Blackburn's form improves but many questions remain off the field
Blackburn coach Steve Kean has been the target of vitriol from irate fans
Blackburn's owners, Venky's, have very little previous expertise in soccer
Blackburn could sell some of its star players to meet debt obligations
In the midst of Blackburn Rovers' defeat to Bolton Wanderers last week, a tall unkempt man strode along the front of the stand toward the home dugout. Steve Kean, wisely, was standing at the front of his technical area, barking instructions and waving his arms to offer a simulacrum of control, as far from the fans as is possible under Premier League regulations. The man stood, unmolested by stewards, just behind the perimeter advertising hoarding. Slowly, he raised his left arm and, with a dramatic flourish, pointed off to his left.
"Kean out!" he bellowed, his eyes wild, his straggly beard trembling with vehemence.
Then he did it again.
And again, each time emphasizing his point with a thrust of his long bony finger.
He started to turn away, then checked back. "Kean out!" he shouted again.
When he did finally walk away, it was with a sad shake of the head, but the eyes still burned with fury. It was like witnessing the prophet Elijah confronting Ahab.
That, of course, was only part of a wider protest, much of it unpleasantly vitriolic and directed personally against Kean, who now finds himself in the unfortunate position of being the public face of a deeply unpopular regime. While the tone of those protests has at times crossed the limits of what is acceptable, the frustration of Blackburn fans is readily understandable.
When the Venky's group completed their takeover of Blackburn Rovers on Nov. 19 2010, the club stood 14th in the table, two points above the relegation zone. At first, they came across as eccentric, perhaps naive, their blithe talk of finishing "fourth or fifth" as though the difference between qualifying for the Champions League and the Europa League setting off the first ripple of concern, something intensified by the fact that the agent Jerome Anderson and the Kentaro group were working as their advisers.
By Dec. 13, when Venky's sacked Sam Allardyce, that ripple had become a tsunami. By then, Blackburn were 12th, six points clear of relegation and realistic candidates for the drop in nobody's estimation. The team's form wasn't the issue; the problem was the reason for the dismissal. As Allardyce told it, he had gone into a meeting to discuss January transfer targets, expecting to be dealing with Venky's representatives. Instead, he found Anderson, who rejected the players Allardyce wanted, and instead produced a list of his own clients. When Allardyce objected, he was dismissed and replaced by his assistant, Kean.
Kean is represented by Kentaro.
A new assistant was appointed in John Jensen.
Jensen is represented by Kentaro.
One of Blackburn's signings last summer was Myles Anderson, a 20-year-old whose total soccer experience amounts to two minutes at the end of Aberdeen's 5-0 Scottish Premier League win over Kilmarnock last February. He is Jerome Anderson's son.
Eventually, last summer, Venky's noticed that employing an agent as a consultant might not be the best way to avoid conflicts of interest.
Anderson and Blackburn parted company, and Jensen too has since left the club. The fallout, though, goes on.
Wounded by the experience, Venky's trusted no one, and decided to go it alone. The problem, though, is that however good they are at farming chickens, they have no experience in soccer. Journalists were asked to explain the mechanics of completing a transfer.
Blackburn finished 15th last season. This season, despite the recent rally that has seen it draw 1-1 at Liverpool and win 3-2 at Manchester United, it lies second bottom. Since Allardyce was sacked, Blackburn has taken 35 points from 39 games.
It gets worse. Last month, Barclay's Bank asked Blackburn to reduce its overdraft by "10 million before the end of the year. Not a penny of that has been paid and with Venky's admitting "significant" funding is necessary to keep the club afloat but stipulating that the "net proceeds of any player trading" will be the prime source of that investment, it seems inevitable that one or more of Blackburn's prime assets -- Christopher Samba, Junior Hoilett and Steven Nzonzi -- will be sold off, while the likes of Michel Salgado, Paul Robinson and Jason Roberts could be offloaded to reduce the wage bill.
The accounts for the year to June 2011, released last month, show a loss on player trading of £13.8 million ($21.5M) for a period in which they picked up just two players on permanent deals, Ruben Rochina and Mauro Formica, who between them cost just £3.6 million ($5.6M). As Nick Harris pointed out in the Mail on Sunday, amortization on previous deals (the accounting practice of spreading the cost of a transfer over the full period of a contract) does not come close to explaining that differential. Premier League figures for the year to September 2011 show Blackburn paid £4.2 million ($6.5M) in agent's fees, while Harris suggests £2.15M ($3.3M) was paid to agents acting in the Rochina and Formica deals.
Yet somehow, despite it all, Blackburn is showing signs of life on the pitch. It capitalized on Saturday from United playing dismally, and it was fortunate to find David De Gea in accommodating mood, but it defended with diligence and took advantage when chances came its way, something remarkable given the starting line up was the youngest in Blackburn's Premier League history at an average of 23 years and 320 days. Even in the 2-1 defeat to Stoke City on Monday there were positive signs.
Kean seems popular with the players and was widely respected as a No. 2. Whatever else he is -- and a number of Premier League managers have suggested in private they have misgivings about his conduct in replacing Allardyce -- he is not the bumbling idiot some have portrayed him as. Dealt (or seizing) an awful hand, he is playing it reasonably in hostile conditions.
None of which invalidates the fans' protest. The difficulty, as ever, is when the issue becomes personalized. Blackburn's problem is not a manager, its owners who were, to take a generous reading, ill-informed and thus open to exploitation.When Elijah confronted Ahab, what he was condemning was not the man, but the structure of power that had permitted the worship of Ba'al.
Jonathan Wilson is the author of Inverting the Pyramid; Behind the Curtain; Sunderland: A Club Transformed; and The Anatomy of England. Editor of The Blizzard.
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