Any Cardiff City fans looking forward to lying back and basking in the glory of the Premier League has had a rude awakening these past few days. And there hasn't even been any football played. In what should be a time of quiet consolidation during the first international break of the season, the club has found its name written all over the back pages of the newspapers for all the wrong reasons. Again.
Majority shareholder Vincent Tan just seems to love courting controversy. When he 're-branded' the club last year a lot of loyal supporters turned their backs in disgust. Though I sympathized, I must admit I wasn't one of them. I was of the opinion, like the majority, that if changing the colour of the shirts was required in exchange for the massive cash investment that could push us to the next level, so be it. Success always comes at a price. At the time, the naysayers promised the shenanigans wouldn't stop there, and that having a Malaysian businessman with no prior experience in football in charge of the club spelled all kinds of bad news.
I'm sorry to say it looks like they've been proved right, and at the moment I feel like the dimwit who got on the wrong train. Problem is, I can't get off because this train isn't stopping anytime soon. In fact, it might have to be derailed at considerable loss of life before it comes to a standstill and rescue workers can assess the damage.
The latest catalogue of bizarre events began to unfold shortly after the Newcastle game, which City had just narrowly lost at the CCS after appearing badly out of sorts in the first half. It later emerged that there was some disquiet amongst the players arising from a dispute over bonus payments. The bad sentiment spilled out into the media, where it was let slip that several senior players weren't happy with Tan interfering in team affairs. The upshot was that he was asked to stay away from the dressing room on match days.
Then, last week, the club's Head of Recruitment Iain Moody, who the media dubbed 'Malky Mackay's right hand man,' was suspended then permanently replaced with Alisher Apsalyamov, a 23-year old friend of his son's from Kazakhstan, whose only knowledge of football was helping paint the stadium in the summer whilst on work experience. This farcical move made the club an instant laughing stock, bringing to mind images of Borat in a (red) mankini swanning around saying things like, "I am wanting to bring the glorious of the exciting football to the wonderful peoples of Kazakhstan!"
Moody is the man is credited with being behind many of Cardiff's key signings, and having previously worked with Malky at Watford, the two had formed a close relationship. The reasons given for his sudden departure were that he had 'overspent' the summer's transfer budget, an excuse that didn't wash with anyone. Moody's duties were finding and recommending players, he wasn't the one signing the cheques. If the budget was overspent then other people higher up the club's hierarchy were to blame. The very fact that Tan wheeled this out as a flimsy excuse was disrespectful and condescending toward the fans who were left after the rebranding, the general consensus being that Tan gave Moody his marching orders as a means of deliberately undermining Mackay's position.
A few days later, Raymond Sparkes, Mackay's agent, told Media Wales, "Malky understands there has been a lack of clarity, and will insist that the chairman or other senior directors provide supporters with a clear explanation of what has been going on. If that cannot be done, he will take it upon himself to do it."
Strong words, implying that, as usual, there was much more going on behind the scenes which was being shielded from the fans, the lifeblood of the club.
So strong, in fact, that ex-player Nathan Blake went public to say that, in his opinion, there was no coming back from it. Fans feared the worst. Nobody wanted to lose the club's most successful manager of the modern era.
A 5-hour board meeting was hastily arranged for Monday 14th October, to be attended by all high-ranking club officials either in person or by conference call. There have been so many changes to the club's infrastructure in the past two years, nobody is even sure who does what behind the scenes. For the record, as it currently stands, Mehmet Dalman is the chairman, former chairman Simon Lim is now CEO, while Tan is the majority shareholder, which effectively makes him owner. The rest of the board is made up primarily of faceless moneymen connected to one of the aforementioned, with the notable exceptions of Steve Borley and Michael Isaac, two long-serving directors.
To the relief of the fans assembled outside the ground, at the conclusion of the meeting it was revealed that Mackay was still in the job. Just. Media Wales described the day as one of the most important in the club's modern history. And for those in the know, it's hard to disagree.
So... why is Tan acting this way? And what is he hoping to achieve?
It could all be a reaction to 'Bonusgate,' when Mackay evidently sided with the players over the 'owner.' Personally, however, I think Tan's ultimate plan is to dispense of Mackay's services one way or another and make his son manager, something not so far beyond the realms of possibility that would send the gossip pages into overdrive.
Could this be his revenge?
It has been suggested that Tan is simply jealous of Mackay's popularity. He recently stated that if his presence isn't appreciated at CCS, he will simply pull out and take his business elsewhere, which would tantamount to picking his toys up and going home. If there is even a shred of truth in that idea, we have to ask, 'what's wrong with the bloke?' Does he honestly think the fans should be singing his name from the terraces?
If it's popularity he wants, he's going about it all the wrong way. Respect has to be earned, the hard way. You can't just turn up and demand it.
There is no way of quantifying what effect off-field uncertainty has on the players, but that abject first half display against Newcastle could be an indication. At this critical stage in the club's development, anything that detracts from the football can't be good. The phrase 'cutting your nose off to spite your face' springs to mind, and Tan now stands accused of trying to sabotage his own business.
Added to that, he is now at risk of incurring a fan's backlash. There has already been Internet talk about boycotting games and staging demonstrations. This is nothing new to Cardiff supporters given the club's recent history, but having sensed the fans vitriol, the bad feeling toward Tan has reached a whole new level. Let's face it, anyone who wears a football shirt tucked into his pinstripe trousers is a tool. He must know that if he removes Mackay, his own position will essentially become untenable. There's something of the Greek tragedy about that.
Despite the result of the board meeting, the general feeling is that Mackay's days are numbered at Cardiff. If he and Tan were a married couple they would probably have filed for divorce by now, citing 'irreconcilable differences.' Let's face it, their relationship has probably been damaged beyond repair and one of them probably has to leave for the good of all parties. Personally, I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking that if Mackay is allowed to leave the club it would be like committing hari-kari. We'll almost certainly be back in the Championship come next season.
My new book, From the Ashes - The REAL Story of Cardiff City FC is out now: