Coca Cola Championship play-off final - Blackpool v Cardiff City Venue: Wembley Stadium Date: Saturday, 22 May Kick-off: 1500 BST Coverage: Full commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live & online, BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru, live text commentary online and score updates on BBC Sport website and highlights on The Football League Show. Live on Sky Sports 1
Peter Ridsdale tells BBC Sport Wales about his 'successful' Cardiff legacy
By Peter Shuttleworth
It has already been billed as the biggest game in Cardiff City's history, but Saturday's Championship play-off final could be even more important than that.
The debt-ridden club may be at a crossroads and their future direction could well be determined in Saturday's pivotal showdown underneath the Wembley arch.
Premier League promotion could provide a £90m pot of gold - crammed with TV and commercial revenue - and those millions could help satisfy the financially-troubled Championship club's creditors.
If we stay in the Championship there won't be an issue. Cardiff City doesn't need Premier League football to survive
Cardiff City chairman Peter Ridsdale
Although Cardiff's overall debt is more than £15m, it is not all about filthy lucre.
Saturday's final represents the continuation of Cardiff's steady upward spiral that has seen them rise from the very bottom of the professional leagues in just a dozen years.
Cardiff have already survived four winding-up orders as Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs demand repayment of their £1.9m tax debt and a fifth trip to cough up at the High Court awaits... although the club's new Malaysian investors appear to have staved off an immediate threat.
New club chief executive Gethin Jenkins was renowned for keeping purse strings tight during his reign as boss at the Newport Gwent Dragons rugby region.
But former Cardiff and Wales striker Nathan Blake admits: "I think a lot of people fear if they don't win on Saturday and do stay in the Championship, what is coming is not going to be pretty.
"I don't think the club would fold but cutting back seems inevitable with their debt.
"If the club didn't have the debt hanging over them, this would be one of Cardiff's biggest ever games due to its magnitude. Add to that the off-the-field situation it is a massive game in Cardiff's history.
"If you want to get up into the Premier League, you need to take the opportunities when they come along and Cardiff will never have a better opportunity than this."
Cardiff City fans protested against Peter Ridsdale's running of the club
Peter Ridsdale is never far from the headlines but the current Cardiff chairman will officially stand down after the play-off final.
And he acknowledges: "There's a lot of money riding on the outcome and there are a lot of reputations riding on the outcome."
Ridsdale's tenure in South Wales shares some similarities with his time as Leeds United chairman.
Leeds' big-money squad failed to qualify for the lucrative Champions League by just five points in 2002 and the failure to make the money-spinning tournament and subsequent player fire-sale to pay bills, prompted the club's fall to League One.
Despite quitting in 2003, Ridsdale suffered a fans' backlash as Leeds went from 2001 European semi-finalists to a third-tier team in seven years.
Blake's fear that failure on Saturday could spark a similar era of demise has been rubbished by Ridsdale himself.
"Those contrasts are nonsense," Ridsdale insists to BBC Sport Wales.
"Cardiff City were near the bottom of the Championship when I arrived and we have survived by not getting promoted, we've had a wage bill that has been sustained by selling £5m of players each year to allow us to afford that wage bill until we get a new stadium.
"With the turnover in the new stadium, the overhead structure now is fine for the Championship.
Michael Chopra tells BBC Sport Wales about Cardiff City's transformation
"If we stay in the Championship, there won't be an issue. Cardiff City doesn't need Premier League football to survive."
Ridsdale, who was initially hired by former chairman Sam Hammam as a football consultant in 2005 before replacing him as chairman in 2006, added: "When I walked into this football club five years ago it was about to go out of business.
"It was £35m in debt, losing £10m a year and the stadium scheme was dead in the water.
"We've had no new money put into the football club during that period and everything we've had is self-generated through selling players.
"We have no investment so I am handing over after the game on Saturday to a new chairman and he and his consortium aren't coming here for the short term, they're here for the long term.
"So I would argue that whatever happens on Saturday, Cardiff's financial future is stronger than it has been for many, many years as the debts are lower and the profits and infrastructure is better than when I came in.
"We were averaging 11,000 fans week in, week out when I arrived. Now we're averaging gates over 20,000.
"We were in a stadium not fit for purpose for the Championship, let alone the Premier League and now we have a stadium that would grace any Premier League team coming here.
"We have wonderful training facilities whereas before we had no training facilities at all.
"The club have been in their first FA Cup final for 81 years and now we're in a final to decide who goes into the Premier League next year.
"People are talking that our financial problems have suddenly appeared. And yet again it is Peter Ridsdale at a football club and financial problems and Peter Ridsdale go together.
"Any other football team in the country would be jumping up and down you would say our achievements are fantastic.
"But perhaps because people have a perception of what happened at Leeds and it is Peter Ridsdale and therefore it must be bad news - and I think that's unfair.
"I don't like to hark back to Leeds but they did not need Champions League football to survive it needed Premier League football - and two years after I left, they got relegated and that is not my fault."
Ridsdale has been forced to sell star players such as Aaron Ramsey, Roger Johnson, Cameron Jerome for the club to continue but he now believes Cardiff are "ripe" for top-flight football as it boasts "Premier League infrastructure."
So while Ridsdale insists Cardiff do not need win promotion to save themselves, the Welsh club will almost certainly need to secure Premier League status to retain their star players.
Strikers Jay Bothroyd and Michael Chopra, Championship top-scorer Peter Whittingham and Wales midfielder Joe Ledley have certainly attracted the attention of top-flight suitors and wealthier Championship clubs.
Dato Chan Tien Ghee's Malaysian consortium has injected £6m
And rival chairmen will acknowledge the top job manager Dave Jones has done in tough circumstances and might want to tempt him to their club.
The extended parachute payments for clubs coming down from the Premier League could make the gap between the haves and the have-nots in the coming years.
Professor Tom Cannon at the University of Liverpool is a sports finance expert and he says Cardiff - and their £1m-a-month wage bill - could be unique if Cardiff do end their 48-year top-flight absence.
"Every club that has made an investment to get the Premier League has taken a gamble because the Championship is a tough league," Professor Cannon told BBC Sport.
"The amount of the gamble, the levels of the debt and the questions about their finances make Cardiff distinctive.
"More clubs than it is admitted have gone into the Premier League with debt but the truth is that no one has gone into the Premier League with a publicly difficult financial situation as Cardiff may do."
Cardiff's new owners will have little season ticket income this summer either after Ridsdale's now infamous festive time season ticket offer to raise funds.
More than 10,000 fans bought passes for next season - raising approximately £3m in the process - after Ridsdale initially promised the money would be spent on new players in the January transfer window.
He, though, was was forced to apologise for "misleading" fans when he conceded the money had to be spent on settling debts rather than reinforcements.
But fans were promised their money back if the club were promoted to the Premier League so promotion would be a double boost for die-hard supporters.
And the Bluebirds faithful hope hero Blake's worst case scenario will stay untested.
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