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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Crony Vincent Tan tries to step out from Dr M's shadow: Adds colour to EPL


Crony Vincent Tan tries to step out from Dr M's shadow: Adds colour to EPL
THREE years ago, Tan Sri Vincent Tan admitted he knew little about football. Today, virtually every football fan in Cardiff knows him.
Tan has made their "once impossible" dream come true, as the Cardiff City team won promotion to the English Premier League for the first time in 51 years. On Saturday at Cardiff City Stadium, you couldn't help but marvel at the way Tan does things as the Malaysian held the Championship trophy in front of 27,000 joyous Welsh fans.
Later, I asked Tan whether he had won a trophy before and he said: "When I was very young, I got a trophy for table tennis."
Since buying a controlling stake in the Welsh club, the corporate figure has proved to be a "good player" in football even though he is a newcomer to the game.
What a turnaround. In 2010, Tan was saying that he thought property developer Datuk Chan Tien Ghee, the former Cardiff chairman, was crazy when the latter asked him to invest in a football club.
"All I hear about football clubs is that they borrow a lot of money and get into trouble. Very often their fans get angry with the owners," said Tan at the time.
But as it turned out, it's game on for Tan as he became hands on, even going to the dressing room to encourage players. Having retired from an active corporate role in Berjaya Corp, the flagship of the Berjaya Group of companies in February, it seems he now has more time for football.
Unlike Queens Park Rangers' owner Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, who spent nearly STG45 million this season alone in buying stars, and the club is still doomed, Tan has stressed that he would not spend big money on big names.
But yet Tan is willing to splash the money when he thinks it can sharpen the claws of the Bluebirds. Last year, he forked out STG12 million in signing players, making him the biggest spender in the second-tier Championship league.
One player who turned out to be a good buy is 23-year-old Kim Bo-kyung, a midfielder who has galvanised the Cardiff team with his penetrative play. Tan signed the Korean from Japanese club Cerezo Osaka for a fee believed to be around STG2.5 million.
Tan quipped that having bought the franchise for Hard Rock Café in South Korea, he plans to use Kim to do some rocking there by putting pictures of the player at Hard Rock.
Though the Malaysian billionaire is going to be in the same football league as Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and Manchester City's Sheikh Mansor bin Zayed Al Nahyan, he has seen how money failed to buy Fernandes success at QPR.
"Others have spent a big amount of money and don't do well, so we will try to spend smartly," said Tan.
Incidentally, on Saturday, when Tan's Cardiff City was playing Bolton, The Times ranked Fernandes 19th (with STG396 million) in its list of richest premier league owners.
In a big way, Tan has literally put Malaysia on the map of world football. The name "Malaysia" will be emblazoned across the jerseys of the Cardiff players when they play in the EPL, which is the world's most watched football league, attracting almost five billion television viewers and featuring in the sports pages of newspapers in just about every language.
"We can put 'Visit Malaysia' on our Cardiff jerseys. Playing in front of a worldwide audience, it would be great for tourism," he said.
Tan has also become popular with the population of Cardiff, as the rise of the Bluebirds to the Premier League will be a big economic boost to the Welsh capital as hundreds or thousands of new jobs, as well as tourist money from visiting fans, are expected.
As it is, the 800 Malaysian students studying in Cardiff already feel welcomed by the Welsh because of the football factor.
Now that Cardiff City is going to play in the Premier League, Tan said a Cardiff Fan Club will be set up in Kuala Lumpur, a move that will surely get more Malaysians involved. Earlier, he did not want to do it because Cardiff was then still playing "second division" football.
The British media called Tan eccentric after he made the Cardiff players wear red jerseys, changing a tradition of over 100 years of wearing blue.
Whatever it is, Tan has brought luck to Cardiff and his belief in the good fortune of the red colour is backed by a new analysis by British researchers.
According to them, teams wearing red jerseys may have a distinct advantage over their rivals. Using data from the last 55 years, it is found that red-shirted teams were significantly more successful.
The researchers offer several explanations for the advantage of red. In nature, red is often associated with male aggression and dominance. So in football, red may intimidate the other team and affect their performance.
Probably, that is why red-coloured Bayern Munich clobbered Barcelona in the Champions League semi-final first leg, and why Manchester United, known as the Red Devils, won the English Premier League title this season.
While Tan now gets a big kick out of football, it was so different in the earlier days.
On May 22, 2010, I wasn't sure whether Tan was in the mood to buy me dinner after his Cardiff City had lost to Blackpool 3-2 in a heart-breaking final playoff at Wembley Stadium.
Before the game, Tan's public relations staff had informed several Malaysian sport writers, including me, that he would dine with them at an Indian curry house in London.
Nonetheless, the billionaire still had the appetite to sit down with us, and soon he was talking about building up Cardiff to win the Championship outright and avoid the playoffs.
For Malaysian football fans, including those who are "colour blind", except for the red of Manchester United and Liverpool, the red of Cardiff City now beckons.
Tan, the founder of the Berjaya Group, has indeed "berjaya" (succeeded) in turning Cardiff City around, from facing bankruptcy to enter the gold mine of the Premier League. And he has also added colour to British football.
- New Straits Times

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