IT HAS only been less than a year since Malaysian businessman Datuk Chan Tien Ghee took charge of Cardiff City, but he’s already experienced the heartache of narrowly missing out on Premier League promotion, seen the departure of long-serving manager Dave Jones, helped the club out of its financial crisis, and survived Craig Bellamy.
That’s not too bad for someone who got into this whole football business “by accident”.
In an interview with Chan at the Yamaha Junior Football League event to promote junior football development in Malaysia, the businessman revealed that it was because of his son Nicholas that he got the idea of investing into Cardiff.
In case you didn’t know, Nicholas is a talented young footballer who earlier did several trials with a few football clubs in Britain, including West Ham United and Cardiff City, and even scored an offer to further his stint at Cardiff.
“It (the takeover of Cardiff) was by accident. My son wrote to so many clubs. Some gave him an opportunity – West Ham, Stoke and of course, Cardiff City. It was only when I went to visit him during his stint at Cardiff that it came about. Somewhat fateful lah,” said Chan in typical Malaysian fashion.
The Malaysian consortium led by Chan and funded mainly by Berjaya tycoon Tan Sri Vincent Tan acquired a 36% share of the club around the end of the 2009/2010 season, and Chan was installed as club chairman.
Contrary to some reports, Chan had never been a football fan. In fact, Nicholas learned to play football from his father’s driver, a former state footballer, who used to kick the ball around with him in the garden.
Chan’s main partner in the business venture, Tan Sri Vincent Tan, also joked that all he knew about football clubs was that they “borrowed a lot of money, they are in trouble and very often the fans get angry with their owners”.
Chan himself admits to having a bit of a culture shock, in a good way, when he first experienced the sheer passion of the supporters.
“The mass numbers (of supporters)! So many people from all walks of life are united by this game of football. It’s very fascinating,” he said, with a warm smile.
Nevertheless, Chan understands how important the club is to the people, and that they would manage it in an “extremely humble” manner.
“I believe we are only custodians to what will always remain a Welsh club (though they play in the English football league), but one with huge potential for Malaysian support. Why not? The more the better,” he added.
Support from the Welsh, at least, has been more than forthcoming.
“I felt really touched by how they accepted a foreign group into their lives, because football is really their lives. The Welsh are extremely warm, very much like Malaysians, so I think we have some things in common,” Chan said.
While fans of the club celebrated the consortium’s arrival and Malaysian flags have become a regular sight at the Cardiff City Stadium, Nicholas, 20, decided to turn down the offer from Cardiff to avoid any conflict over the merit of his selection.
“My son is an extremely principled boy,” said Chan, affectionately known as TG among Cardiff fans. “And as far as I’m concerned, just because I have some ownership in this club doesn’t mean he’ll get automatic entry. He still has to compete. He knows that, I know that, and I’m proud he feels that way.”
Those are the kind of good old-fashioned values that Chan hopes to bring success to Cardiff City with.
When asked how he felt after the club’s play-off defeat (which cost them Premier League promotion), Chan replied stoically that it made him and the club more focused than ever, and that they will continue to fight for promotion with “determination and passion, but in a sensible manner”.
He also politely declined to discuss the managerial candidates touted to replace Dave Jones, as he believes “it’s only right” that it remain confidential for the candidates.
He did, however, reveal that they were interviewing 12 to 14 managers, and assured fans that the signing of players will be the “purview of the manager”.
“We’ll always support rather than interfere,” he added.
In a way, Chan’s relationship with the club is very much reflected in his relationship with his son.
Nicholas signed with Malaysian side Kelantan FA after completing his A-Levels, and is now living several hours away from his parents.
“He’s so busy with training these days. I can only call him during the evenings and he’s usually tired. But I will support him when he needs it, and I will give him space when he wants it. I guess this is modern fathering,” he said.