My first encounter with Mehmet Dalman was on January 8th 2015, at a meeting arranged to discuss a return to Cardiff playing in blue. In many respects, it was a masterclass. The wheels were clearly already in motion and Dalman himself, while never admitting as much, did concede that he never attends a meeting that he doesn’t already know the outcome of. It was left as ‘leave it to me and I’ll see what I can do’ and soon after, they were facing Fulham in the former away kit.
I’ve always valued Dalman’s presence at the club. I’ve found him to be a wise, steady presence and the calm in the storm that is Cardiff City. A smooth operator, if a little too smooth for some. I wish he addressed supporters more, but he has a lot on his plate and that is increasingly becoming a problem. When he says, as he did at a recent meeting with supporters, that he “didn’t expect the football side to take so much of our time and attention,” he opens himself up to ridicule, but there is also a lot to unpack in that statement.
Firstly, Cardiff are simultaneously fighting three legal cases and the club are already so close to the edge of a cliff that losing any of them could be enough to tip them over the edge. Understandably then, a lot of time and effort are required on that front. The problem is that neither Dalman nor chief executive Ken Choo are based in the city and both also have other interests requiring their attention. With an absent owner, you are often left wondering who is driving the boat. Cardiff is not a slick operation that looks after itself after all. It’s a paranoid, insecure football club that needs a lot of attention.
My most recent interaction with Dalman was another fan forum, held virtually a few months ago and someone asked about the club’s current ethos. The answer came as no surprise and confirmed what many Cardiff fans had already assumed, but it was no less shocking. Dalman conceded: “In terms of our strategy, we don’t have one. The reason we appointed Mick McCarthy was to give us time to debate the strategy we do want to have in place. When we do have one, we will be more than happy to share that with you. We’re a work in progress.”
That has to be viewed as dereliction of duty and it is therefore no surprise to see Cardiff veering from one extreme to the other in terms of signings, managers or results. It is a self-professed rudderless ship and until they formulate some sort of plan, you can only ever expect more of the same.
That may or may not include Steve Morison, who has been handed the reigns for three games, while the club again ponder the future. As far as I’m concerned, if Morison gets off to a flyer, you have to give him a crack at it, but Dalman has already written off his chances. “I’ve spent my entire career avoiding risk and that would be a risk,” he stated last week. “If it doesn’t work, you’re in a relegation battle and you have an under-23 manager who’s never done that before. I’m not prepared to take that risk.”
Bizarrely, ever since that statement, every manager linked with the post has been both inexperienced and high risk. That is the Cardiff way though. If they do have a strategy, it is to bring in someone that represents the polar opposite of what the last guy represented. The needs of the squad never really feels like much of a consideration.
It seems abundantly clear that Dalman needs help and a director of football has been championed ever since Vincent Tan took charge. There is a clear lack of football expertise on the board, but the problem is that the club is not a democracy. They may have a transfer committee, but only one man ever has any real say.
A timely reminder of this was provided in Dalman’s recent claim that the board were opposed to the Emiliano Sala signing. “We have a transfer committee, but if you have a really strong manager, like Neil Warnock, they seem to break the transfer policy. Emiliano Sala is an example. The board were not supportive of paying that sum, but he went over our heads to Vincent.” If a committee can by bypassed, so can a director of football, so you have to wonder if they would ever be able to implement any real change or have any significant influence.
The reaction to Cardiff’s recent failings has been for some to demand the board be sacked along with McCarthy, without any real thought for what would happen next. Imagine the club without Dalman, who is trusted by Tan and probably wards off his more radical flights of fancy at source.
Dalman may be honest to a fault, but he is also swimming against the tide. A football club is an iceberg and we only ever see the tip. I dread to think what is going on under the surface, but without someone like Dalman present, we would likely find out, to our horror.
Cardiff need to be better, in every aspect. Of that, I’m sure we all agree. In an ideal world, the football club, and the football team, would be Dalman’s sole focus, but it’s not and I don’t see how shooting the messenger will help the situation.