For soccer fans, the relationship between a club’s manager and owner is usually open to speculation. In most cases, the owner remains behind the scenes, offers few interviews, and only surfaces during an occasional match for their requisite camera shot while sitting in their private seats.
There are more outgoing individuals such as Wigan Athletic owner Dave Whelan. By his own efforts, he is one of the more popular owners in English football. He never shies from the media and his interviews are usually positive and insightful.
Then there is Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who remains secluded and never allows for his opinions to be heard in public. He has never granted a single interview, released a statement with quotes attributed to him or offered any kind of public explanation for his decisions. With individuals such as Abramovich, people are only left with conjecture in regards to his relationship with the club’s management.
But once in a while, a person such as Flavio Briatore steps into the limelight.
For those readers who haven’t seen the 2011 documentary, “The Four Year Plan,” you should take the time to track it down (editor’s note, it’s currently available on Netflix streaming). The 2007 film follows Queens Park Rangers Football Club as it is saved from near-bankruptcy and chronicles the club’s effort to win promotion to the Premier League by 2011.
Flavio Briatore is an Italian businessman who saved QPR from liquidation. Although he had no previous experience in football, Briatore announced that he and his fellow investors would take QPR up to the Premier League within four years.
The documentary was the result of Briatore allowing filmmaker Mat Hodgson behind the scenes to film throughout QPR’s journey from the Championship to Premier League promotion. But, Briatore must have then forgotten that documentarian was there, or simply not care.
The Italian billionaire brought new meaning to the term ‘boardroom interference’ with his barmy and childish behavior. He openly chastised the players and managers throughout the film (QPR fired nine caretakers and managers over the course of the film), he argued with home supporters outside of the stadium when someone called him a name (“I want the names of who is booing me, or I sell the club!”), and at one point during a match, he sent a messenger to the give his tactics and team selections to the manager (“You heard what he said? He wants two strikers. Yeah, you can’t play at home with Di Carmine alone up front.”)
Individuals such as Briatore are a club supporter’s worst nightmare. Supporters need someone to back their club financially, but it also leaves them helpless to that person’s decision making abilities.
Current Cardiff City owner, Vincent Tan, also entered the job with no previous football experience and made his club supporters anxious shortly after his arrival. His decision to change the club’s kit colors from the traditional blue to red in 2012 sent warning signals out amongst the fans. For those who are unaware, Cardiff City’s nickname is the Bluebirds.
Tan’s response to supporters’ criticism of his decision was eerily similar to Briatore’s exchange with QPR supporters. Tan was quoted as saying: “I would like to be here as long as I am very welcome. If too many fans show they are not welcome then maybe they have a new owner.”
It has been rumored that Tan was considering changing the club’s name to the Cardiff Dragons. The owner has denied this claim but also left the door open for future decisions:
”One thing that I read that I liked is he says there are so many teams with the name city.
”There is Hull City, Leicester City, Cardiff City, Bristol City – everyone is called City.
”Who doesn’t know Cardiff is a city? Who doesn’t know Hull is a city?
”I think that his strategy is good but I’m not saying that we are making any similar changes.
”I don’t want nasty e-mails written to me, but I always say ‘never say never.’
Recently, Tan has shown that he is not only willing to disregard the club’s history; he is also willing to undermine Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay’s authority.
The owner dismissed Mackay’s head of recruitment, Iain Moody, and replaced him with Kazakh Alisher Apsalyamov, a 23-year-old friend of his son with no known experience in football. The club’s image suffered more embarrassment when it came to light that Apsalyamov had been hired over the summer at Cardiff City on work experience and had been seen painting parts around the stadium.
According to reports in the media, Tan’s influence at the club stretches far and wide and has moved into territory where many will feel he has no right to be intruding. A recent report in the Guardian newspaper suggested that Tan has interfered with team matters on a match day. The article claimed that although it wasn’t a common practice, the Malaysian-born owner had tried to convey messages from the stands during Premier League matches, including suggestions on substitutions and tactical changes.
Again, this is strangely similar to the events at Queens Park Rangers while under the influence of Flavio Briatore. It’s almost as if Tan has just walked out of a screening of the infamous documentary with notes in hand.
What Tan has yet to do (unlike Briatore) is routinely hire and fire managers. But his decision to dismiss Moody, who had worked closely with Mackay to bring in new signings, and hire an inexperience person into an important role at the club will only damage the progress the manager has made to this point. And at a time when Mackay and the supporters should be focused on what is transpiring on the pitch, they are now dealing with unnecessary off the field issues.
This can only end badly for Mackay. Tan has shown a track record for quirky behavior and he seems to be ramping up that conduct.
For the sake of Cardiff City supporters, we can only hope someone with better sense will intervene and allow the club some behind the scenes stability.
Fortunately for QPR, Flavio Briatore stepped down as chairman and Ishan Saksena took over. Saksena brought a level of professionalism and humanity back to the club. Soon thereafter things began to settle down and QPR eventually won promotion to the Premiership.
Hopefully a similar situation transpires for Cardiff City before Vincent Tan continues to take them down the crazy road previously travelled by Flavio Briatore.