Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay not consulted about €2m signing
Owner Vincent Tan recruited Slovenian striker Etien Velikonja without consulting recruiting staff
Etien Velikonja of Cardiff City during the pre-season match against Newcastle United. Photograph: Harry Engels/Getty Images
Vincent Tan’s level of interference in his role as Cardiff City’s owner has extended to signing a player without the prior approval of Malky Mackay or any of the manager’s recruitment and scouting staff.
Etien Velikonja, a Slovenian forward who cost €2 million, arrived at Cardiff unannounced last year and via a deal that involved Jorge Mendes, one of the world’s most high-profile football agents.
Velikonja signed a four-year contract when he joined from NK Maribor in July 2012 but has played only 73 minutes of league football in 15 months and completed only one game, when he was named in the starting XI for the 2-1 FA Cup defeat at Macclesfield in January.
The 24-year-old, who earns a five-figure weekly salary, has not made the substitutes’ bench once this season and, based on his transfer fee alone, has so far cost Cardiff €11,000 for every minute that he has played.
There is no suggestion that Velikonja or anyone else is guilty of any wrongdoing, with the player oblivious to the strange circumstances in which he signed for Cardiff, who were a Championship club at the time.
Velikonja’s transfer does, however, raise fresh questions about Tan’s approach and the way he is running the club. It also brings up comparisons with Bébé – who famously joined Manchester United for €8.7 million in 2010 and never started a league game. Bébé was represented by Mendes.
It is understood that the transfer came about after Velikonja’s name appeared on a list that Tan returned to Cardiff with after he had met Mendes in the summer of 2012. Although Mackay had been interested in signing Velikonja several years earlier, when he was in charge of Watford, Cardiff had bigger ambitions and were operating at a different level to his former club in the transfer market because of Tan’s determination to win promotion to the Premier League. The Guardian understands Mackay did not want to sign Velikonja for Cardiff.
Yet within a couple of days of Tan producing the list, a deal for Velikonja had been completed and the player arrived at the club’s training ground accompanied by Joao Camacho, an agent who works for GestiFute, Mendes’s company.
Zlatko Zahovic, NK Maribor’s sporting director, refused to disclose at the time how much Cardiff had paid for Velikonja but said that it was a record sum for a Slovenian footballer.
The fee registered on the Transfer Matching System, which was introduced by Fifa to bring greater transparency and enable clubs to confirm the terms and conditions of player transfers, is €2 million. Some at Cardiff feel that the figure was way above Velikonja’s market value.
In an interview with a Slovenia newspaper last December, Zahovic, who had a distinguished playing career that included spells with Porto, Olympiacos, Valencia and Benfica, confirmed that he negotiated the fee for Velikonja with Mendes. “Not even a big agent like Jorge Mendes can outsmart me,” Zahovic told DNvevnik. “His first bid for Velikonja was €600,000. At the end they paid €2 million. Mendes did not know that I knew what the club could offer. I knew exactly how much they could pay. In my job one has to be informed.”
Behalf of Cardiff
Zahovic told the Guardian this week that he did not know if Mendes was working on behalf of Cardiff. “I don’t know, you must ask him. He was making negotiation between Cardiff and Maribor, nothing else.”
Zahovic claimed to know nothing about whether Tan signed the player without Mackay knowing. “I don’t know. This is not important for NK Maribor. This is a problem of Cardiff.”
The Slovenia international publicly stated his desire to leave in August: “I want to move somewhere where I will play, as I surely won’t get any chances at Cardiff”. But the Premier League club have struggled to find anyone to cover his wages. One offer from overseas would have left Cardiff paying virtually all of his salary.