Cardiff accuse Crystal Palace of 'spying'

On April 5th, Cardiff City lost a home game to Crystal Palace 0-3. This game was what’s termed a ‘six pointer’, meaning that the winning team not only gains three points, but they also stop a relegation rival getting three points. While this result was seen as a good win for Palace and a bad defeat for Cardiff, it was otherwise unremarkable.

Except for what has happened in the aftermath.

A few days after the game, there were accusations from Cardiff that someone from the club had fed information about the Cardiff team, including the starting XI, to Crystal Palace a day before the game. Reports here in England say that just before the match, as the team sheets were handed in, Cardiff manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said to his Crystal Palace counterpart, Tony Pulis, words to the effect of ‘here’s our team, but I guess you already know it’

Cardiff voiced their concerns to the Premier League, who told them to make a formal complaint if they wanted it investigating. A few days ago, Cardiff did submit a 5-page formal complaint to the Premier League, asking for the result to be declared void.

Part of Cardiff’s complaint is believed to read “This was not merely an attempt to obtain confidential information – Crystal Palace succeeded in their efforts and achieved an unexpected 3-0 win over the club. We will never know the extent to which the confidential information affected the outcome of the match”

Cardiff allege Palace are in breach of rule B15, which states “In all matters and transactions relating to the league each club shall behave towards each other club and the league with the utmost good faith”; and rule B17, which states: “A Club shall not without the Board’s prior written consent either during its membership of the League or at any time after its membership has terminated disclose or divulge either directly or indirectly to any Person whatsoever or otherwise make use of any confidential information as to the business or finances of the League or any other Club or any of their dealings, transactions or affairs or as to any other matters which may come to its knowledge by reason of its membership save to statutory and regulatory authorities or as may be required by law or to such Officials and Auditors of that Club to whom such disclosure is strictly necessary for the purpose of their duties and then only to the extent so necessary”

If you remember, a few months ago I wrote about Cardiff’s owner Vincent Tan taking the decision to fire manager Malky Mackay, and eventually replace him with former Manchester United player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

A month or so earlier, Cardiff dismissed their Head of Player Recruitment, Iain Moody after a club investigation into overspending on the transfer budget replacing him with Alisher Apsalyamov, a friend of Tan’s son whose only notable previous experience in football was work experience at Cardiff last summer where his duties included maintenance work on the stadium.

Apsalyamov was never able to take up his role because it was subsequently found he didn’t have a valid work visa. Moody went to work for Crystal Palace as Sporting Director.

Iain Moody

It is Moody who Cardiff alleges obtained the Cardiff team prior to the match, and Cardiff further claim that he tried to contact three of their employees. Moody, Tony Pulis, and Crystal Palace as a whole deny any wrongdoing whatsoever.

Tomorrow, Tony Pulis and Crystal Palace Chairman Steve Parish will meet with the Premier League to discuss Cardiff’s complaint.

Reports here in England say that as part of the complaint, Cardiff allege that Moody accidentally sent a text to Bolton Wanderers manager Dougie Freedman, a former Crystal Palace player and manager, the Cardiff line-up, which he allegedly obtained from Cardiff midfielder Aron Gunnarsson.

Moody is alleged to have texted:

“Straight from Gunnarsson their line up is 4-4-2 Marshall, KTC (defender Kevin Theophile-Catherine), Caulker, Turner, Taylor, Daehli, Medel, Mutch, Zaha, Campbell, Jones”

Freedman, who is friends with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, told the Cardiff manager that Crystal Palace had their line-up. Aron Gunnarsson also denies passing on any information to anyone, and it is believed that Cardiff do not suspect him of doing anything wrong, but have opened disciplinary proceedings against another member of staff at the club.

Presumably, for any charges against Crystal Palace to stick, Cardiff will have to prove that either their employee, or employees, gave the team to Crystal Palace at the behest of someone from Palace, or that someone from Crystal Palace directly solicited the information from someone at Cardiff. If someone at Cardiff gave that information to Palace of their own volition, it’s hard to see what could be done about that, apart from internal disciplinary proceedings.

