LAFC co-owner and director Vincent Tan's celebrity precedes him in soccer circles, but the man is establishing a mini soccer empire in Europe.
Most famous as the majority owner of Welsh team Cardiff City in their lone season in the English Premier League back in 2013-14, Tan gained infamy for his quick trigger to fire apparently respected manager Malky Mackay, as well as Iain Moody, who ran the team's player personnel until being abruptly suspended and then fired. Then there's the color and crest changes, making the team known as the "Bluebirds" who had long played in blue suddenly playing in all-red home kits with a dragon more prominent on the crest then the traditional bluebird. Fans were incensed, understandably so, and to have the team's lone season in the Premier League played under a new identity did not gain Tan fans in Cardiff.
But there's a flipside to the critiques of Tan. For how easy it appeared to make fun of Tan's look, where he wore a Cardiff City jersey over his shirt and tie and then tucked the whole thing into his pants, for jokes that he looked like a "Bond villain," which some, by the way, included clearly racist overtones against the Malaysian businessman, he was partially vindicated in some ways and did bring some success to the club.
First, Tan, who first bought into the club in 2010 and increased his stake in the club over time, helped bring an infusion of money to Cardiff City -- but with the apparent condition that the team needed the rebrand and color change. That is a tough bargain, certainly, but the money helped push Cardiff City into the Premier League for the first time ever. Though their lone season at the pinnacle was full of controversy and poor results, reaching the top division is quite an accomplishment, and at the very least raised Cardiff City's profile around the world, just by virtue of being in the Premier League.
Second, while the Welsh/English press were firmly in Mackay and Moody's camp during the season in which they were fired, and Mackay originally threatened to sue over his firing, subsequent texts between the pair came to light, in which they were clearly seen to be racist, homophobic misogynists. Mackay's threats dried up, and his job prospects along with it (though he eventually was hired by Wigan Athletic). In that light, Tan's actions to rid the club of a couple of guys who pretty clearly did not respect him, along with other broad swathes of humanity, coupled with poor results, doesn't make the firings look so bad.
This past season, Cardiff City finished 11th in the English Championship, respectable but obviously not in the running for promotion back to the Premier League. They returned to the blue kits in January as well, after years of protests and dropping attendance figures ever since the rebrand. In many respects, that was one of the best moves Tan could have made, in listening to fans and restoring the traditions they held dear.
There will likely continue to be twists and turns concerning Cardiff City, not least because of the remarkable amount of scrutiny over the team. And given the expectations that the team can be in the Premier League, there will be major pressure to get back to the first division, meaning there will be expectations of real investment in the club (something that has been questioned at times, though whether that's truly fair or not is unclear).
However, Cardiff City isn't even the only European club Tan owns! He's owned Bosnian club FK Sarajevo since December 2013, and found much more immediate success with that club (albeit at a lesser-followed soccer country).
FK Sarajevo won the 2013-14 Bosnian Cup, then followed that up with the Premier League of Bosnia and Herzegovina title for this past season. The league title came despite Tan going through three different managers over the course of the season. Usually that's a recipe for failure, but his methods were seemingly validated here.
The Bosnian side will enter the UEFA Champions League playoffs this summer with a series against Polish side Lech Poznan, for a chance to make it to the group stage. It's a tall task, but if they play well, they could eventually spring an upset or two and make the big time, which would include big money, of course.
On top of Cardiff City and FK Sarajevo, as well as his investment in LAFC, Tan has added to his soccer team portfolio recently by purchasing Belgian first-division side KV Kortrijk just last month. Kortrijk finished fifth last season in the league, so it will be interesting to see how they perform under his ownership.
What does all of this mean for LAFC? Tan does bring considerable experience in owning soccer teams in multiple countries, and hopefully some of the hard-won lessons he's gained, especially the failed rebrand of Cardiff City, will resonate for LAFC brass in establishing the club and listening to nascent fans.
Another lesson comes from making sure you've hired the right personnel to run and coach your team. Tan's history of going through coaches for both Cardiff City and FK Sarajevo rivals the constant turnover in Latin American leagues. Simply put, this is not applicable in MLS. Teams that burn through coaches, as unusual as that actually is in MLS, do not succeed, period. Stability is absolutely essential to success. Yes, one could argue that in some cases the slow response to can coaches sets some teams back, but nobody nowadays churns through coaches in a season (or even swaps coaches consistently every year) and performs well.
Are there elements of Tan's ownership that appears reminiscent of Jorge Vergara's with Chivas USA? Well, yes. And that's not a good thing. But Tan won't be the main owner, and if he gets bored or unwilling to invest in LAFC, it shouldn't lead to the house of cards falling for the new team.
For those in the United States worried that Tan's "Bond villain" tendencies could influence LAFC for the worse, I'm not overly concerned about it. It appears Tan is certainly a part of the club, of course, but he hasn't been in person for either of LAFC's major events in its history, and he's got three other teams to deal with. He is not one of the three principal co-owners in the MLS team, so I imagine his interest in the team is largely from afar and of more of an advisory/investment role than hands-on.
Additionally, down the line the contacts Tan has could benefit LAFC on a scouting front in Europe. That would depend on the quality of the scouting, of course, but it could be one tool among many to identify potential talent for the new MLS club.
In the main, I'm inclined to give Tan more of the benefit of the doubt than most because I think he's been in many respects unfairly portrayed by the British press, though it is undoubtable that he's made some mistakes along the way. Still, he's helped usher Cardiff City to its biggest success in recent memory and brought FK Sarajevo back to title-winners. It's been a mixed bag, to be sure, but in such a large ownership group like LAFC, it's good to have someone who has bonafide experience owning soccer clubs.
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