It was, perhaps, unsurprising that barely forty-eight hours after a one-nil victory against West Bromwich Albion at the weekend ended a run of five matches without a win, storm clouds should start to circle The Cardiff City Stadium again. There has, after all, been something of a fractious atmosphere surrounding the club over the last few months or so, and even elevation into the Premier League hasn’t quite allowed us to shake off the feeling that something isn’t quite right behind the scenes at the club. This feeling of disquiet began, of course, with the rebranding of the club in red and black and the debasement of its badge, but the current feeling of unhappiness at the club has more to do with backroom politics than colours and identity.
One might expect that Malky McKay, the manager who guided the club into the top division of the English league system for the first time since 1962, would be pretty much universally popular amongst the people of Cardiff at the moment. There may be an element of truth in this – although it is worth pointing out that, these days, there are very, very few managers who enjoy anything like a universality of popularity amongst supporters – but the man upon whose opinion McKay’s continuing employment at the club ultimately rests is not from Cardiff. He’s from Malaysia and, we rather get the feeling, he’s used to getting exactly what he wants.
It’s likely that there was a degree of tactical awareness in McKay’s decision to state to the press at the weekend that he wishes to bring three new players to the club. After all, in the current climate any manager who has gone more than a couple of games without a win runs the gauntlet of finding himself out of work in the near future, regardless of any other considerations. It seems entirely plausible that to make such a comment in public without having previously sought the approval of the club might be considered a provocative act on the part of the manager, and if McKay meant to provoke he certainly seems to achieved his aim, because it didn’t take long for the club to respond, with a public statement from Chief Exective Simon Lim which read as follows:
Tan Sri Vincent Tan was extremely upset to read quotes from the Manager concerning the possibility of new recruits, before he had been informed whether funds would be made available. He believes that doing so unfairly raises supporter expectations, placing unnecessary pressure on the club.
His view is that due to the funds already committed, including the originally authorised summer transfer budget of £35m that rose to £50m in total, including add-ons, the Manager has been fully supported. The overspending of £15m has upset Tan Sri greatly, resulting in the removal on Iain Moody as Head of Recruitment. As such, he has stated that not a single penny will be made available in January.
Having been the highest spending promoted club and the seventh highest spender in the Premier League last summer, the owner believes that the Manager has been given the best possible chance of retaining our Premier League status.
As hinted at in this statement, this isn’t a simple matter of the manager of the club having overspent during the summer. This story appears to be considerably more personal than that. The bizarre story of the departure of Iain Moody from Cardiff City as the club’s Head of Recruitment earlier this season and his replacement with the twenty-three year old Alisher Apsalyamov is one that we reported on a few weeks ago and, at the time of writing, it has not been reported that Apsalyamov has yet returned to the club after his home was visited by officials from the Home Office, who ordered that he stand down from this position. It had previously reported that Apsalyamov – a friend of owner Vincent Tan’s sons – had only received visa documentation to support a twelve month internship at the club, but this story seems to have run a little quiet of late.
It seems difficult to believe, however, that residual bitterness on both sides hasn’t continued to linger since then and some might even choose to see a correlation between the timing of that story and the underwhelming run of form that followed the club’s win against Swansea City at the start of November. Tan had stayed relatively quiet while the club’s form dipped over the course of the last six weeks or so. Perhaps – and it hardly seems inconceivable – the club was allowing the team’s performance on the pitch to speak for itself. The speed with which the club seems happy to remind supporters of the amount of money that was spent over the summer would certainly add credence to this point of view.
The flip-side to this, however, would be to believe that McKay, his position strengthened by a win that has been a long time coming, might have been able to guess that the club would react angrily and noisily to such a statement. Vincent Tan might have been quiet over the last few weeks or so, but his record of not being able to stop interfering, whether with the club’s colours or even team affairs, has been well-documented. McKay is at the very heart of Cardiff City Football Club, and the issue of the overspend on players during the summer has hung like a storm cloud over the first four months of this season. What reaction, we might reasonably ask, did he expect to get to making such a statement without having consulted those running the club first? The answer to that particular question, of course, might well be that which reveals the endgame of what has come to increasingly resemble a power struggle at The Cardiff City Stadium so far this season.
Of course, the problem with such a tactic on McKay’s part is that running Cardiff City Football Club isn’t a popularity contest. Tan owns the club, and whether the manager stays in his position is not something that scoring points – if indeed that even was any part of the reason behind McKay’s comments after the West Bromwich Albion at the weekend, of course – is going to resolve, and the harsh truth of the matter is that, if there is a direct correlation that should be drawn between the amount of money that a football club spends on players and what it is “entitled” (a word that goes in inverted commas because we do not believe that it entitles them to anything – the value of your investment may go up as well as down, as the famous small print says) to expect on the pitch, then a coherent case could be made for arguing that McKay is, if anything underperforming at the moment. After all, the other clubs that were promoted into the Premier League alongside have not spent anything like the amount of money that Cardiff City has since winning promotion.
Ultimately, though, the fact that this feels like a battle that Malky McKay cannot win is an inevitable result of the absolute power that Vincent Tan enjoys within Cardiff City Football Club. If the owner of the club decides that he deserves a top half finish in the Premier League this season, then woe betide the man charged with delivering it should it prove to be as difficult to manage as we suspect it might. It’s impossible to say for certain what exactly is behind McKay’s decision to brief the press on transfers that he must surely know the owner of the club is at best unlikely to agree with, but the discord behind the scenes at The Cardiff City Stadium is nothing new, and Cardiff supporters are likely to have to put up with the whims of Mister Tan for some considerable time yet – until he realises a return on his investment or gets bored with this particular toy. And when he leaves the club there will be, of course, still further questions, and at the top of that list will be that of what condition he leaves it in. Those questions, however, are for another day. For now, the stand off continues, but for how much longer can this continue?
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