By Ben Stebbings @Stebbiino
With sixteen year-old Norwegian wunderkind Martin Odegaard completing his protracted transfer to Real Madrid this week to either fulfill his undoubted potential or fade into obscurity (Freddy Adu long-ago taught us to temper our enthusiasms), we thought it apt to venture back into the career of one of his nation’s favourite sons. Yes, we know John Arne Riise hasn’t officially retired yet (he’s currently ripping up trees with APOEL in the Cypriot First Division) but the redheaded left-back has more than enough moments in his back catalogue to warrant a retrospective. Strap yourselves in as we release the kraken.
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On the 9th of November 2002, for one glorious day, Shaun Goater was the undisputed king of Manchester. Two goals and an assist, the Goat ate well that day but let’s contextualise this game quickly…
You’d be loath to describe United’s team that season as one of Sir Alex’s best vintages (Barthez, Blanc, Veron) but in typical Fergusonic fashion they somehow overcame a talented Arsenal side to win the league. City meanwhile were newly-promoted and while the team contained genuine quality (Anelka, Berkovic, Foe) and were playing at home (the last derby to be played at Maine Road), United were clear favourites going into the game.
And yet Goater waded through the United defence with all the ease of cranberry farmer during harvest season. He ripped off Laurent Blanc’s back pocket and forced it down the Frenchman’s throat. Gary Neville, infamously, gifted Goater his first goal but the marauding Bermudan was so cataclysmically unplayable that game he would have taken it himself eventually anyway.
So here’s to Shaun Goater – legend of Maine Road, conqueror of The Red Devils and for one glorious day King of all of Manchester.
Today’s revelations that Vincent Tan has (allegedly) offered Malky Mackay a ‘resign or be sacked’ ultimatum only serves to solidify the owner’s already abominable reputation and convince self-appointed ‘true fans’ that he represents all that is wrong with the modern game.
During his relatively short tenure at the summit of Cardiff City Football Club the Malaysian tycoon has racked up a impressive list of sins. First came the purging of the blue from The Bluebirds as Tan demanded a change in kit-colour to make the club more marketable to East Asia. Then came the unjust sacking of the club’s Head of Recruitment Iain Moody and the appointment of a 23-year old friend of the family with no previous experience in his place. Now, after a period of intense speculation, Tan has made clear his intentions to oust Mackay, the man responsible for returning Cardiff to the top flight after fifty years in the wastelands of the lower leagues. Truly there is no good in Mr Tan.
And yet in the rush to condemn Tan it is been overlooked that, despite his general hamfistery , the owner may have a point or two.
Firstly, what rich history was it Tan so readily saw washed away into a red sea of money? Would it be that one FA Cup win in 1927? Identity is an immeasurable quantity but it seems fair to say it does not begin and end with kit colour. Fans undoubtedly have a right to assure no new owner whitewashes (redwashes?…we’ll stop now) over a club’s image but change is not always bad and a strong identifiable presence in Asia’s (relatively) untapped marketplace is a potential path to success. Certainly, Tan’s input has only taken them up the table so far and (speaking as a lower league novice) the reimagining of Cardiff’s kit helped the club stand out from the other promoted teams and relegation candidates. It invites the casual viewer to stand up and pay attention.
Secondly, Tan himself has acknowledged his reasons for the sacking of Moody; the man overspent on his permitted budget. While Moody himself disagrees and Tan stipulated the overspend related to add-on fees, in any business running so fantastically over-budget would always signal a termination of employment. The gap between £50 millon and £35 million isn’t a matter of peanuts; Cardiff had the league’s 4th highest net spend ahead of United and Arsenal, falling narrowly behind a Southampton team who have achieved far more this season (admittedly with a year’s Premier League experience under their belt). It could be contested that Tan should have trusted his Head of Recruitment but this was a man Tan inherited rather than appointed and some of Cardiff’s buys were borderline reckless (£8 mil for the top scorer in the Danish League), whilst others were far from shrewd business (Caulker and Medel are both fine players but at £11 mil and £8.5 mil respectively plus aforementioned overheads they are hardly bargins).
Finally, Mackay has done a brilliant job of playing the put-upon victim. No doubt his position becoming increasingly untenable can not have helped squad morale (and thus performances) but emails have been leaked and subtle fingers of blame pointed, so Joe Public can be in no doubt as to who is the dastardly black-hatted wrongdoer in this South Wales fairy tale (although Vincent Tan’s comic-book super-villain get-up helps too). Mackay is in an awkward position but he did not help himself by telling the press he needed to bring in more players in January despite significant overspenditure in the summer. Furthermore, the battle now is no longer for control or pride; it is for money.
Put simply: Mackay is a dead man walking with the only stumbling block being Tan does not want to pay the manager’s severance package. Mackay will not relinquish said package so he soldiers on as it is his right to do. It’s not a matter of what is best for Cardiff City or reputations; as of now it is all about cold, hard cash and who cracks first.
So Tan will hunt him, because Mackay can take it. Because he’s not Cardiff’s hero. He’s a silent guardian. A watchful protector. A Dark-Blue Knight. At least until he receives a severance package big enough to legitimately build his own Bat Cave.
This argument in no way aims to absolve Tan, nor to vilify Cardiff’s fans, staff or manager. It merely hopes to provide a little balance. There is no black and white here, only reds and blues.
UPDATE: Malky Mackay was relived of his duties on the 27th of December 2013. He proceeded to take his severance package and abscond with the entire Russian ballet on his private yacht.