnessed him in the first half of his first season with the club would be left with no doubt that he was destined for bigger and better things. Murphy flew out of the blocks and briefly took the Premier League by storm. It was a common occurrence to see his opposing right back trail in his wake or pick up a booking that only compounded their problems.

It didn’t last though. Little did we know that he had already peaked. His form from then on would peak and trough, but the peaks got smaller and the troughs got deeper. We never really saw THAT Josh Murphy again.

It happens. A similar situation occurred with Joe Mason, who exceeded all expectations in a brilliant first season with the club, but never reached those heights again. The torment is that early promise leads to expectation and a hope that never really dies. It dwindles, but never disappears.

We’ve all been waiting for Murphy to come good again, but we’re three years and three managers down the line now. Where do you draw the line?

I feel for Josh, I really do. He’s had a never-ending series of niggling injuries and there is a feeling that at times, he’s never been given enough faith or games in order to return to his very best.

READ MORE: The enigma of Josh Murphy, the great wasted talent

He’s not been treated particularly well by some supporters either, having had the humiliation of having his substitution ironically cheered by his own fans on two separate occasions. I understood their frustration, but no player deserves that and it certainly didn’t help.

When Cardiff were relegated, Bobby Decordova-Reid, Bruno Ecuele-Manga, Kenneth Zohore, Harry Arter and Victor Camarasa all departed. The club seemed to suffer from a collective hangover and it felt a bit like Murphy was the last man standing, in some respects. In retrospect, it felt like he missed the boat and his Cardiff career never really recovered.

Murphy is often described as a confidence player, but they’re all confidence players, to a greater or lesser extent. He wasn’t defensively minded enough for Neil Warnock, but you would have thought that would have been highlighted in the scouting reports.

Neil Harris and Mick McCarthy never really trusted him either and not without justification. It was often a catch-22 situation, where his performances rarely justified his selection, but without games, the situation was never likely to improve.

Cardiff never really felt like the right fit for Murphy. It has not gone unnoticed how well Harry Wilson has started the season with Fulham, a far more fluid attacking side that appear to suit the Welsh international’s strengths and instincts. If Murphy thrives at Preston, where he links back up with Frankie McAvoy who was instrumental in his development at Norwich, it will reflect badly on Cardiff and could prove an ongoing source of embarrassment.

With his contract up in the summer, letting Murphy leave on loan was effectively Cardiff cutting their losses, heavily subsidised wages aside, and drawing a line under his time at the club, barring a recall. Once again, one of their big-money signings has departed without any of their investment being recouped and with an extensive list of senior players heading out of contract next year, he may not be the last.

It is no way to run a football club. Cardiff never quite mastered how to spend big money and now they have no money left, so maybe that’s for the best. But you do wonder what the squad will look like this time next year.

READ MORE: ‘I’ve got a lot to prove’ – Cardiff City outcast Josh Murphy says Preston’s style will suit him

As for the current squad, Murphy’s move leaves Cardiff rather light in terms of attacking options. All four of last season’s flair players; Murphy, Wilson, Sheyi Ojo and Junior Hoilett have left. Ryan Giles has had a brilliant start to the season, but the burden of Cardiff’s creativity now sits squarely on his shoulders. Should anything happen to him, there will be grave concerns.

It presents a great opportunity to Cardiff’s youngsters, but they face a steep learning curve. We do not yet know if the likes of Rubin Colwill, Mark Harris, Sam Bowen and Isaak Davies are ready or up to the task, but we will soon find out and we’re all rooting for them.

The club deserves credit for rejecting Wolves’ late advances for Kieffer Moore. His departure would have resulted in mutiny, especially without the arrival of a suitable replacement. It would have killed all optimism and the worst thing you can ever do is take away the hope of supporters before a season has barely had chance to get underway.

Where there’s a Moore, there’s a way and despite him not being quite up to speed yet after his exploits at the European Championships and contracting Covid, his mere presence back in the side gives everyone a lift. Long may that continue.

As for Murphy, I wish him nothing but the best and hope he can recover his very best form. It was sad to see him leave on the same day as Joe Bennett, a key player in recent years who used to patrol the same flank in tandem with Murphy. That’s football, though. Players come and go while life goes on.

The nagging suspicion is that we never saw the best of Murphy, but maybe we actually did. We just never realised it at the time.

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