Tomorrow afternoon at The Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff City will play Swansea City for the first time in the top division of English football, and from the outside it looks more than a little as if this match might be a be all and end all. Peering in from the outside, it’s not difficult to believe that there has been a something of a sense of “keeping up with the Joneses” about Cardiff’s ownership under Vincent Tan, that parity with the hated “Jacks” was worth the changing of the colours, the changing of the flags and the apparent autocracy that now runs the club with an increasingly worryingly hands-on approach.
The battle of the colours of the club has been lost. Perhaps there were too many for whom the blue shirts didn’t matter enough in comparison with being where the perceived action is, in the Premier League. Perhaps there were too many relative newcomers, for whom history meant little in comparison with the ability to puff one’s chest out and say, “We are Premier League.” It’s now difficult to imagine the club reverting back to their traditional colours of blue and white, just as it’s difficult to imagine the very image which represented the football club itself, the iconic Bluebird, being allowed to do anything but fly away into the history books.
Since the start of this season, however, a new trend has begun in the reporting of the goings-on at this football club, and it doesn’t make for particularly pretty reading. There has been a drip, drip, drip of stories regarding the manner in which the club is being run which, when accumulated together, can only reasonably be considered to be an undermining of the authority of the man who took the club into the Premier League in the first place – that’s to say manager Malky McKay rather than Vincent Tan himself – to the point at which one starts to wonder whether there might be some sort of co-ordinated conspiracy to remove him from the club.
The also started with the departure of the suspension of the club’s chief scout Iain Moody last month and his replacement and the twenty-three year old Alisher Apsalyamov, a friend of Tan’s son who had some work experience at the club in the summer and who had more recently described himself as executive assistant to the recently appointed chief executive, Simon Lim. Moody’s suspension was said to have come about because of unhappiness at overspending on the club’s playing budget during the summer, but it was understood that neither Moody’s nor Mackay’s name appears on any of the players’ contracts, while that of Lim does. The question of where the ultimate responsibility for this overspending went unanswered, with the club refusing to comment on this somewhat peculiar aspect to the story, but this was only the beginning of rumours of disquiet within the club. Meanwhile, the importance of this decision – the suspension of a chief scout would not usually get this much attention, of course – has come about because of Moody’s close relationship with Mackay, the implication being that acting against Moody was likely to destabilise the manager.
Within days, it had been rumoured that the players themselves had been forced to request that Tan himself was banned from entering the dressing room on match-days, whilst it was even suggested that Tan had been sending text messages to McKay suggesting subsitutions and tactical changes. And within days, the situation was threatening to spiral out of all control, with the manager’s agent Raymond Sparkes suggesting that McKay had no intentions of resigning his position at the club, but also that it was hardly completely out of the question that Tan might opt to sack the manager who had taken the club into the Premier League in the first place. Sparkes stated that, “Malky loves being at Cardiff City, has started a job there and feels that he’s been given the opportunity to be the architect in some respects of a new Cardiff City. But football is a precarious business and Malky’s decision to stay might not be matched by all the powers that be deciding that he should stay, so that’s pretty much in the hands of other people.” And it is understood that Mackay remains furious over the way in which Moody was treated by Tan, or those acting on his behalf.
This situation reached a farcical level this week, when Apsalyamov left the position into which had been appointed temporarily over an issue relating to his visa to work in this country. It is anticipated that Apsalyamov will be reinstated back into his position once any issue over his ability to legally work in this country has been resolved, whilst the Home Office has refused to discuss the specifics of the case, but the overwhelming impression being left of the way in which Cardiff City Football Club is being run at the moment is that of a dangerous combination of a hard-headed mentality and of the club being a fiefdom, with only the whims of Vincent Tan and those who have his ear being all that’s important in terms of its running, a feeling further reinforced by rumours last week that striker Etien Velikonja, who joined the club from Maribor furing the summer, was signed by Tan without the approval of the manager. We await with bated breath to see if Mr Tan will sanction himself for his involvement in the club going over its transfer budget.
And no matter what Tan’s ambitions might be, the Premier League is a tough, heartless environment. His club is now under the spotlight of the world’s media in a way in which it simply wasn’t last season, and if the psychological quirks of “football people” often seem to be rather delicatel balanced, it hardl seems likely that these particular circuses are doing the club’s position much good in an overall sense. On the pitch, the team in without a win in the league since beating Fulham by two goals to won at the end of September, and this was only its second league of the season. That other win, against Manchester City in their first home league match of the season, must seem like a long time ago for many supporters now, and the constant trickle of these stories relating to the way in which the club is being run are all the more stinging when the poster boys for a way in which a football club should be run is those chaps up the road from Swansea. Comparisons are inevitable, and they seldom flatter Cardiff City Football Club.
Perhap, though, there was always something inevitable about this. We have stated on these pages before that the nationality of a football club owner doesn’t matter a single jot. Any individual within the game, regardless of what position they hold, should be judged on their competence and nothing else. The events of the last few weeks and months suggest that Tan is coming up wanting in many respects in terms of his stewardship of the club that he owns 51% of. But in an era during which money gets you whatever you want and at a club at which protesting against anything simply doesn’t seem to be something that many wish to do, it seems likely that Vincent Tan will continue to get free rein to run Cardiff City Football Club as his own personal fiefdom. No matter where that free rein ends up taking it.
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