Crystal Palace’s non-appointment of Malky Mackay as the club’s new manager is a reminder, if one was needed, that even many people working at the very heart of modern football—let alone those who follow it from the stands, pubs and living rooms around the world—do not really know what goes on behind the closed doors of rival clubs.
It is not difficult to imagine the sense of shock that must have overcome Crystal Palace chairman Steve Parish when it became known to him that Mackay—the man he intended to appoint to succeed Tony Pulis, to the extent they had tipped off the press about it on Tuesday evening—was about to become the subject of an FA investigation over his conduct during his previous employment at Cardiff City.
What is worse, part of that investigation centred on his relationship with then-Cardiff sporting director Iain Moody, a man Parish had subsequently appointed to fulfil a similar job at Selhurst Park midway through last season.
Per a report by Matt Lawton published in the Daily Mail, Mackay and Moody exchanged emails and text messages that were occasionally racist, sexist and homophobic in nature, adding an unsavoury edge to previous claims that Cardiff owner Vincent Tan was determined to pursue both men over payments made as part of the Bluebirds’ transfer dealings last summer (as repeated in this Guardian report by James Riach).
Moody resigned from his Palace post on Thursday morning, with a terse club statement reading:
In light of the events of yesterday, Sporting Director, Iain Moody has tendered his resignation and it has been accepted with immediate effect. There will be no further comment from the club on this matter.
Clearly, something serious had occurred, with the assertion there will be "no further comment" perhaps hinting at the presence of underlying legal issues.
When Mackay and Moody left Cardiff City within two months of each other last season, Tan was widely characterised as the bad guy in the whole situation, the meddling foreign owner with no clue what he was doing in the honest and pleasant land of English football.
At the time, the Malaysian—a figure of fun on social media for his high waistband and thin moustache—warned that the truth would come out eventually; what was initially dismissed as the bluster of a maverick now looks very much like a well-informed warning that Palace, to their cost, never really heeded.
Palace, of course, were fined earlier this week by the FA for failing to act with due integrity towards the Welsh club last season, amid claims that a Palace official—widely reported by outlets as being Moody—attempted, and succeeded, in gaining secret tactical and selection reports from the Cardiff camp ahead of the two clubs’ vital Premier League relegation battle.
Palace eventually won the game 3-0 and finished 11th with Cardiff, five points behind their rivals at the time, ultimately relegated to the Championship.
There had been claims that Cardiff would pursue Palace for further compensation over this affair, an addendum (and a worrying one for Palace) to the desire to see Mackay and Moody investigated for the transfer dealings.
While the messages that Moody and Mackay shared have understandably grabbed the headlines, and therefore been cited as the reason for the goings-on at Selhurst Park, the reality is that is the other two charges were equally important, perhaps more so, in convincing the Palace board they needed to distance themselves from two toxic individuals as quickly as possible.
After all, it is worth noting the messages were only uncovered (and made public) as lawyers searched for evidence relating to transfer wrongdoing.
As Matt Lawton wrote in his Daily Mail exclusive:
These messages came to light after a dawn raid on Moody’s south London home in March this year, as part of Cardiff’s £750,000 investigation into eight controversial transfers.
They engaged London law firm Mishcon de Reya, whose investigators obtained a search order from the High Court to enter Moody’s house in Balham, seizing work computers and phones and taking electronic imagery of evidence.
They were investigating alleged wrongdoing related to one of these transfers.
Cardiff submitted their findings to the FA this week, with the messages coming to light soon after. While the views expressed were clearly abhorrent and have no place in modern society, like most sports, football has a remarkable ability to overlook such issues if the individual in question has the talent to do a job.
While the next few weeks will undoubtedly be difficult for Mackay, despite the views he expressed, he will highly likely get the chance to work again in football (albeit perhaps years down the line, at a lower level) if his reputation is otherwise kept clean.
Richard Scudamore, for example, remains chairman of the Premier League despite being involved in a similar scandal surrounding email messages he sent. The FA decided the messages were private correspondence and did not pursue a charge, an argument Moody and Mackay will doubtless also try to make.
If Mackay and Moody are found to have handled certain transfer dealings inappropriately, however, their names will likely forever be on the sport’s blacklist. It is important to note, of course, that Cardiff are yet to produce any proof of wrongdoing.
The offensive messages were an unexpected addition rather than the focus of the raid. They may have cost Mackay his chance at the Palace job, but it is the investigation that must hold greater danger for his long-term prospects.
For Crystal Palace, meanwhile, the plot only thickens. The pressure on Parish is now immense, with his judgement suddenly called firmly into question.
Not once but twice he has been seen to err in the last 10 days; having been instrumental in the departure of one popular and successful manager in the last week, he has now seen a deal for the intended successor washed away by sorry allegations about his prior conduct, allegations that have also drawn one of his most high-profile existing employees into the mire.
After two such mistakes, Parish must be acutely aware of the need to make sure whoever is now appointed to finally fill Pulis’ shoes is fully up to the job.
Unfortunately, that too will not be easy, with the list of potential candidates diminished by recent events.
Reports indicate Tim Sherwood is no longer interested in the post, having so publicly been relegated to second-choice option as the Eagles initially pursued Mackay (this too may apply to Martin Jol, who was tentatively linked with the post.).
Yet another ex-Spurs boss, Glenn Hoddle, was said to have turned down the job (per Dominic Fifield and Stuart James of The Guardian), although this seems unlikely—after undergoing extensive interviews and talks with both Mackay and Sherwood, would Parish really just get up and offer the job (rather than an initial interview) to anyone, even an ex-England manager?
If he did, that would be alarming sign of how panicked the situation has all become, although a more realistic prospect is that Hoddle was approached about an interview but, deliberately or otherwise, leaked a stronger version of events to the press.
Beyond that, it remains to be seen if Steve Clarke, a man similar in some ways to both Pulis and Mackay, would be prepared to consider the job—although, after one sour experience with a board after his dismissal at West Brom, the Scot may consider Parish a dubious chairman to willingly become associated with.
Neil Lennon is another unattached manager who most would consider to have the requisite profile, although he too might feel there are safer places to start your Premier League management career.
If all those candidates prove unattainable, then the panic may really set in. Ex-Palace defender (and current Western Sydney Warriors coach) Tony Popovic has been touted as a possibility, while Derby County boss Steve McClaren has been linked but has surely learned from past experiences that “better” opportunities are not always what they appear.
A move for Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe (who was previously offered the job by Parish back in 2010 but turned it down according to the Daily Mail's Sami Mokbel) should not be ruled out, but he lacks the "intimate knowledge of the Premier League" that Parish has insisted will be a requirement of any new appointment.
This might be another example of the Palace chairman unnecessarily limiting his options and could ultimately leave current caretaker boss Keith Millen as the last man standing, sliding into the permanent role almost by default.
"I'd like to continue, I enjoy being in charge," Millen, who is due to take Palace’s Thursday press conference, told reporters after last weekend’s defeat to Arsenal. "If the chairman felt it was right for me then I would sit down and talk to him about it. I like working at this club."
Mackay and Moody might today be facing the decimation of their reputations and careers, but for Parish and Palace, the scrutiny is also growing with more decisions and challenges still to come.