A Week In Football – Vincent Tan epitomises the demonisation of foreign owners

God knows foreign owners can be a curse. There are numerous examples of foreign owners taking over local clubs, with disorganisation, a managerial merry-go-round and in more extreme examples financial irregularity following. Whether it is the disastrous series of ownerships that occurred during Portsmouth’s dramatic fall and near demise, the short-lived, but very shady Thaksin Shinawatra ownership of Manchester City, or even the largely stable and successful Glazer ownership of Manchester United that has however, seen the club saddled with huge debt, there are numerous horror takes surrounding foreign ownership of English clubs.

However, these high profile incidences have led to foreign owners being by and large demonised by all football fans, becoming a totem for every perceived thing wrong with the game. The fact is that most foreign ownerships go entirely unnoticed, with neither huge success nor spectacular failure. Other cases are very much positive for the clubs involved. Looking back at the example of Manchester City, whilst Shinawatra’s ownership plunged the club into financial uncertainty, it was another foreign owner, Sheikh Mansour, who not only rescued the club, but propelled it from its position as a long suffering, struggling side into English champions. Abramovich is another whom receives heavy criticism, and although he has brought a constant stream of new faces to Chelsea, what he has also done is transform the London club from England’s nearly club, to perennial title challengers.

The man in the headlines this week is Cardiff owner Vincent Tan. The Malaysian has been no stranger to controversy since his takeover of the Welsh club, and has been widely demonised, a figure of hate amongst Cardiff fans. The main anger has arisen over Tan’s extremely bold decision to transform Cardiff’s image, completely rebranding the club from the ‘Bluebirds’ and adopting the motif of a red Welsh Dragon. This has involved a total kit change, as well as a new badge, wiping away years of history. It must be painful for Cardiff fans to watch the club they have devotedly loved and supported be transformed, and many have turned their backs on the team for as long as Tan is the owner and Cardiff is red. However, football fans have famously short memories; Chelsea and Manchester City fans now fully expect titles and Champions League football, regardless of how their sides have historically performed.

Before Tan’s takeover, Cardiff’s financial problems were well publicised, with the club haemorrhaging money each money. The situation was entirely untenable, and without intervention, could have eventually resulted in the end of Cardiff City football club. It was Vincent Tan who took the club out of that situation and onto secure financial footing. It was also under the ownership of Vincent Tan that the club finally made it to the promise land of Premier League football. Achievements such as promotions, survival and titles are usually and quite rightly attributed to players and managers, but without a secure platform, none of that is ever possible. It was Tan that provide Malky Mackay with that platform.

As painful as it must be for Cardiff fans, Tan obviously felt that a rebranding was necessary to bolster the Bluebird’s financial footing, and increase revenue. As difficult as it is to put aside history, if the choice is watch your team play in a different colour, or watch the gradual demise of your team in their traditional kit, for most football fans it must surely be an easy choice. In choosing a dragon as Cardiff’s symbol, Tan has at least picked something which is inherently Welsh, but also marketable in the highly lucrative Asian market. It is often something football fans don’t want to admit, but in this day and age, football clubs are businesses. If a club goes under, it is not just that the fans lose their team, but numerous people lose their jobs and their livelihood, not just players and managers, but groundsmen, kit men and everyone else associated with the team.

Owners and Chairmen have to make decisions that keep a club alive and on a secure financial footing, they have a responsibility to stake and shareholders to do so. It is with this in mind that this columnist wants to offer a certain amount of defence for Vincent Tan’s recent actions. With the dismissal of Head of Recruitment Ian Moody earlier in the season, speculation was already surrounding manager Mackay’s future at Cardiff City and has been sent into overdrive following recent statements made by Tan, and BBC reports of supposed correspondence between Tan and Mackay. According to BBC reports, which it should be noted only shed some supposed light on the supposed point of view of Vincent Tan, the main issue of dispute surrounds Cardiff’s summer transfer spending. It appears that Tan is of the feeling that a summer transfer budget of £35 million was agreed between Tan, Moody, Mackay and Chairman Mehmet Dalman, and is obviously not pleased that spending eventually rose to more of the region of £50 million.

It is apparently for this reason that Head of Recruitment Ian Moody was dismissed for earlier in the season. If Tan’s opinion of events are to believed, and that between them Moody, Mackay and Dalman purposely ignored then Tan of course has every right to be angry, and dismissals would be fair action. The dispute in this seems to regard not whether a budget of £35 million was agreed, but whether add-ons were to be a part of this is not clear. If add-ons were meant to be part of the agreed budget, and there has been a £15 million overspend, then firstly why was this allowed by Tan and Dalman? And secondly, why then were Mackay and Dalman not also dismissed? It is not clear.

Since the summer, tensions have only increased through Mackay voicing his desire to spend again in the January transfer window. Again, it is unclear how party Mackay was to the summer overspend, it is also unclear how aware Mackay was over Tan’s displeasure and that there would therefore be no January transfer kitty. If Mackay was involved in a conscious overspend in the summer, or has been made aware that one occurred and that consequently there would be no January budget, then his comments to the press can only be viewed as an attempt to manipulate public opinion to try and force further spending. If this is the case, then Tan’s comments that Mackay must resign or be sacked, whilst ill judged, are perhaps fair. On the hand, if Mackay was unaware of the summer overspend, and no discussions have been made regarding a January budget, then Tan’s actions are then of course completely out of proportion. Whilst Mackay still should have discussed a January budget before going to the press, Tan’s position is obviously unreasonable.

Given that crisis talks are now set to take place the answer probably is that Mackay is neither entirely innocent nor completely guilty in the whole affair, and likewise, Tan most likely has reasons to be displeased but is overreacting. For Cardiff fans who feel hate for Tan, they may want to consider what the alternative might be. Mackay has brought success to Cardiff, and based purely on the performances of his team, deserves to stay on as manager. However, if behind the scenes the Scott is playing politics and subverting the management structure, then fans need to ask themselves if this is really the man they want to take their club forward. What is most imperative now is an end to all the ‘he said, she said’ games, and total transparency in future decisions.