A Jack Ponders Cardiff’s Promotion

I have almost enjoyed reading the Wasting Mule’s coverage this week of Cardiff’s promotion to the Premier League. It has been relatively restrained, almost balanced. There has been no ‘Bigger than Barcelona’ nonsense, and no insulting attempts to suggest that all Welsh people should support the club. Maybe that all belongs to the era of previous owner Sam Hammam and the excitable Paul Abbandonato acting as his amanuensis. I hope so. Here are my thoughts on Cardiff’s achievement and prospects.

CardiffBadge_250x3_1522755aLet me start by saying – and there is no way of avoiding this – that the quality of the teams in the Championship this year, and consequently the standard of the football played, has been pretty poor. Every time Cardiff faltered the chasing pack went into collective foot-shooting mode. But they proved capable of screwing up even without Cardiff getting them in a tizzy. Last night, for example, Hull had the chance, at home to bottom club Bristol City, of securing second place and automatic promotion, but could only eke out an embarrassing 0 – 0 draw. This lack of quality in the Championship this season will not prepare Cardiff well for the much more testing Premier League next season.

Inevitably, there have been comparisons with Swansea. One theory propounded by more than one I’ve read is that Cardiff are guaranteed more success than the Swans because Cardiff is bigger, or has a bigger ‘catchment area’. Rhodri Morgan, in his Wasting Mule column today,* seemed to be arguing that Cardiff will be successful because of “the chimney pots issue”! Then he went on to say, “Provided Cardiff establishes itself in the top tier, that status will be enormously helpful in attracting conferences and tourists to Cardiff, in competition with Edinburgh, Dublin, Bristol and top European cities”. (Barcelona?)

Though if that linkage of Premiership status and international recognition were true, then when can we expect to see the G8 meeting in Sunderland, or the Bilderbergers gathering (behind closed doors, of course) in Stoke-on-Trent? The truth is that sporting success and economic prosperity have little influence on each other. Just think East Germany. And if that’s not enough to convince you then remind yourself that during the time Liverpool FC was the most successful club in Europe the city was in permanent and almost terminal economic decline. On the other side of the coin, Munich and Milan would be prosperous cities even without successful football clubs.

If comparisons favourable to Cardiff have been made in terms of size and catchment areas, one aspect of the game the ‘Welsh’ media has been somewhat more reluctant to explore is the financial models of the two clubs. After nearly CCFCgoing out of business a decade ago, the Swans were rescued by a consortium of local businessmen determined to run the club responsibly. The fans also have a big share in the club’s ownership, and a director on the Board. Last month the club posted a profit of £15.9m for the second half of 2012. (And this figure does not include the potential sale value of the players.) Swansea City Football Club is therefore locally owned, responsibly run, does not pay outlandish transfer fees or exorbitant wages, makes modest profits, and does not owe a penny to anyone. By comparison, Cardiff is owned by Vincent Tan, a Malaysian businessman no one had heard of a couple of years ago (and had probably not heard of Cardiff), and is said to still owe tens of millions of pounds to various creditors, including Sam Hammam. According to a reader’s letter in today’s WM, the figure is £83.1m.

Whatever the true figure, Vincent Tan has promised Malky Mackay £25m for new players in the close season. Which sounds good . . . until you remember that Queens Park Rangers have spent much more than that on players this season, and they are bottom of the Premier League tonight, virtually guaranteed to be relegated. Let’s now go beyond finances to look at other aspects of the two clubs.

Swansea have consistently been praised for their continental, possession style, of play. But this didn’t happen overnight. The club’s owners not only decided on a new financial model but also a different style of playing the game. What you see today began with the managership of Roberto Martinez, continued under Paulo Sousa, then Brendan Rogers, and now Michael Laudrup. A multilingual Spaniard, A multilingual Portuguese, an Irishman who speaks fluent Spanish, and a Dane who was one of the greatest players of his generation, speaks Italian and Spanish, and is a great ‘pull’ for players who might not otherwise come to Swansea. By comparison, and with the best will in the world, I don’t think Cardiff have the continental contacts to land a player like Michu for £2m. And excellent manager though he might be, Malky Mackay is unknown on the continent, and therefore has no reputation to trade on.

Aside from comparisons of Swansea and Cardiff, there is another issue worth considering. There have been background rumblings about Swansea’s ‘right’, as a Welsh club, to be in the English Premiership; and this can only increase now that there are two Welsh clubs there. The noises won’t come from Manchester United or Chelsea, but from those ‘big’ clubs that have known better days, but now find themselves in the Championship, or even lower. And with English particularism on the rise, perhaps we can anticipate Nigel Farage chasing votes by banging the ‘Welsh Out!’ drum in cities such as Leeds, Nottingham, Derby and Leicester. A bit far-fetched, maybe; but I still predict that those who objected to the presence of one Welsh club in the Premier League can only become more vocal now there are two. And maybe they’ll attract new voices. If so, then this could have unforeseeable consequences.

