The Daily Mail’s chief sport reporter, pictured left, has set the pace this week with some good, old-fashioned reporting on the strange goings on at Cardiff City and the behaviour of Malky Mackay, their one-time promotion-winning manager, and his mate and former colleague, Iain Moody.
From an initial, supremely well-sourced exclusive – the Mail’s lawyers must have loved it – Lawton’s story has had the rest of the football press pack chasing for fresh follow-ups. The often blundering football establishment has done its best to provide some.
Since Lawton’s report first appeared, it has…
- stopped in its tracks the hiring of Mackay as the new manager of Crystal Palace
- brought about yesterday the resignation of Moody as Palace’s “sporting director” (a title in which the word “sporting” is assumed not to have been adopted ironically)
- prompted one of the most ridiculous “justifications” for racism, sexism and homophobia as “banter” in a statement which was supposed to be an apology issued on behalf of Mackay from the League Managers’ Association
- and seen the aforesaid LMA this morning issue an apology for its apology of an apology. It is not impossible that further shame-faced resignations may follow
A quick catch-up of how we got to this point.
Mackay was the manager who got Cardiff into the Premier League for the first time in May 2013. Mackay worked closely with Moody, as the club’s executive in charge of transfers and recruitment, and last summer they spent around £50 million on the transfer of eight players, a significant spend for a newly promoted club.
Moody soon got himself another job, as sporting director at another newly promoted Premier League club, Crystal Palace, where Tony Pulis had been appointed manager in November.
Palace played at Cardiff in April, winning 3-0, a result which precipitated a final spiral in the Welsh club’s form.
It was not long after that Tan alleged that, somehow, someone in the Palace staff had acquired information about Cardiff’s starting line-up for the game, potentially important (though unlikely to be crucial) information.
From just one league point in November, Pulis transformed Palace’s form through the rest of the season and saw the side haul itself to finish 11th by May, earning him the Manager of the Season accolade.
Mackay, meanwhile, remained unemployed. Together with Moody the Scot started a £7.5 million legal claim against Tan for compensation and wrongful dismissal. In May 2014, Mackay abandoned the action. “I did not want to be in litigation and believe that it is in the best interests of all parties to have a clean break and move on,” Mackay said at that time. He also apologised to Tan.
The timing of this abandonment of legal action is now seen as significant.
For Tan was spending £750,000 on an investigation into the £50 million-worth of transfer business that Mackay and Moody had conducted the previous summer. This included his lawyers, Mishcon de Reya – the firm that handled Princess Diana’s divorce from the Prince of Wales – obtaining a High Court order to search Moody’s Balham home last March. Investigators seized thousands of documents, computer and phone records, including 70,000 text messages and 100,000 emails. Moody’s office at Palace’s training ground in Beckenham was also searched.
This documentation was to form the basis of Tan’s “dossier”.
Last week, with the new football season just 48 hours away, Palace’s hero and saviour, Pulis, walked out of his job as manager mainly because he was not allowed free-rein over the club’s transfers. This remained the domain of Moody, who sources at Selhurst Park said was “highly rated” by the club’s owners. After three months of the transfer window and with the season about to begin, Palace had managed to sign just three players, spending less than £2.5 million.
This week, the Football Association ruled that it had found evidence that someone at Palace had sneakily got hold of Cardiff’s team sheet ahead of that game in April, and it handed down a modest and seemingly insignificant £25,000 fine to the south London club.
But once that point of fact had been established, it prompted Tan to launch a law suit against Crystal Palace for £20 million compensation for loss of earnings.
That case may struggle to be made. Cardiff finished the season 20th and last in the division, six points adrift of safety, having lost 22 of their 38 matches.
There must be a Malaysian version of the dictum about cold servings of dishes of revenge. Because with Palace poised to sign a three-year contract with Mackay to be their new manager, re-uniting him with his mate Moody and given a transfer war chest worth around £25 million, details from the dossier of text messages exchanged between the pair from the time they worked together at Cardiff were plastered across the back pages, originally courtesy of Lawton.
The sexist, racist and homophobic text messages may just be the start. Cardiff have reported Moody and Mackay to the FA for alleged misconduct.
The financial details of the transfer deals may yet take us back to an earlier age of football skulduggery, with Tan reckoning he paid at least £20 million over the odds for the players Moody and Mackay lined up.
Not since Terry Venables and Alan Sugar fell-out in acrimony over the ownership and management of Tottenham Hotspur 20 years ago have the often tawdry insider dealings of a top-flight football club been so exposed in the pages of our newspapers.
On that occasion, the owner, Sugar, “won” the war of words; despite Venables being very popular among his many friends in the football press corps, as a regular “Friday night drop” of documents to one Sunday newspaper reporter kept the drip-drip of negative stories going, eroding Venables’s position in public.
Of course, Venables went on to manage England soon after he left Spurs. Mackay may not have such career opportunities ahead of him after the coverage he’s had in the Mail this week.