Chaos at Cardiff

‘Tynnu nyth cacwn ar fy mhen’

That’s a Welsh idiom that roughly translates to ‘pulling a wasp’s nest over your head’. It means to say or do something that pisses a lot of people off in one go.

That statement seems appropriate to Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan, who has been pulling wasps nests over his head repeatedly in recent weeks.

Tan could have been, and should have been an extremely popular man amongst Cardiff fans. He was, after all, the man whose investment in Cardiff came at a time the club was heavily in debt and badly needed a cash injection. He’s the man who has bankrolled Cardiff’s promotion to the Premier League and bankrolled the signings that are currently making a good effort at staying up this season.

However, Tan is now a deeply unpopular figure amongst Cardiff fans, and football fans in general. Articles appeared in national newspapers recently calling him the worst owner in the history of football, which, considering some of the competition; is quite the unwanted accolade.

A few days ago, Tan fired Malky Mackay, the manager who had brought Cardiff into the Premier League. This brought to an end a very public feud between owner and manager, which had been building as the season progressed.

Tan is a Malaysian billionaire, who made his fortune bringing franchises of businesses such as McDonalds and Krispy Kreme to Malaysia amongst other business ventures. In 2010, he bought a stake in the club, later increasing his stake so he is now the majority owner. By his own admission, Tan knew nothing about football.

In 2012, whilst a Championship club, Cardiff City made it to the League Cup final, where they lost on penalties to Liverpool. This piqued Tan’s interest in Cardiff, and he started to take a more active interest in his investment.

The first thing to change was the colour Cardiff plays in. Cardiff City’s nickname is the Bluebirds, so unsurprisingly, the team colours were blue. However, Tan decided to change the colours to red, justifying the decision by pointing out the significance of red to both Wales and Asia, so the colour change, by Tan’s reckoning at least, would make Cardiff more marketable worldwide.

The fans, albeit grudgingly, swallowed that, but backlash from supporters was able to dissuade Tan from his plan to rebrand the club the ‘Cardiff Dragons’.

Cardiff City are currently back in the top flight of English football for the first time in 52 years. Not only that; they’re making a good job of trying to meet the objective of staying up, which is the realistic objective of every newly-promoted team in their first season. So far, Cardiff have beaten Manchester City and drawn with Manchester United. At the time of writing, Cardiff sit in 16th place in the Premier League, two points above the relegation zone.

So, you’d think that all would be good in Cardiff, right?

Well, to put it simply, no.

Earlier this season, there was a farcical situation where Cardiff’s Head of Player Recruitment, Iain Moody, was suspended pending a club investigation into overspending on the transfer budget and after a short period, was fired. Moody has subsequently gone to work for Crystal Palace.

This immediately put the future of Malky Mackay in doubt. Moody and Mackay had previously worked together at Watford before Mackay brought him to Cardiff; and Mackay credited Moody for assembling the strong squad that led to Cardiff being promoted to the Premier League.

This led to speculation that Mackay was on the verge of resigning. There was also speculation that Tan had removed Moody as a precursor to getting rid of Mackay, as he was jealous of the Scot’s popularity, or depending on which rumour you believe, Tan was after Mackay’s job after he was kicked out of the dressing room by the manager.

A bad situation was then made worse when it emerged that Moody’s replacement, Alisher Apsalyamov, a Kazakh national, was a friend of Tan’s son and whose only notable previous experience in football was work experience at Cardiff last summer where his duties included maintenance work on the stadium.

We’ll never know if Apsalyamov had anything else going for him apart from being the friend of the son of the owner, as he was never able to take up his role because he didn’t have a valid work visa. Cardiff assured fans that it was just a paperwork snafu, but Apsalyamov was never able to secure the correct visa, and left the club last week, meaning that with just a few days before the transfer window opens, Cardiff seemingly have nobody identifying transfer targets or starting to put deals in place.

Not that that mattered too much, because, after Cardiff beat West Brom on December 16th, Mackay said in an interview that he’d like to make three signings in January. To which Cardiff CEO Simon Lim publicly replied in a statement that he wouldn’t get a single penny to spend in January.

Tan, still apparently stewing over the overspend last summer, sent Mackay an email in which he is believed to make 27 points criticising the team’s performance, the transfer signings, the style of play and results, which ended with him telling Mackay to resign or be fired. Mackay, possibly realising that he would be entitled to a massive payout if fired, declined to resign.

A few days later, after a very public display of support towards Mackay from the Cardiff fans during their game at Anfield, followed by a public declaration by Mackay that he would not be resigning, it was announced by Cardiff chairman Mehmet Dalman that Mackay would stay as manager for ‘the foreseeable future’.

Well, that foreseeable future was five days, as Mackay was fired last Friday following Cardiff’s defeat by Southampton on Boxing Day proved the final straw for Tan.

Mackay leaves his job with a lot of money in his pocket and his reputation intact and it’s unlikely he’ll be out of a job for too long.

Tan’s task is harder. He now has to try and win round a support that is now openly hostile towards him. His attempts to justify Mackay’s sacking on the grounds of his summer transfer activity didn’t wash with the supporters, who believe Mackay’s assertions that he wasn’t involved in the transfer or contract negotiations, and that Moody, who did negotiate those deals, needed Lim and Tan to sign off before any deal could be concluded. This especially didn’t wash when he announced that the new manager

Tan didn’t exactly help himself the other day when, after Cardiff surrendered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with Sunderland, he was caught on camera booing his own team off the pitch. He followed that up by cancelling a scheduled meeting with a supporters group, where he would've been given the opportunity to explain his decisions.

Tan now has to find a manager who would be willing to work under the increasingly weird conditions he apparently imposes. Such as his insistence that Mackay encourage players to shoot from their own half because if they scored, it would be spectacular. Or, his annoyance that his full-backs weren’t scoring enough goals. Or, the story that emerged today that Tan only wants to sign players with an 8 in their birth date, as 8 is considered a lucky number in Asia.

However, this is still a job in the Premier League and there will be no shortage of interested managers. As I’m writing this, it seems as though former Manchester United striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the favourite, with Sven Goran Eriksson’s name also being mentioned.

Cardiff fans are caught in a catch-22. Without Tan, or more accurately, his money, it’s unlikely that Cardiff would be in the Premier League, but at the same time, without Tan, it’s more likely they would be enjoying the season, rather than being in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Tan’s position at Cardiff is such that the fans are fearful that if they protest too much, he’ll just take his ball and go home, leaving the club with an uncertain future.