Vincent Tan: Businessman, NOT Arch-Villain

(The Original English version for the previous article. For filing purposes, and also to pretend that I have written more than I actually have… :p)

Despite the Premier League perhaps in midst of its most competitive season ever, the limelight of the festive period has inevitably been directed off the pitch towards the Christmas pantomime at Cardiff City. Vincent Tan, the billionaire owner and controversial figure at the Welsh capital, opened the debacle with the public berating of his manager, the popular Malky Mackay, on his desire to spend in the upcoming transfer window, insisting that he will get ‘not a single penny’ to strengthen his squad. Then came an ultimatum for Mackay to resign or be sacked which outraged most of the football world; and despite a temporary truce Mackay was sacked in days and replaced by the Manchester United cult hero Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer.

Tan has certainly won ‘critical acclaim’ for his portrayal as the pantomime arch-villian. The Cardiff supporters were vociferous to show their alienation. People from as far afield as the F1 driver Mark Webber have vented their anger against the Malaysian. With his leather attire and sunglasses and moustache, he even looks like an arch-villian. For many, Tan symbolises everything that is ruining modern-day football: the eccentric, hands-on foreign billionaires with dreadfully little knowledge about how football actually works.

While the situation at Cardiff has been a depressing disaster, it is by no means surprising. It is merely the latest episode of a dilemma exacerbated by the globalisation and enrichment of the Premier League: what does owning a club actually mean? What can/should you do as the owner?

Traditionally, the fans view themselves as the ‘real’ owner of a club, and ones that should at least be involved if any major change were to occur. The owner is seen as a custodian of the club, one to safeguard the interest of the supporters. However, as the Premier League became evermore competitive, the price for success exploded exponentially. Mammoth financial backing is now essential for any club that wishes to mount a challenge to the title, or run the risk of being the next Leeds United.

This heralded the new age of the billionaire owners, those who are capable of sustaining the astronomical investment required for a club to remain competitive. Both Chelsea and Manchester City have demonstrated how sudden financial riches can dramatically change the outlook of the club, leading supporters of other clubs to yearn for similar ‘saviours’ for their beloved teams. However, nobody invest for invest’s sake: these owners naturally wanted a return for their massive expenditures. Mostly foreign and with little or no sentimental attachments, football is just another enterprise that they have acquired: thus they and they alone can make any business decisions as they wish.

Tan is no different. He wished to turn Cardiff into a force in Asia, and every steps has been taken in order to realise this objective. He rebranded the club from blue, the Asian colour of mourning, to red, the Asian colour of festivities and happiness. He replaced the bluebird with a dragon. He bankrolled the millions required for promotion to the Premier League, fervently followed by billions in Asia. He literally put Malaysia onto the pitch. To top it off, he appointed the man who arguably scored the most important goal for the most important club in Asia to succeed Mackay.

As any successful entrepreneurs would be, Tan eagerly sets and monitors key performance indicators, and respond to any failures both on and off the pitch with ruthless actions. He fired the previous manager Dave Jones for consistently failing to deliver promotion. He removed the head of recruitment, Iain Moody, after he allegedly overspent the summer transfer allowance by £15 million. He threatened to sack his manager after he wanted new players after such colossal overspending . And he sacked him after a comprehensive defeat by Southampton at left them dangerously close to the relegation zone.

The Cardiff hopefuls will accuse him of being heartless and ignorant, and rightfully so. Vincent Tan has imposed radical and unpopular changes onto Cardiff. Yet they also need to remember that Tan has financed numerous record-breaking transfers in the summer. The universal condemnation he has received is not entirely justified. Owners’ belief in their absolute power is commonplace: those at Manchester City has engrained the word ‘Etihad’ on everything the club produces; at Hull the owner wants to rename his hometown team the Hull Tigers; at Newcastle the fiasco that was the ‘Sports Direct Area’ was still in recent memory. However, the relatively more successful results on the pitch for these teams seem to have hidden these matters. Yet as money continues to pour into the Premier League at an exponential rate, the struggle between tradition and profitability will only escalate.

Vincent Tan is not the arch-villian of society, not even of Cardiff. He is simply a good businessman who priorities profit. Us football fans have never seen our club merely as a business venture, but is this a trade-off we need to compromise for our team to be competitive?