A lot has changed since Robert Earnshaw left Cardiff City in 2004.
There’s a new stadium and new training facilities, and, as Earnshaw acknowledged when speaking today for the first time since his Bluebirds return, now very few familiar faces at the club.
But the fans never forgot about him, overwhelming the man they call ‘Earnie’ with the warmth of their reception:
“Even knowing that I’ve had some great years here already, I’ve still been a little bit surprised how much they’ve welcomed me back, and how grateful they are that I’m here. It’s been a little bit humbling.”
Earnshaw signed his first professional contract with Cardiff in 1997, and scored 105 goals for the club over seven years. Knowing that a hero’s welcome awaited him in South Wales played a “big part” in his decision to reject Nottingham Forest’s offer of a new contract, and return to Cardiff:
“For me to do well, I need to be wanted, I need to be liked by everyone. It’s only going to spur me on to do better.”
Cardiff’s new manager Malky Mackay fought off interest from a number of other Championship clubs to make the Welshman his fourth signing of the summer. “His philosophies had to be similar to mine”, Earnshaw said. “He wants to do well, he wants this club to do well. That’s the same as me.”
“Because of the stage I’m at in my career, this was always going to be my most important decision,” the 30-year-old said.
“Because there was so much interest, I needed to just let everything just sink in, and make sure that where I was going to play football was the right place. Obviously I’m here because I think this is the right place. I’m happy and it feels right to be here.”
After leaving his hometown club seven years ago, Earnshaw spent time at West Bromwich Albion, Norwich and Derby, before moving to Nottingham Forest in 2008.
Any suggestion that he’s returning to Cardiff as his career is beginning to wind down should be tempered by recalling his goal against Swansea City in a Championship play-off semi-final in May.
The pace and predatory instincts remain, and Earnshaw also believes he’s a more mature player now:
“I know the game, I’ve played football for so long and had so many different coaches. I’ve been learning over the last 15 years or so. I’m at a stage where I can help my teammates, help people around me. For me, I’m a better all-round player.”
In four weeks time, the Bluebirds will be making their final preparations for the first game of another season in the Championship.
The club’s Premier League ambition is one that the Welsh international shares:
“I’m desperate for this club to go up,” Earnshaw said. “It would be unbelievable. We’ve got to not get carried away just because I’ve arrived.
“But if we get promoted, it would be one of the biggest achievements of my career.”