Tag Archives: Vincent Tan

Hey, Russell Slade!

The details behind Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s departure from Cardiff City last September were never really made public. The official line was that he and owner Vincent Tan clashed over ‘a difference in philosophy,’ the philosophy being that Tan wanted to win games while Solksjaer disagreed. The fact of the matter is that the Norwegian proved himself to be so inept in virtually every area that in the end, the whole episode turned into one big farce. Countless formation, personnel, and tactical changes, combined with the usual off-field turmoil surrounding the club, all added up to just nine wins from 30 games, relegation back to the Championship, and a dismal start to the new season.

Ole, Ole, Ole. Go away, go away.

imgres

Enter Russell Slade, world-renowned managerial mastermind behind Scarborough, Grimsby, Yeovil, Brighton and most recently, Leyton Orient. A lot of people were just as confused about the appointment of Russell Slade as they were about that of Solksjaer, but were more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, he did win League One Manager of the Year twice. So the fans sat back, folded their arms, and waited to see how things would pan out. Fourteen games into his reign, it’s probably safe to say that things aren’t panning out very well. Yes, Slade has overseen seven wins, but it’s pretty obvious that under his charge the club is going backwards at a rate of knots. He got lucky a few times early on, and the team picked up a few points. But they were not playing well, and his recent record is far more indicative of the overall trend. Despite the much-touted ‘return to blue,’ City struggled to overcome Fulham in their last league game. Before that, City had lost three and drews one. That point came at Charlton, where City played against ten men most of the game and still lost out badly in the possession stakes, came hot on the heels of defeats to Brentford and Bournemouth. In those four games Cardiff managed to ship a total of shipped a total of 13 goals.

It’s just not good enough.

The club may be going through a transitional period (what, another one?) but with the players and backing Cardiff City have, they really should be storming through this division whereas on current form they face being dragged into a relegation battle. At the start of the season, the club had no fewer than thirteen full internationals on their books. That’s more than a whole team. But you would never think it to watch them play. Under Slade, the team is predictable, lacks energy and ideas, and looks devoid of confidence. The 4-4-2 formation he insists upon playing belongs in another age. There’s no point playing with two strikers if the midfield are overrun every game and can’t get the ball off the opposition. Even with two forward places up for grabs, inexplicably, the best striker at the club, Kenwyne Jones, can’t get in the starting line-up. That’s despite scoring more goals in his limited game time than Adam Le Fondre and Federico Macheda, the duo Slade insists upon playing virtually every game, combined. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There is a lack or passion and urgency all over the pitch. One thing Cardiff supporters demand is passion. If the players don’t have it, then it’s up to the manager to inject some. That’s what he gets paid for.

imgres-7

The club started the season with a wealth of options in every area. Some had to go. But a few of the players Slade has let go for next to nothing (or literaly nothing) were far too good for that kind of treatment. Magnus Wolf Eikrem, Juan Cala and Matts Moller Daehli spring to mind. That trio would walk into most Championship sides, and even a few Premier League squads. Most recently, according to reports Javi Guerra is heading back to Spain to sign with Malaga, a team challenging for a place in Europe next season. And he’s not deemed good enough for a mid-table Championship side struggling for goals?

Then there are seasoned pros like Nicky Maynard, Kim Bo-Kyung, Etien Velikonja, and Guido Burgstaller, who are stuck in a weird kind of limbo, picking up fat pay packets every week but not being given the chance to justify it. It’s not sustainable. Or even sensible. Fair enough, Slade came in and quickly decided on what he thought of as his best First XI, thus providing the stability Solksjaer never did. But what happens when that First XI don’t perform? Especially when they begin to get jaded after a long run of games. You have to be willing to roll with the punches and change things up when necessary. Evidently, Slade doesn’t want to do that. He may be used to working with smaller squads, but come on, Russ. It’s almost as if he’s walking around with blinkers on.

Since the transfer window opened, Slade has brought in what the vast majority of supporters see as mediocre signings. Scott Malone, a £100,000 buy from Millwall, is widely-touted as a replacement for Fabio, who Slade sees as a weak link in the defensive line. Yes, Slade is benching a Brazilian international in favour of a player labeled ‘average’ by his own supporters and has never played above Championship level. The fact that he (reportedly) has the same agent as Slade has absolutely nothing to do with it. The other signing was Alex Revell, a 31-year old striker who, in four years at Rotherham, managed just 28 goals in 150 games. This move could well spell the end for Kenwyne Jones.

The two signings could be part of a cost-cutting exercise. Understandably so, considering the wages some of the Cardiff players (notably Fabio and Jones) are on. But if that’s the case, you could argue why the club needed to make these signings in the first place. Declan John is a more than capable left-back, and Matt Connolly an able deputy. As for striking options, I count nine. As Steve Tucker recently remarked, “There are enough of them to have their own Christmas party.”

The original version of this article appeared on the Huff Post UK.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chris-saunders/

From the Ashes – The REAL Story of Cardiff City FC is available now.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/From-Ashes-Story-Cardiff-Football/dp/1845242130

Advertisements

Cardiff City FC – What Went Wrong?