In my opinion, this is not going to be easy to do. Even if Cardiff can prove some sort of phone contact between one of their employees and someone at Palace, it will be very hard to say for certain that those conversations weren’t entirely innocent.

With Iain Moody having moved to Palace, it’s perfectly feasible to suggest that he may have took some staff from Cardiff with him, and a lot of staff members at Cardiff have friends who work for Crystal Palace, and vice-versa. Therefore, it’s possible that there may have several conversations between employees of the two clubs, all of which were totally innocent.

Without a direct admission of guilt, email chain, or if someone was stupid enough to have texted sensitive information from a club cell phone, it’s going to be very difficult for Cardiff to prove that any conversation between an employee of theirs, and one from Crystal Palace, was for the purpose of giving away sensitive information.

Tony Pulis has strenuously denied either being informed about Cardiff’s line-up, and then using that knowledge to alter his team. Crystal Palace’s starting XI for the game against Cardiff was exactly the same as they had used for the previous two games, with Pulis insisting that he named his team days before Moody allegedly was fed the Cardiff line-up, and has training records to prove it.

Also, Pulis isn’t a manager known for tailoring his tactics to suit the opposition. He generally has his teams play the same way every match, regardless of how the opposition line up. There is no suggestion that Pulis altered the way Palace played at all in that game compared to other matches.

That’s almost irrelevant though; If Cardiff can prove that someone at Crystal Palace asked for, and received, the Cardiff team, then that’s a clear breach of the rules, whether Palace then used that information, or not.

What’s less clear is what the potential punishment would be, should Cardiff’s complaint be upheld. It’s possible that the game could be declared void and a replay ordered, or that Palace are hit with a points deduction, but I don’t think that’s likely.

At present, Cardiff’s complaints have not been sympathetically received by fans, including Cardiff fans. Some Cardiff fans believe that this complaint is little more than a smokescreen to try and deflect attention from some of the poor performances Cardiff have been putting in on the pitch.

Malky Mackay was a popular figure amongst the fans. Under him, Cardiff had not only gained promotion to the Premier League, but they were making a good fight of trying to stay up. When Vincent Tan chose to remove such a popular manager, especially in such acrimonious circumstances, he became a figure of hate amongst the fans, and he hoped his appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could help rehabilitate him in the eyes of Cardiff fans.

That hasn’t happened. Under Solskjaer, Cardiff have only won 3 of the 15 league games they’ve played, and have slid into a relegation battle. Solskjaer has struggled to find a formation or game plan that works. He has looked out of his depth tactically, and even worse, his players have looked devoid of any confidence and motivation in the past few weeks, and were dreadful against Crystal Palace. Some Cardiff fans are asking that if, as alleged, Solskjaer was aware that Crystal Palace had been given his starting XI, then why didn’t he change it? Or, why did he not change his tactics?

So, some Cardiff fans believe that by making this issue public, rather than dealing with any staff misconduct in private, it’s a ploy to try and shift blame from the manager and the owner, to the alleged nefarious dealings of another club, and only serves to make the club seem like sore losers.

There’s also a perception amongst people here in England that even if Palace are guilty, then it’s not a big deal. It’s not uncommon in football for teams to try and obtain information which is not either publicly available, or can be scouted, about other clubs. Fulham manager Felix Magath stated last week that he has got information from some of the January transfers in his squad about their former teams. West Ham manager Sam Allardyce says that someone from Manchester United got hold of his team before their game last month.

In my opinion, this moves reeks of desperation by Cardiff. I think it’s starting to dawn on Vincent Tan that his decision to fire Mackay, which was based more on personal reasons than football reasons, and replace him with the untested Solskjaer, has come back to bite him, and he’s looking for someone, anyone, to blame rather than the real culprit for Cardiff’s plight. Himself.