I wish Cardiff City well, and I’m looking forward to the Swans’ games against them next season, but I urge the Cardiff fans not to get carried away. Enjoy the promotion success by all means, but also remember that reaching the Premier League can be the easy bit . . . it’s staying there that’s usually the problem. Just ask Blackpool, QPR, or half the teams you’re leaving behind in the Championship. Now for the really serious bit. As a Swans fan I know that whatever else might befall the club, it’s in safe hands and almost guaranteed to stay solvent. But if I was a Cardiff fan, my biggest worry would be, what would happen if Vincent Tan went bankrupt or just decided to walk away?


* The print version was somewhat less restrained, and headed: ‘Bluebirds’ boost could transform our capital into a roaring Celtic Tiger’. (That’s more like it! Move over Barcelona!)

9 thoughts on “A Jack Ponders Cardiff’s Promotion

  1. Jac

    Iestyn, If Swansea’s and Cardiff’s positions in the English structure are threatened by them being Welsh clubs then my guess is that both would leave the FAW.

    As for the Barcelona analogy, well, when you think about it, there’s an interesting conundrum shaping up there. Barcelona is a massive club. Partly because it’s a large city, but also because it has always been a way of expressing Catalan identity on the Spanish stage. But what happens if Catalunya becomes independent? Barcelona is too big for a Catalan league, there’d be no games against Real Madrid, Valencia, etc., and the Spanish league would also lose out from Barcelona’s absence.

    Which is why, sooner or later, EUFA will have to consider cross-border leagues. Catalan independence could then be accommodated within an ‘Iberian’ league including Benfica and Porto. A league respecting the traditional identities of the peninsula: Castilian, Basque, Portuguese, Catalan, Andalucian, Galician. And from the big clubs point of view cross-border leagues are a step on the road to the dream of a pan-European league for the likes of Bayern Munich, Man Utd, Juventus, Arsenal, Milan, Barcelona, etc.

    Coming home, we could never have a Welsh Barcelona. One, we have two clubs. Two, there isn’t the same strength of national feeling.

  2. also to be fair to cardiff city – and as docks soul hints at – they are not alone in having a ‘benefactor’ whom probing questions could be asked of…the recent english fa cup semi final threw two teams together – manchester city and chelsea – who are both owned by people with questionable backgrounds…..backgrounds which are for some reason ignored by the normally inquisitive british media….chelsea’s sugar daddy owes his vast fortune in part to the corrupt alcoholic boris yelstin’s insane privatisation programme which saw russia’s vast oil reserves virtually given away to private individuals like abramovich in a disastrous bid to create a free market economy in the former communist state overrnite…while Manchester city’s even richer owner…is a member of the governing royal family of a state ….the united arab emirates…. where no democratic rights exists….women are virtually second class citizens and individuals with Israeli passports are denied entry…..so compared to such owners tan is probably a model of probity and good standing …

    yes it would be nice, refreshing and certainly fairer from a sporting standpoint if more football teams followed swansea city’s more community based and ethical model of ownership….or that of clubs like Barcelona….but sadly in the dog eat dog world of competitive football the supporters of many teams wouldn’t care if polpot was their owner if he had a couple of billion pounds to invest in their football team and could guarantee success on the field….….even the game’s governing body…..FIFA…is little more than a fig leaf for the corporate control of the world game….

  3. being from swansea jac im afraid youll find that any pronouncements you make falling short of declaring the bluebirds – or whatever they call themselves now – the best footbaling team since brazil 1970 or which fails to declare malky mackay as the new ‘special one’…is likely to earn you frosty ripostes of the kind made by dock soul…..and its shame some cardiff city followers….and their supporters in the welsh media …are allowing their understandable loyalty to their team to get in the way of a bit of good old fashioned objectivity where their team is concerned….yes of course cardiff should be congratulated by everyone in wales on their achievements this season…it means we are living thru a historically successful period for welsh club footbal at the moment, and it would be nice to think that this success at club level would permeate thru to the national team..as wales are long overdue some success at international level…….but its also not wrong to point out the obvious playing limitations of this cardiff team and to pont out that the physical ‘direct’ style of football they play, based on outmuscling the opposition and on getting the ball forward as quick as possible will not serve them well in the english premiership……you dont have to be a football expert to know that the top level of football (which the english premiership certainly is) is based on retaining possession…indeed give the ball away against many teams in the premiership and you might not get it back for some time…..so all i would point out is that cardiff – and their coach – are going to have to change the way they play if their stay in the premiership is not to be a short one…i think iestyn also raises some interesting questions about what the long term implications of two welsh teams in the english premiership might be for football in wales….tho personaly i do not think we need to fear for the future of the wales international team……the team GB experiment at the london olympics was a unmitigated failure and there is no desire on the part of anyone to repeat it….

