by Kieran Davies
So the final whistle goes on a long and testing season but you’ve achieved the unthinkable, you’ve reached the promised land of the Premier League, but at what cost? Having fallen at the final hurdle enough times to make the most ardent gambler cringe at the thought, a new owner had delivered his promise of top flight football to the city of Cardiff. To the outsider looking in, the arrival of the new owner seemed to correlate with the success story starting in their climb to the dizzy heights of a Premier League fixture list for the forthcoming season. But what actually are Cardiff City getting themselves into in their pursuit of the big time? This brings us to their Malaysian owner Vincent Tan. The man with a higher trouserline than Simon Cowell according to Forbes magazine as of March 2013 is worth £808m, quite a sum indeed and no doubt would stand him in the upper echelons in a Premier League owner’s wealth table. But after seeing the turbulent times at Anfield as a Liverpool fan with the Texan cowboys Hicks and Gillette at the helm, I was left thinking everything but that Gillette was the best a man can get, as their adverts imply. This brings us to the subject of ‘paper millionaires’. It seems too easy for businessmen to acquire football clubs in this country based on a financial wealth figure which isn’t disposable funds but tied up in a number of ventures and businesses across the globe.
Tan took the helm at Cardiff during tough times, there was already a complicated debt as a result of their previous owner Sam Hamman who left the club owing a large debt to a company which he seems to have a vested interest in. Looking back at that now maybe Vincent Tan used the previous business model of Hamman as a blueprint on how he too was going to run the club. The other week prior to the South Wales derby, many media sources were questioning how a man who has apparently spent in excess of £100m at Cardiff can be so hated by the fans. Well this angered me as it probably did all the Cardiff fans out there. Living in South Wales I suppose you’re in the ‘inner circle’ of things and see more than what is seen through the media. The amount of money Cardiff’s owner is so murky you could spend days debating it. Firstly all the money made available for transfers seem to be in the form of loans to the club by Tan. Why do the FA and the Premier League allow owner’s of clubs get away with transacting business in this way? They own the club, any money spent trying to improve the club’s stature and success is adding money to the value of said club which in turn makes the owner potential returns, why should they then also be allowed to profit from this ‘virtual debt’ which would then be owed to them by the new owners?
Financial matters to one side, there are many other issues with Tan’s approach to owning a football club for the fans loyal for so long. Cardiff City has a very proud history which boasts European scalps such as Real Madrid as well as being the first club to take a major trophy outside of England. All of the history stems from their identity, ‘The Bluebirds’. The image of their nickname even appeared prominently on the club’s badge and week in, week out their passionate fans could be heard singing this from the stands. The new owner then without even consulting the thoughts of the people who line the coffers of the club decided to rid the club of everything to do with that nickname. Firstly he changed the colour of their home strip from blue to red, claiming the reason behind it to be how blue is deemed an unlucky colour and red to be quite the opposite in culture in the Far East.
Soon to follow was the motif of the bluebird hastily replaced with a dragon again for its meaning in Asian culture. Now I know to be a major European club now you need to have global presence and breaking into emerging markets is at the forefront of any club’s agenda, however you cannot look to achieve this at the cost of the club’s identity surely? As if this wasn’t enough of a kidney punch to the Cardiff fans their new owner makes blue the colour of the club’s third kit in case of them meeting some minstrels in an outlandish red and yellow number no doubt! After all these huge changes within the club in such a short space of time, you would think the owner would be keeping a low profile until the dust settles with the fans. Not Vincent Tan no. Not content with changing the whole image of the club he insists of getting involved in matters that shouldn’t concern a club owner. Football. You will not find a football club in the world which will proclaim their success stems from their owner telling the manager what he should or shouldn’t do on a Saturday afternoon. Now officially we will never know to what extent Tan tries to involve himself but sources to the club do joke about his ‘hands on’ approach on matchdays. This undermines the structure of the club.
