Malky Mackay's stock continues to rise at Cardiff City
“I’m delighted for everyone at the club. It has been a tough three or four weeks for everyone associated with our club.”
Those were the words of Cardiff City’s Scottish manager Malky Mackay after their 1-0 win in the Welsh derby against Swansea City in the English Premier League. That’s the whole United Kingdom right there.
They were also the words of a manager who, over the past few weeks, has been involved in a Cold War -type standoff with the owner of Cardiff City Football Club, Malaysian billionaire businessman Vincent Tan.
Mackay’s position at the club can be said to be precarious at best. In what has been a chaotic month at the club, Mackay lost his trusted head of recruitment, Iain Moody, who was sacked by Tan and replaced with 23-year-old Kazakhstani Alisher Apsalyamov, a friend of his son’s, and someone with no prior football experience.
It is another matter entirely that Apsalyamov has since been told to stand down from his position by the UK’s Home Office due to his work permit being under investigation.
Malky’s rapid climb up the managerial rankings
Mackay, though, is the man in the spotlight, not for the circumstances surrounding the club, but rather his emergence as one of the best young managers around in the English game.
What is it about Scotland and its ability to churn out one good manager after another? Since its inception, league football in England has been dotted by instances of Scottish managers leaving their mark on a phase of its history.
Born in Belshill, Mackay was a tough central defender in his playing time who came through the youth ranks at local club Queen’s Park (not Queens Park Rangers) before making the big move to Celtic in 1993. He then moved to England with Norwich City where he spent six years before moving on to have brief spells at Watford and West Ham United.
Mackay was a popular figure at Norwich as a player and continues to be a fan favourite at Carrow Road. He received the second-highest number of votes behind Gary Holt at the end of the 2001-02 season in the Norwich City Player of the Year running.
But it is as manager where Mackay has earned his stripes.
His first step into coaching came in January 2007; still a player at Watford, he was promoted to first team coach after Dave Hockaday left the seat. The following season Aidy Boothroyd, the man who brought Mackay to Watford, departed from the scene and Mackay was made caretaker manager. It was a spell that lasted just five games as a certain former Chelsea reserve coach Brendan Rodgers was appointed on a long-term basis by Watford chairman Graham Simpson.
The opportunity though would come by again.
Rodgers would go on to resign after just one season to take the job at Reading. Mackay quickly took charge of the club and by the time the second meeting in the league came about between Reading and Watford, Rodgers was long gone with Reading sacking the Irishman, unimpressed with his results. Watford though survived by finishing in 14th place.
With his name making waves in managerial circles, Cardiff City moved swiftly for him and he signed a three-year contract with them. It was to be a remarkable season for Mackay and the Bluebirds as praise came flowing through for both the individual and the team.
Mackay won two Manager of the Month awards through the course of the season and guided his team on an impressive run in the League Cup where they reached the final before falling to Liverpool in the final on penalties, after the score was tied 2-2 after extra time.
His performance that year left the management at the club so impressed that they signed him on to a three-and-a-half-year extension until 2016.
And last season, he oversaw the club’s finest ever start to a league season which included a perfect winning record in their first 10 games at home at the Cardiff City Stadium. Promotion to the Premier League was achieved by the end of the season which brought with it the LMA Championship Manager of the Year award for Mackay.
Stepping foot into the Premier League
The new entrants to a Premier League season are almost always prime candidates to face the drop. So Mackay made elaborate plans to ensure Cardiff’s survival, which can be seen from the club’s well thought-out transfer activity in the summer.
Together with his trusted head-hunter in Iain Moody, and backed by the investment of Tan, Cardiff made some very ambitious moves in the transfer market. Moody was well-respected and revered by both Mackay and his set of players and there have been plenty of reports that have talked about how tirelessly he worked to push through deals, including making 47 flights in 60 days at one point of time.
Cardiff ended up breaking their transfer record three times in one window with the purchases of forward Andreas Cornelius from Copenhagen, defender Steven Caulker from Tottenham Hotspur and midfielder Gary Medel from Sevilla.
Two of Cardiff’s most influential players in Caulker and Medel are both the result of good work from the Macaky-Moody combination. Caulker was convinced to leave the Spurs, where he would in all likelihood be a squad player, and join Cardiff even if it meant a lower wage. And Medel’s energy and willingness to compete for the ball in the centre of midfield have been immense. He said about his captain:
“The signing of Caulker (from Tottenham) was crucial. I couldn’t believe we actually got him, certainly for the price we ended up paying.”
“He was brave to step out of being a squad player at Spurs, but he did it with the best intentions for his football career and not his pocket. We did our homework on him and were able to get him.”
Which is why Tan’s decision to fire Moody hurt Mackay all the more; the pair go back a long way from their time together at Watford, and have always travelled together and had shared success while managing to establish a similarly strong bond at Cardiff. Mackay had this to say after Moody got sacked:
“I absolutely feel where they are coming from and I am as disappointed as they are – it is as a result of Iain Moody leaving the club.”
“Iain is an absolute class act as far as I am concerned. He has done a very impressive job for the football club. In one of the periods of success, which we have been in over the last two and a half years, he has had a huge part to play in the restructuring of my squad. He helped bring in more than 20-odd players. He will be missed by everyone who works for our football club. He leaves with my utmost gratitude and respect. I would say our loss will be someone’s huge gain.”
The Bluebirds currently sit 12th in the table with three wins, four losses and three draws, a position that has reinforced belief in Cardiff fans that they have at the head of their ship, an ace manager.