  4. Iestyn, there’s nothing new, special or unique about this. It happens all over the world, closer to home though TNS are based in Oswestry which is across the border. They regularly represent Wales in Europe. Whatever coefficient points they acculumate are Welsh points. Next year whatever points Swansea accumulate will be English points. It’s important to seperate football from politics. Derry City have represented both Irelands in Europe.

    I’ve got a bigger list here If you want to see a genuinely unique case look at the Kiwi clubs who not only play in a different country (Oz) but in a different confederation (Oz is in AFC, NZ is in Oceania).

  5. Docks Soul

    Jac, Swansea City with their history should be the last club to claim the moral high ground when it comes to football finances and ripping off local creditors,

    £83m is a lot of dosh, but that’s the madness of modern football, there are other Championship teams with similar levels or even larger debts.
    Leicester City managed to lose £30m in just one year http://tinyurl.com/cafajdx, whilst our slave trading friends from across the Severn who have just been relegated are currently losing £15m a season http://tinyurl.com/bezxkr3 .
    The finances of Derby, Nottingham Forest, Leeds, Ipswich, Bolton and Blackburn are all in worse states than Cardiff CIty’s,

    As for Vincent Tan he’s no different to the foreign owners of Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool, QPR, etc.
    The days of football clubs being run by a bankrupt local roofing contractor are well and truly numbered.

    Thanks for referring to me as a boy btw it’s been a long time since anyone did that despite my youthful good looks!

    1. Jac

      “Youthful good looks”, eh! So we have something in common.

      DS, I think I know what you’re trying to say – football finances are in a mess. Though this seems to be confined to these islands. For example, in other countries and other leagues, the Glazers would not have been allowed to borrow money to buy Man Utd then transfer the debt to the club so that, effectively, they’d bought the club with its own money. Financial probity and balancing the books seem to be far more important in Germany and other countries than in this UK. Suggesting football simply reflects a wider political and business culture.

      That said, to hear you argue that, yes, Cardiff is heavily in debt, but other clubs are in an even worse state, is not really convincing. It simply proves the point I made above. Brizzle City losing £15m a season and Leicester £30m in one year, is bad, and unsustainable, but it doesn’t reduce Cardiff’s debt by one penny.

  6. Iestyn

    I’m not a soccer man (as you can tell from me calling it soccer!), but the current situation is definitely interesting. I’m not sure how I feel about Welsh clubs “representing England” – I’m surprised it’s allowed, and wouldn;t be at all surprised to see it stopped in the near future.

    But as you asy above, Jac, what will be the effect of two Welsh teams in the English premiership. That’s a whole lot of money that “should” be going to the top two English finishers in the championship. How long before they start to complain? If a Team GB soccer team was a threat to the independence of Welsh football, could Welsh teams in England become the next Trojan Horse?

    Your references to Barcelona are interesting as well. Could a Welsh team ever be for Wales what Barcelona seems to be for Catalonia?

  7. Jac

    Silly boy, I’m an expert on everything!

    If doing a “Swansea” is so easy and – in the case of the Swans – works so well, how come other clubs in a similar mess haven’t done the same? There’s obviously more to it than you imply.

    Talking money, the truth is that your club owes a hell of a lot of money to assorted creditors, and is owned by a man you know nothing about. He has already made you change the colour of your shirt, what might he insist you do next? No Cardiff fan can be happy with their club being the plaything of a man who knows sod all about Cardiff, Wales, or football.

    Yes, Swans will be playing in the Europa League next year. But you make me feel guilty about it. For the implication to be drawn from your comment is that Cardiff would reject the opportunity of European football because they’d be “representing England”. Very noble . . . but I wonder what Vincent Tan would have to say about that?

  8. Docks Soul

    Jac, I did not realise you were such an expert on football.
    You must have watched an awful lot of the Championship over the years to come to the conclusion that this seasons “the standard of the football played, has been pretty poor”?

    Actually it has been the most competitive division for a long time, look at the bottom of the league to see how many points will be required for safety this year compared to the past seasons as proof of this.
    The only difference to previous years is that last seasons relegated sides (Bolton, Blackburn and Wolves) have struggled badly, which in itself says more about the standard of last seasons Premier League rather than this seasons Championship.

    As for Cardiff’s debts, in the worse case scenario City could always do a “Swansea” and take the admin route to clear the books.
    £83m paid back at the Swansea rate of 1p to the £ would leave them having to find only £830k….. Sorted!
    Financial responsibility the easy way.

    Anyway good luck to the Swans representing England in Europe next season, I always knew those Union Flags would come in handy.

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