When it comes to appraising the season to establish where it all went wrong it is hard to see past the summer signing of Andreas Cornelius.
Cardiff’s title-winning promotion from the Championship resulted from substantial investment by Cardiff owner Vincent Tan as part of his divisive rebrand, plus an laudable team spirit that saw goals evenly distributed throughout the team. If Malky Mackay’s side were to be competitive in the top flight, they would need a regular source of goals and sought a suitable target man. Their pursuit led them to Denmark and the acquisition of Cornelius, a Danish international voted as the best young player in the country.
Cardiff paid reigning Danish champions FC Copenhagen a club record £7.6m for the 20-year-old, a fee that could rise as high as £10.9m. He received a £1.5m signing on fee and a five-year deal worth a further £11.7m. Cardiff would break that record twice more for Steven Caulker and Gary Medel in a £35m transfer spree that resulted in a huge falling out between Tan, manager Malky Mackay and head of recruitment Iain Moody.
Moody and Mackay were held accountable for a perceived overspend and Moody was dismissed in October, resulting in a complete communication breakdown between Tan and Mackay. Moody was replaced by 23-year-old Alisher Apsalyamov, a friend of Tan’s son and a much derided appointment, but soon left the post when he failed to obtain a work permit. Mackay lost his job in December and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was brought in with the club just outside the relegation places. They soon dropped in to the bottom three and remained there for the rest of the season.
Cornelius struggled with a couple of ankle injuries and played only 352 minutes for the club during 13 games for three different managers before they cut their losses. He was sold back to Copenhagen for £3m on the final day of the January transfer window and did not sign a replacement. A source close to Tan revealed that: “Mackay was instructed to go out and buy a Bentley… but Mr Tan feels Mackay bought a Toyota instead.”
Richard Bevan, chief executive of the LMA, defended Mackay and raised questions regarding the culpability of Cardiff’s chief executive Simon Lim. “All clubs at the elite level have systems in place for corporate governance, Cardiff City is no exception. A manager, even in the Premier League, does not go out and sign players. All recommendations go to his board, essentially the Chief Executive, on the board’s behalf, deals with all financial arrangements to finalise any signings.”
The saga recently took a surprise twist when the situation was resolved by both Mackay and Moody apologising to Tan, but details of the settlement will not be disclosed due to a confidentiality agreement. That did not stop Tan having his say on the subject though and he soon gave Mackay both barrels in an interview with the local press. “Cardiff were promoted because I put £15m in for Malky Mackay to spend. If I gave Dave Jones £5m he would have taken us up.” He also added: “We have no stability because of Malky Mackay. He should have walked away quietly.” It should be noted that Simon Lim remains with the club and free of blame.
A downturn in fortunes on the pitch has resulted in greater unrest amongst supporters, who have become ever more determined in their quest to see the club return to blue. They are still waiting for Tan to fulfil his promise of converting his debt in to equity, but his latest utterances on the subject proved a cause for concern. He claims that he has invested £150m and will now only convert around £50m, leaving the club in a vulnerable position and a long way from becoming sustainable.
Solskjaer will be afforded the opportunity to plot Cardiff’s return to the Premier League, but the club remains a bloated, divided mess and that will be no easy task. As for Tan, he still feels misunderstood and unfairly maligned. “Some people made me out like the villain. I’m supposed to be the Bond villain, but actually I’m James Bond.”
By Scott Johnson
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Scott is the author of The Blues Are Up – Cardiff City’s rise to the Premier League