Flip Benkovic’s ill-fated stay at Cardiff City caused a lot of controversy and debate during a very short space of time.
Benkovic was a late addition, the final transfer of the window back in October after it was decided that Aden Flint would join Sheffield Wednesday on loan.
It was a good deal all around for Cardiff. Neil Harris was more than happy with his two centre-halves in Sean Morrison and Curtis Nelson, while Flint understandably wanted more game-time and Sol Bamba was there as back-up.
Moreover, financially it made sense. The Owls forked out a good sum to take on Flint’s wages, while it is understood Cardiff got a more than reasonable deal on Benkovic.
The one thing that was not going in City’s favour, though, was the sheer volume of sloppy goals they conceded during that period.
It led to calls for Benkovic to get his shot in the team, however insiders at Cardiff were not exactly bowled over by the Croat’s performances on the training ground.
Benkovic once cost Leicester City £13m, a princely sum for a relatively unknown centre-back plucked from Croatia’s capital city team Dinamo Zagreb back in 2018.
He was sent out on loan to Celtic and largely impressed, however inconsistency did become a problem for him. “Since that first 10 games at Celtic, he hasn’t maintained a level of fitness and performance that I know he can,” his boss at Leicester Brendan Rodgers recently said.
After Parkhead, it was on to Bristol City and while he featured for them 10 times, Robins fans did not seem overly disappointed not to have him back.
It was no real surprise that Harris stuck with Morrison and Nelson even when he might have been tempted to change things up, however his hand was forced during that disastrous night at Wycombe.
Morrison went down after 20 minutes and Benkovic was introduced and he endured a nightmare debut.
Joe Jacobson, boyhood City fan and ex-Bluebirds player, whipped in a cross to the back post and Ryan Tafazolli climbed easily above Benkovic to power home a header at the back post and give Wycombe the lead.
Benkovic endured a nightmare few minutes thereafter. Tafazolli beat him to another header at the back post before Uche Ikpeazu shrugged him off easily during another set piece to set up a chance for David Wheeler.
Wycombe’s second came when Gareth McCleary lofted a ball in between Nelson and Benkovic to allow Wheeler to head home from point-blank range.
It would prove to be Benkovic’s only game for City.
For many, that was breaking point with Harris and it all came to a head a couple of weeks later after their next game, a defeat in the FA Cup by Nottingham Forest.
“Norwich and Brentford beat us, Wycombe, we gave poor goals away, Benkovic cost us two goals in that game,” Harris said. “Conceding two goals in a game we shouldn’t lose.”
Those comments were highly charged and emotions ran high as Harris attempted to cling on to his job, but the frustration was plain and clear for us all to see.
Benkovic was shipped back to his parent club, who swiftly whisked him away to their sister club in Belgium, OH Leuven.
Speaking after his unveiling, he told Leuven’s website : “I want to play football, man! I hardly played at Cardiff City in recent months. Here I want to make a fresh start and find my best form.
“It all happened very quickly. I didn’t even have time to discuss my decision with Andy King and Josh Eppiah. The ambitions of this club and the conversation with the coach (Marc Brys) convinced me to take this step.
“(At Cardiff) they didn’t speak much to me there. When I asked why I barely played, I was told they were quite happy with me. But in the end, the coach opted again for the guys who were there last season. It made no sense to stay there.”
Unfortunately, Benkovic finds himself in the same situation out in Belgium.
Because, having been there two months, he is still yet to play a single minute of football for his new team.
Since joining, Leuven, who sit in seventh in the Jupiler Pro League, have played 10 matches. Benkovic has warmed the bench in seven of those fixtures and been omitted from the squad all together in the other three.
He has had to watch on as Vaclav Jemelka and Pierre-Yves Ngawa continue their partnership in the middle of the defence. The sucker punch for Benkovic? That was the partnership last season, too, the same roadblock he faced at Cardiff.
It must feel like Groundhog Day for him. He has still played only 70 minutes of football all season.
It is a sad state of affairs for a player who is still looking to find his feet in the game. But, on this evidence, it appears Cardiff were more than vindicated in their decision to send him back to his parent club.
It is important to point out that the defender, who is a Croatia international, we must remember, is still just 23 years old and has a lengthy future in the game ahead of him. There is, of course, more than enough time for him to turn it all around.
But the decision to send Benkovic packing had a sizeable knock-on effect as it prompted Cardiff to recall Aden Flint from his loan spell up at Hillsborough.
The centre-back had sustained a nasty hamstring injury, which required surgery, and was out for a number of months either side of Christmas, but under Mick McCarthy he has thrived.
Flint is now central to this back-three system and has been one of the standout players during City’s 11-game unbeaten run.
It was a sliding doors moment for Flint and he will hope his Cardiff career can continue going from strength to strength.
Benkovic, on the other hand, desperately needs minutes on the pitch.