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Soccer-Owner Tan gambling with Cardiff future

Reuters

By Sudipto Ganguly

Dec 20 (Reuters) - For a man who once operated Malaysia's most profitable lottery and gambling business, Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan could well be putting the side's Premier League future at stake with his controversial approach to running the organisation.

Cardiff were on the brink of administration and escaped a winding-up petition at the High Court in 2010 after settling a 1.9 million pounds ($2.91 million) tax bill shortly after the club was taken over by Tan.

Malaysia's ninth-richest person with a net worth of $1.3 billion, Tan bought a controlling stake in the Welsh club for an undisclosed sum and last season helped finance the team into the top tier of English soccer for the first time in half a century.

Cardiff embarked on a substantial spending spree during the European summer transfer window, breaking their record signing fee for a player three times, but since then the club has lurched from one public relations disaster to another, unable to bask in the glory of competing at the highest level.

Tan, who left school at 16 to start a career as a bank clerk and later ventured into the insurance business, got his big break when he purchased Malaysia's McDonald's franchise three decades ago. A few years later, he bought the country's main lottery agency.

While the former chairman of conglomerate Berjaya Group has overseen a successful period for the club during his tenure in the Welsh capital, his leadership style has irked many fans.

Popular club manager Malky Mackay has been at loggerheads with the owners and Tan has done his best to destabilise the Scot's position with the recent sacking of Cardiff's head of recruitment.

Iain Moody, a Mackay ally, was dismissed in October with Tan claiming he had overspent the transfer budget by 15 million pounds ($24.45 million) and replaced him with 23-year-old Kazakh Alisher Apsalyamov, a friend of the owner's son.

Mackay's future had become more uncertain when he was told by Tan that he would not receive a "single penny" to strengthen the team during the winter transfer window after the manager had said he was looking to sign three new players in January.

The situation may have already reached its denouement, however, with reports in the British media on Friday stating that Mackay will soon be clearing his desk in South Wales after being asked by Tan to either resign or be sacked.

A Kuala Lumpur-based representative of Tan was unreachable for comment on reports of Mackay's ultimatum.

COLOUR CHANGE

Tan had already antagonised die-hard Cardiff fans when he sought to increase the club's marketability, especially in Asia, with a decision to change their traditional blue kit to red.

Nicknamed the Bluebirds, having played in that colour for more than 100 years, Cardiff have also adopted a red badge featuring a dragon.

He has recently embarked on an initial public offerings (IPOs) spree. Tan listed two companies this year, which raised a combined 100 million Malaysian ringgit ($30.54 million).

Tan is also planning to list Cardiff and Internet payment firm MOL, owner of social networking site Friendster, as early as 2014.

While the IPO might help make more funds available at the club, Tan has clearly struggled to grasp the difference between running a business and a soccer team.

He could learn a lot from compatriot Tony Fernandes, who found out the hard way that investment does not always gaurantee success in the Premier League.

Malaysian aviation entrepreneur and Queens Park Rangers chairman Fernandes admitted to making mistakes with the way the club was run after they finished bottom of the Premier League last season despite a heavy outlay on players and wages.

Blackburn Rovers, owned by Indian poultry giants Venky's, also suffered relegation after a season blighted by administrative blunders.

Cardiff are currently 15th in the 20-team Premier League and face an in-form Liverpool side at Anfield on Saturday.

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