What’s in a name? Cardiff City, Cardiff Dragons, Cardiff Jones the Bakers? Does it matter what Malky Mackay’s team is called as long as they reach the Premier League’s Promised Land?
It does, to judge from the furore in the Welsh capital this week. Vincent Tan, the club’s Malaysian owner, had to back-pedal rapidly on his midweek suggestion that the Championship leaders be given an appellation more appealing to the Asian market.
City fans remain wary, recalling how Tan played down a proposal to change the team’s colours from blue to red, only to go ahead in the summer. He also relegated the Bluebirds’ famous flying bluebird to a junior position on the club badge beneath a large red dragon.
These changes prompted a protest when Tan attended the last home game at which, coincidentally, free red scarves were given out. Tan branded the protestors “a bunch of mostly young kids” and said: “Have they achieved any success under this Bluebirds brand? So why do we hold onto something that hasn’t achieved much success?” Tan also told BBC Wales this week: “A few were upset but like in any business if we get 80 or 75 per cent of the customers happy, with 20 to 25 per cent not happy, that’s fine. If they don’t want to come to support our business, that’s fine. We need the majority.”
Were the team losing matches, fans might vote with their feet but, thanks to investment in players, Cardiff lead the Championship by eight points and are favourites to reach the top flight for the first time since 1962. Feelings are thus mixed, with some supporters apparently happy to sacrifice plenty to join Swansea in the Premier League.
Where, though, will Tan’s innovations end? Since buying around a third of the club for an initial £6m in 2010 he has taken an increasingly personal interest in Cardiff’s operation. This may be reflected in yesterday’s decision to step down as chairman by Dato Chan Tien Ghee, who introduced Tan to the club. Cardiff are also on their third chief executive since the Malaysian takeover. It is clear, from his comments this week, that Tan is used to being in control. He said: “If you put in a lot of money, surely you have the right to make a call on some things you believe will make it better. If you don’t have a say, why the hell do you put in so much money?”
Tan added: “If the fans welcome me, I can stay for a long time, but if I find they are not welcoming and rude, then maybe I will find a new buyer and go off.” This sounds like a thinly veiled threat, though he also said: “If I were to sell, I’d make sure I would leave it in good hands.”
That should be easy enough if Cardiff go up, but not if they fail to make it for the club is now £83m in debt and lost £13.6m last season. Wages were already a worrying 106 per cent of turnover.
Around £63m of the debt relates to loans by Tan, with former owner Sam Hammam’s company Langston owed £19.2m. Tan says he will convert his loan into equity if Hammam does the same.
That seems unlikely, which means the Premier League – which has a strict approach to club finances post-Portsmouth – will be asking Tan to prove his investment is “sustainable”.
Assuming Tan meets League requirements, his belief that investors have the right to make whatever changes they deem necessary raises other, wider, concerns, such as the return of the spectre of the “39th game”, a round of fixures played overseas. As Harry Redknapp observed recently, eventually foreign owners will want to play matches in their own countries. Currently 12 of the Premier League’s 20 clubs are foreign-owned. Two more and the 14 required to pass significant measures will be achieved.
Is the future Cardiff Dragons v Liverpool Red Sox in Kuala Lumpur or Boston? Surely not, but a dozen years ago, when the Bluebirds were in the bottom tier at decaying Ninian Park, who could have imagined them on the brink of the Premier League, in a spanking new stadium, owned from Malaysia and wearing red?
1. If Wenger hasn’t planned for Bale, more fool him
Arsène Wenger may have been misleading the media when he insisted that he did not have any specific plan to deal with Gareth Bale tomorrow, but any regular observer of Arsenal’s defending must fear he was telling the truth. If so, it is foolhardy and arrogant. Every serious team, in any sport, makes plans for the opposition; even Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona knew they would not retain possession all the time.
2. Encouraging response to growth in women’s game
The Women’s Super League is yet to take off in terms of spectator numbers or media coverage, but the FA should be hugely encouraged at receiving 28 bids from clubs keen to be part of the competition when it expands from eight teams to 20 next year. Maybe one will finally challenge Arsenal’s dominance.
3. Sterling should have been given a rest earlier
This column noted on 8 December, Raheem Sterling’s 18th birthday, that having played in 23 of Liverpool’s 27 matches, the full 90 in 13 of them, and played 84 minutes for England, he was in danger of suffering burnout. This week, 12 appearances later, manager Brendan Rodgers acknowledged Sterling had “lost his zip” and needed to “take a wee step back”. Prior to this season Sterling had played 25 minutes of first-team football. Someone at Liverpool should have enforced a rest.
4. Add your voice to calls for clubs to support the kids
A mild improvement in the weather means many kids will finally get a game of football this weekend but they should not have to wait for a drought or thaw to play football, not when Premier League clubs receive £5bn from TV in the next three years. Government should provide decent sports facilities, but football cannot hide behind their lamentable failure to do so. An e-petition designed to increase the pressure on clubs to share their windfall has been launched. Go to http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/46134
5. Foster takes heart from Hart problems
Joe Hart has made more mistakes this season than at any time since he became England’s first-choice goalkeeper. Of course, that had no influence whatsoever on Ben Foster’s decision to make himself available for international selection again.