Into the madhouse of Vincent Tan steps Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the new coach of Cardiff City. The desire to manage in the Premier League proved too powerful an emotion to resist, even for a bright young thing from Norway who took Molde to the Norwegian championship for the first time.
Like many before him Solskjaer thinks it will be different this time. It won’t. The golden rule endures; he who has all the gold makes all the rules. The moment Solskjaer crosses the Malaysian magnate, the chauffeur-driven ride into Tan’s world via the director’s box at Arsenal will become a hearse carrying him into the netherworld of discarded football men.
The sense of entitlement that allows Tan to behave as he wishes, without regard for the sensibilities of the community into which he has bought, is a 21st-century expression of medieval moving and shaking, where decisions are based not on matters of fact but mood.
Solskjaer has entered the court of Henry VIII, and we know how that ends – unless gout, palsy or some such ailment takes down the king first.
That is not how he sees it, of course. Persuaded by the promise of extra cash to spend this month to keep Cardiff in the promised land, Solskjaer can see only the good side at this momentous juncture.
“I felt I needed to be back here,” said Solskjaer, a hero at Manchester United where he spent 11 years, much of it flying off the bench to transform outcomes, including the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich in Barcelona.
“I wish I was 25 again and playing in the Premier League. Time ticks for everyone so I can’t. Now I’m a lucky man to be a manager in the Premier League. And I want to stay for the long term.” Funnily enough, that is just how Malky Mackay felt when he was appointed in 2011.
How sweet the atmosphere must have been when Mackay led Cardiff City to Wembley in his first season in charge, taking Liverpool to penalties in the League Cup final, and then won promotion to the Premier League in his second year at the club. None of that spared him when the wind changed.
Tan’s tango in Cardiff demonstrates how little he cares about the commodity in which he has a controlling interest.
The sacking of Mackay sat easily alongside the dumping of the head of recruitment, Iain Moody, and – most damning of all – the unfeeling hauteur with which he tossed a century of blue-clad tradition into a skip to accommodate his cultural attachment to the colour red.
Anyone who has walked the streets of Kuala Lumpur will understand how a Malaysian billionaire might feel compelled to blow a few quid on a fantasy football vehicle. The Premier League brand is everywhere in the Malaysian capital, and association with it a sure-fired way of coming to prominence both at home and abroad.
Foreign owners do not have a monopoly on abuse of power, reluctance to compromise or the waiving of common courtesies. The rich and powerful like to get their way the world over. What complicates the Cardiff model is the chasm that separates ownership and support.
Into the strange Tan-scape steps a young coach who served his apprenticeship in an environment that he knew and trusted, and where the rules of the game were universally understood and applied.
Solksjaer has none of that in Cardiff. Tan doubtless promised to give him licence to do the job his way, free from interference. There is cash to spend and a heap of goodwill behind him. But how long will it be before the emails start filling his inbox?
After the tough away trip to Newcastle in the FA Cup on Saturday, Solskjaer faces successive away fixtures this month at Manchester City and United in the Premier League and a trip to local rivals Swansea early in February.
Cardiff sit one point above the Premier League dead zone. Should they continue to struggle in the second half of the season, their campaign ends with trips to Sunderland and Newcastle followed by a home match against title-chasing Chelsea on the final afternoon of the season.
He might have to bring himself off the bench for that one. Good luck, Ole.
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