Cardiff City's ascension to the throne of Premier League football should have been the curtain raiser for a season of celebration, of everybody pulling in the same direction to ensure one key objective: survival.
That they have even come this far is a testament to the hard work and leadership of manager Malky Mackay, so what on earth is Cardiff's owner, Vincent Tan, doing by putting his man in a corner with no apparent way out?
At first, during the summer, it certainly seemed as though that was the case; Cardiff spent quickly and decisively, breaking their own transfer record three times and bringing in a total of eight players for around £33 million.
However, all has not been well at Cardiff under Tan, particularly his decision to change the Bluebirds' traditional kit colour from blue to red—a major bone of contention with the home support.
Such instability soon resurfaced after the transfer window when head of recruitment Iain Moody was replaced by a 23-year-old Kazakh, Alisher Apsalyamov, who is apparently the friend of the owner's son and was at the club on work experience during the summer. Shortly after, however, the new young head of recruitment had to step aside over questions of a valid work permit.
More recently, with Cardiff three places and four points above the relegation spots in the Premier League, Mackay indicated he would like to make "three quality additions" in the January transfer window—before being shot down by Tan. The owner immediately stated no money whatsoever would be made available during the forthcoming window and that the summer had seen a £15 million overspend on agreed budgets.
Why all of this had to be aired publicly instead of dealt with in-club is one thing, but in the past day or so, it has escalated to Tan giving Mackay an ultimatum: resign or be sacked, as per BBC.
Cardiff manager Malky Mackay has been told by owner Vincent Tan to resign or he will be sacked— InsideWorldFootball (@insidewldftball) December 20, 2013
Friday's pre-match press conference then saw the club sink to a new low: Malky Mackay was absent, leaving assistant David Kerslake to face the press, resulting in general mirth and annoyance in equal measure.
Ridiculous to even put Kerslake in front of the press. An insult to journalists but much more importantly supporters.— Tom Adams (@tomEurosport) December 20, 2013
Coach Kerslake did CCFC presser, no live tweeting or live TV/Radio allowed, DK says can only talk about game. Insult to fans & paying media— Adrian Durham (@talkSPORTDrive) December 20, 2013
Cardiff City press conference with assistant David Kerslake just beginning. Live updates (when we're allowed) http://t.co/1INtomxMg7— Wales Online (@WalesOnline) December 20, 2013
With no concrete outcome as of yet, and Cardiff just one day away from facing one of the league's most in-form clubs in Liverpool, the side from Wales are at a vital crossroads in their Premier League campaign. It appears likely that Mackay has to depart sooner or later, and it must be noted that not quite all supporters are taking his side.
Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan expected at tomorrow's Liverpool game, at the moment MacKay still his manager but things here feel very fluid— Hywel Griffith (@hywel_griffith) December 20, 2013
No sympathy for Malky Mackay. Happily served as the club's stooge and told fans to accept the rebrand. He'll get a massive pay-off now.— Joe Harrison (@Joe_Harrison1) December 20, 2013
However, there can be no doubt that he has done an exceptional job at the club—he'll have no shortage of top-flight takers soon enough—and whoever the new man turns out to be will be facing a hugely challenging situation to keep Cardiff above the bottom three.
With further reports, via The Guardian, of Tan attempting to meddle in first-team affairs mid-game at times, there seems no limit to the depths of craziness the owner will plunge to in his bid for control.
It is understood there have been occasions during this season when Tan...has interfered with team matters on a matchday. Although it has not happened every week, Tan has tried to convey messages from the stand during Premier League fixtures, including suggested substitutions and tactical changes.
Mackay has no intention of resigning and in truth, given he seems likely to leave the club in it's best position for over half a century, he has no need to. His reputation has soared in the football world as a result of getting Cardiff up, he has kept his dignity relatively intact amongst all the strange goings-on and he will receive an amount of sympathy for having to deal with it all whilst preparing his players on a day-to-day basis.
He'll be back—but if Cardiff axe him and the hierarchy continue with their strange decision-making, the same won't necessarily be said of the club.