Vincent Tan, the 61-year-old Malaysian businessman who has become the source of endless controversy as the owner of Cardiff City FC, fired respected manager Malky MacKay on Friday.
The decision came a day after fans of the Welsh club held anti-Tan protests at their home game against Southampton. They held “TAN OUT” signs and pleaded with him to keep MacKay.
The widespread anti-Tan sentiment is complicated.
He has made some woeful decisions in the oversight of the club. For example, he fired the club’s top player-personnel executive, Iain Moody, and replaced him with a 23-year-old intern who is friends with his son.
He also changed the 114-year-old club’s colours from blue to red, and replaced the bluebird on the club’s crest with a dragon.
But in a more general sense, Cardiff fans hate Tan because he treats the club like it belongs to him and him alone.
English soccer teams weren’t founded as businesses. They were founded as clubs in the most literal sense. They were collections of regular people who met up and played soccer together. They originally belonged to the people, not one principle owner or set of owners.
The corporatization of modern football has dissolved that dynamic, but among fans there is still a widespread mistrust of outsiders and a disdain for owners who explicitly treat clubs like businesses. That’s why the Glazers — the American owners of Manchester United who have overseen an objectively successful era for the club both financially and on the field — are hated.
Tan took control of Cardiff in 2010. Three years later, his cash infusion lifted them to the Premier League for the first time. Yet fans still hate him. It’s not about results.
In American sports, the relationship between a team and its fans is the relationship between a corporations and its customers.
In the Premier League and around much of Europe, that’s not the case. Because of the historical origins of these clubs, the perceived relationship between a team and its supporters are different. The team exists because of its supporters, not for them — at least in the eyes of the fans.
Tan is treating Cardiff like it’s a car he bought. He’s painting it, slapping a gaudy design on the side, messing around with the engine, and replacing the mechanic with his son’s 23-year-old buddy.
It’s all within his rights as the owner, but he’s offending everyone who has ever supported Cardiff in the process.
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