Let’s not beat around the bush, it has been a disastrous foray into the Premier League for Cardiff City. A season beset with controversy and off-field problems is finally coming to a close and the end can’t come soon enough for some long-suffering supporters. At the end of March, Cardiff fought back from 2-0 down to salvage a 3-3 draw at West Brom, a result and a performance which temporarily re-lit the fires of optimism. Only for them to be mercilessly extinguished a week later by way of a 0-3 home drubbing by relegation rivals Crystal Palace, a side who until that point had only scored six away goals all season. A narrow, and very fortunate win at Southampton kept Cardiff in the mix a while longer, but more points were dropped in a home draw with Stoke. Even then, largely due to other sides being even more inconsistent than them, they still had a chance of staying up. The end game was simple; win at Sunderland. They lost 0-4, and were finally relegated after a listless 0-3 defeat at Newcastle, slipping back down to the Championship with barely a whimper.

Ben Turner and Steven caulker leaving the field at St James Park

Ben Turner and Steven caulker leaving the field at St James Park

Since Ole Gunnar Solksjaer was officially handed the manager’s job on January 2nd, City have won only three Premier League games and lost eleven. The most embarrassing of these defeats arguably being a 0-4 home drubbing by Hull and a 3-0 massacre at Swansea. City also managed to bomb out of the League Cup after being outplayed on their own patch by Championship side Wigan Athletic. These kinds of numbers do not lie. Something is drastically wrong. When OGS arrived at the club most fans, though upset at the senseless dismissal of Malky Mackay, were upbeat about the club’s future. Hovering just outside the relegation zone, the club were looking reasonably solid and tough to break down. OK, most of their goals came on the counter attack, or as products of set pieces, but they all count. Then, something changed. Though OGS promised more creative and attacking football, his constant tinkering with team selection and formations mystified even the staunchest supporters, and robbed the team of all fluency and cohesion. Any confidence drained away, and they went into freefall.

Take those two must-win games at Sunderland and Newcastle, two clubs in turmoil. When we played them Sunderland were bottom of the league, and Newcastle had lost six on the bounce. Cardiff made both of them look like Real Madrid. OGS played what looked like a defensive 4-5-1 formation with a solitary striker (usually Fraizer Campbell) who was often isolated and hopelessly outnumbered by defenders. The back four would hit a long ball toward him, and even if he could get a touch the midfield were too far away to offer any support. If I, and many other supporters, could see what we were doing wrong, why couldn’t OGS? In his infinite wisdom, one of the first things he did upon arrival was swap Peter Odemwingie with Kenwyne Jones, who has never been the most prolific of strikers. Jones has been disappointing to say the least, scoring a just one rather fortuitous goal on his debut. Odemwingie, on the other hand, has been playing out of his skin for Mark Hughes at Stoke.

OGS also brought in free agent Juan Cala, who conceded a penalty and got himself sent off at Sunderland, and Manchester United Duo Fabio and Zaha, the latter on loan (thank God). Neither of those have exactly set the world alight. Under Mackay the team was midfield-heavy, a problem OGS addressed by buying three more midfielders; Jo Inge Berget, Magnus Wolff Eikrem and Mats Moller Daehli, for combined fees of around £5 million. Out of the Norwegian trio, only 19-year old Daehli looks any good. Eikrem seems average at best, and in his few appearances to date, Berget has looked way out of his depth. Is it just a coincidence that each of the three players share the same agent as OGS, I wonder? The manager has said they were coming to the end of their contracts so were good investments. But with neither player able to get near a squad that was relegated, who on earth would want to buy them?

Without doubt, the best Cardiff City player this season has been goalkeeper David Marshall, which tells its own story. The club would do well to keep him for next season, along with other saleable assets like Steven Caulker and Gary Medel. It’s highly unlikely we’ll be able to hold on to them all.

In the aftermath of the Palace defeat, OGS used the press to accuse certain unnamed players of defying tactical instruction and lacking loyalty. This was particularly disappointing, as it reeked of someone ducking the blame. Most managers worth their salt take the blame for a team’s performance. After all, they are the ones getting paid a lot of money to decide the team line-ups, formations and tactics. It was also suggested that team news was leaked to former Head of Recruitment Iain Moody, now performing a similar role at Palace. Indeed, a staff member was sacked by Cardiff following an internal inquest. True or not, this kind of thing just adds to the media circus currently surrounding the club. How can the players and management possibly concentrate on the job at hand when all this is being played out in public? This is not an isolated incident. Cardiff City have rarely been out of the news all season. There was always something to debate, and not much of it very positive.

Tan the Man

Tan the Man

In recent pole in the Welsh media, the vast majority of fans laid the blame for this season of discontent at the feet of owner Vincent Tan, rather than OGS, Malky Mackay or even the players. Certainly, Tan is responsible for the bulk of the off-field distractions. Without doubt, the single most damaging thing he has done since assuming control of the club is to change the colour of the shirts from blue to red. I was one of the silent majority who saw the colour change as a necessary step to secure the promised investment. Red or blue, it’s still Cardiff City to me. I’m sick of hearing about it. But what the colour change did was cause unrest amongst the fans. It’s not unusual to see the red and blue factions argue and even fight amongst themselves. That in itself is nothing new to any long-term Cardiff supporter, our fans have never been what you would call united. But the endless off-field shenanigans this season and the resultant media attention have splintered and divided the fan base like nothing else before.

So, what went wrong?

The short answer to that question is ‘everything.’

My book, From the Ashes: The REAL Story of Cardiff City FC, is available now:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ashes-Real-Story-Cardiff-Football/dp/1845242130


Understanding Tan

Broken CCFC

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):

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chris-saunders/vincent-tan-cardiff-city_b_4490035.html

My latest book, From the Ashes: The REAL Story of Cardiff City FC is out now on Gwasg Carreg Gwalch.


%d bloggers like this: