This piece isn’t more Malky Mackay hero-worship. There is enough of that in the press at the moment. Neither is it more anti-Tan vitriol. There is enough of that, too. What is lacking, I think, is a constructive, unbiased, critical evaluation of the current situation at Cardiff City stadium. Too many people have jumped on the TAN OUT bandwagon without properly understanding the man and what motivates him. If we take the time to do that perhaps a resolution of sorts can be reached, because the longer this fiasco is allowed to continue the more harm it does to Cardiff City. Besides, everyone should make the effort to know their enemies. If only because it makes defeating them that much easier.
I don’t think anyone has ever divided opinion at Cardiff City as much as Tan. When he first arrived, some hailed him as the club’s saviour, while others denounced him as one to be feared and despised. He certainly doesn’t do himself any favours. His harsh treatment of Malky Mackay in recent weeks has turned the vast majority of fans against him, even the neutrals like me, who though we didn’t welcome the recent rebranding exercise with open arms, tolerated it for what we believed was the greater good. Tan has also managed to alienate the national and local media, and infuriate vast swathes of the footballing world. In short, has turned Cardiff City into a circus.
Since the now-infamous ‘Resign or be sacked’ ultimatum delivered to Mackay via email last week, such high-profile figures as Brandan Rogers, Sam Allardyce, Gary Lineker, Robbie Savage and Steve Bruce have been particularly vocal in their support of the beleaguered Scot who, it must be said, has conducted himself impeccably throughout. Perhaps Celtic manager Neil Lennon summed-up the feelings of many when he said, “I don’t understand it at all. I don’t know what else he can do.”
So, let’s try and understand it. Let’s see what else he can do.
The first thing we all need to recognize is that Vincent Tan is rich. Very rich. In fact, he’s one of the richest men in the world. That doesn’t happen by accident. It wasn’t like he was born into it; he made most of his fortune by buying into Malaysia’s McDonald’s franchise back in the day. He is an astute businessman. Astute businessmen don’t gamble, and they don’t like to lose. With that amount of wealth comes a certain sense of entitlement.
In Asia, they have vastly different cultural values. Society is more rigidly structured, with roles more strictly defined. Basically, there are leaders and followers, or in a business setting, bosses and workers. It is not the place of the worker to question the boss’ authority or decision-making. Rather, the workers spend much of their time paying lip service to their superiors. Often, unashamedly so. In all likelihood, when Tan took control of Cardiff City, he assumed he would be taking control of every facet of the operation. And that included every individual on the payroll, or paid their hard-earned money to watch the team play. What Tan didn’t expect was a bunch of unruly people not doing what they were told. This is an intrinsic cultural difference. Asian people are, in general, subservient. They have a designated role, and are more than happy to take orders from above because it saves them having to make any difficult decisions. Westerners, on the other hand, are by nature more independent and outspoken. It is entirely possible that in Tan’s naivety, when he bought the club, he thought he was also buying the adulation and eternal gratitude of all the club’s supporters. He would have thought blind devotion came as part of the deal.
I imagine that to him, buying Cardiff City FC was like buying a very expensive ice cream van. Let’s just give it a new coat of paint, buy some new ingredients, and sell our product to more people. It’s easy, right?
What he didn’t take into consideration is the passion and depth of feeling that surrounds football. Cardiff City is not an ice cream van, or a McDonald’s franchise. In many ways a football club is a living, breathing entity, steeped in history and tradition.
Malky Mackay is a man of integrity. He will not take kindly to someone, even the owner of his club, telling him how to do his job. Tan is rumoured to have tried to tinker in team affairs, allegedly once telling Mackay that the team should shoot more from inside their own half, because then they would score more goals. Like that would work. Mackay consistently enraged Tan by stubbornly sticking to his guns, and not implementing such ludicrous ‘tactical advice.’ No doubt, this will have been taken as a serious lack of disrespect. Tan will feel he has lost face. His instructions (commands) are not being carried out by his own employees, and worse than that, he finds himself tumbling further down the popularity stakes every day. That wasn’t part of the plan.
Some argue that at least some of Tan’s criticism of Mackay is justified. Key areas of consternation are said to be Mackay’s style of play, and his mismanagement of transfer funds, something which ultimately led to the dismissal of Iain Moody earlier this year. It can be said that similar circumstances led to the sacking of Andre Villas Boas at Spurs, with that club being in a considerably better overall position than Cardiff. The facts of the matter are that Tan has bankrolled the club to a remarkable extent (though it should be noted that he isn’t simply pumping money into the club, but effectively loaning it untold millions at an interest rate of 7%). True, several of Mackay’s signings have been mystifying, the most high-profile of which being the £8 million summer acquisition of Danish international striker Andreas Cornelius. Admittedly, he was sidelined for the first couple of months of the season through injury, but when he regained fitness, Mackay said he ‘wasn’t ready,’ and labelled him ‘one for the future.’ That, of course, begs the question, why pay £8 million, a sizeable chunk of the club’s transfer budget, on someone who wasn’t ready? Presumably, Mackay and his staff did their homework on Cornelius before signing him, and would have known his capabilities. At this crucial point in Cardiff City’s development, the club needs a proven goalscorer. Not someone who who may or may not turn out to be a proven goalscorer at some unspecified point in the future.
To a lesser extent, John Brayford, Filip Kiss, Simon Lappin, Etien Velikonja, Joe Lewis, Rudy Gestede, Simon Moore, and Nicky Maynard have all arrived at the club during Mackay’s reign, some at considerable expense, yet seen very little competitive action. Yes, football is a squad game, but why bring these players in, and pay their inflated wages, if you are not going to give them a chance in the team? That is no way to run a business. Tan, being the businessman he is, will know that. These are the ingredients that were supposed to make the ice cream taste nicer. But they didn’t. Instead, they sit on a shelf gathering dust and decreasing in value.
The bottom line as far as Mackay’s future is concerned, is that tan doesn’t want a manager who will question his authority. He wants a yes man, a puppet on a string. And he will probably get one eventually. Perhaps shocked by the outpouring of support for the manager, in the wake of the defeat at Anfield, Tan made a U-turn and said Mackay will be in charge for the ‘foreseeable future.’ That is something else that will have hurt his pride. He has made himself look very foolish. But the general consensus is that when a relationship breaks down to this extent very little, if anything, can be done to salvage it.
I must admit, I was very excited to get that brand-spanking new ice cream van. But the ice cream it sells is tasting increasingly bitter.
Malky Mackay was relieved of his duties at Cardiff City on December 27th 2013.
This article first appeared in the Huff Post (UK):
My latest book, From the Ashes: The REAL Story of Cardiff City FC is out now on Gwasg Carreg Gwalch.