Recently Tan has acrimoniously sacked Mackay’s Head of Recruitment, Iain Moody and replaced him with one of the extras from the film Borat. Liverpool have a sign above the tunnel as you walk out onto the pitch stating ‘This is Anfield’ well if Cardiff were to erect one to sum up the actions of their owner it would state……..’This is Mental’. A 23 year old who was whitewashing the walls of the club a few weeks earlier is now Head of Recruitment at a Premier League club!! Since then immigration have questioned his visa credentials and he stepped down from this post.
At this point I’m not sure whether I was still more surprised by the appointment or that we apparently have this new arm of the government called ‘immigration’, how we could have done with them 20 years ago! So as most would have predicted Tan’s appointment of a new Head of Recruitment remains nothing more than a good scrabble score in the grand scheme of things. Just in case people at this stage didn’t question Tan’s sanity he then launched a tirade of abuse at the fans stating they need to start giving him the respect he deserves. Lots of things are lost in translation but I am sure that even in Asian culture respect is earnt. Tan needs to realise this. Currently the Cardiff faithful are concerned that Mackay could walk away from the job for a far more simple life elsewhere with Chris Hughton’s position at Norwich, a club close to Malky’s heart, constantly looking more and more fragile.
On the pitch, I went to Villa Park last weekend to watch Cardiff’s game and things just don’t seem to be working currently. They are playing a flat 4-5-1 but as with any formation this only works with the right players to play it. To play this formation you either need a world class striker who can hold the ball up and allow the midfield chance to support or pacy wingers who can support the striker quickly. Cardiff’s current team has neither. Odemwingie tries the impossible too much and while once in a hundred tries, what he is doing will look great but Cardiff need someone doing the simple things well now not the flamboyant. Bellamy is looking lethargic at the moment and shouldn’t be in the first team in his current form, how Don Cowie is getting first team football in the Premier League may only be answered by the revelation coming out that he has photographs of Mackay in compromising positions. Aaron Gunnarsson seems a yard or two off the pace of the game while probably the pick of their midfield Gary Medel just seems to go sideways or backwards with his passing. The one shining light for me was Steven Caulker, this guy is a unit! For 70 minutes he bossed Villa and nullified the threat of Benteke time and time again. He also seems very confident in dribbling the ball out a trait rare in centre backs, even at this level. At Liverpool there is only really Daniel Agger with such skills so this is a big compliment I pay Caulker here.
And then we have ‘The Curious Case of Peter Whittingham’ or what could be more fondly known as ‘Where’s Peter?’. Cardiff fans for the last two years could always look forward to on a Saturday afternoon a game of ‘Where’s Peter?’. It’s an easy game to play and just like its namesake Where’s Wally the object of the game is to locate this missing person. To stake a claim to be in the Premier League next season you do not have the luxury of picking players on their potential ability as opposed to current form.
Even though he only had roughly 20 minutes or so to effect the game, Cardiff’s most creative midfielder by a country mile was Jordan Mutch. He added that spark to the midfield and seems to have the ability of turning defence into attack in a split second. Cardiff need this as new boys to this league as you have to expect to be under the cosh for large periods of the game. Even teams at the top of the table like letting opponents have possession and pick them off on the counter attack and this is something Cardiff should be trying to utilise more. Maybe if the club want all this popularity in the Far East playing Kim-Bo Kyung, a player who could act as that link between midfield and attack, would be a no brainer? Craig Noone is a player not seeing any game time and most justify it by saying ‘he’s not quite good enough for this league’. How do you know that? Give him a chance to prove himself, he certainly ticks the box of pacy winger.
Craig Bellamy shouldn’t be as bulletproof as he is at the moment to poor performances and maybe some time on the bench will give him that hunger to fight to get back in the team. Don’t get me wrong I’m not bringing things down for Cardiff fans I do think they have the quality to stay up but the wrong players are currently flying the flag for them. Is Malky working with his hands tied behind his back? Is Tan having too much of a say on footballing matters? Only time will tell but one thing’s for sure this club and its fans deserve better than what the current owner is putting them through.