Malky Mackay lost a destabilizing power struggle with Cardiff's divisive owner on Friday, and became the fourth Premier League manager to be fired this month.
Owner Vincent Tan said he was compelled to dismiss Mackay because he felt the "dirty linen" being exposed about the dispute was creating a distraction. Mackay, who took Cardiff to its first League Cup final in 2012, was dismissed only five days after being told by the south Wales club he would remain in charge for the "foreseeable future."
Despite that assurance, there was a caveat that the former Celtic and Norwich defender had to heal his rift with Tan, which seemed unlikely given the owner's apparent reluctance to meet with him in recent months.
The Malaysian owner and Mackay clashed over the dismissal of head of recruitment Iain Moody in October. And Mackay's future after two years at the south Wales club seemed to be doomed when he received an ultimatum last week from Tan to resign or be fired in an email that listed grievances against the manager, linked to the transfer strategy.
Tan finally decided on Friday, a day after a 3-0 loss to Southampton, to fire the manager and go public about the turmoil at the club. "There has been a good deal of publicity generated by and about Mr. Malky Mackay over the last few months. Indeed far too much dirty linen has been exposed to the public gaze," Tan said in a statement. "But, I stress, not by me. Indeed, I have deliberately not responded to this, hoping that the club can be judged on its football rather than personalized arguments about who said what to whom.
"I have, however, regretfully concluded that it is no longer fair to the club, its players, its fans, or the public more generally, for this uncomfortable state of affairs to continue. Cardiff City Football Club means far too much to us all for it to be distracted by this."
Mackay, who had a contract through June 2016, thanked the players, coaching staff and fans for backing him, "especially in these recent turbulent months." "I leave with my head held high," Mackay added in a statement.
But Cardiff President Sam Hammam complained that Mackay took too much credit for Cardiff returning to the topflight after a 51-year absence this season. "Far more important it was Vincent Tan's money," Hammam told BBC Wales. "Yet all the accolades and so on went to Malky, and then Malky was spending like there was no tomorrow."
Tan, who bought Cardiff in 2010, had already alienated some supporters by changing the club's colors from blue to red and adopting a new crest. The lingering uncertainty over Mackay's future fuelled further protests against Tan's running of the club at matches, with the tensions overshadowing Cardiff's first season in the Premier League. Now the team is only a point above the relegation zone.
Upset by the axing of the popular Mackay, the main fans' group urged Tan to listen to their concerns. "Recent off the field controversies have damaged the relationship between the club and fans," the Cardiff City's Supporters' Trust said in a statement. "One way Mr. Tan could build bridges with supporters would be to return the playing kit to blue."
Assistant manager David Kerslake and first-team coach Joe McBride have been put in temporary charge. The bookmakers' favorite to replace Mackay is former Manchester United forward Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who has established himself as a manager in his home country of Norway, winning the league twice with Molde.
Solskjaer "can make a good manager," according to Hammam. "He will have had very good basic grounding (at Molde) to what is needed now," the Cardiff life president said. "We need a manager whose feet are on the ground and not just telling Vincent Tan, 'Give me your money,' as if all Vincent Tan is a cash cow."
Hammam said he doesn't want a move for Sven-Goran Eriksson, who had been linked with Cardiff, claiming the former England and Manchester City manager would want a "hell of a lot of money." Solskjaer would be swapping apparent job security in Norway for a high-pressure relegation battle in the Premier League.
Five of the bottom six teams have now changed their managers this season, with Cardiff following Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Fulham, and West Bromwich Albion — Mackay's potential next club. The only firing in the top half of the standings so far was Andre Villas-Boas by Tottenham last week. He was replaced by Tim Sherwood.
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris