Tag Archives: Blackburn Rovers

International Breaking in League One

Dom Sam

For as long as I can remember, Blackburn Rovers have always had good strikers leading the line, scoring the goals. I have been somewhat privileged by some of the goalscorers I have seen grace the turf at Ewood in Blue & White – Shearer, Sutton and Jansen as a starter for ten.

As the season takes a break for Blackburn Rovers for the International fixtures over the weekend (Rovers have retained some sense of pride whilst being in the third tier by at least still having enough players on international duty to warrant the postponement of fixtures – 3, the bare minimum), it is a good time to reflect on the first month of the season and to provide an update on my previous post “False Start or False Dawn” which questioned whether the poor start to the season (two defeats in two) was a reflection of how the season was going to be yet another disappointment or whether it was a slow start owing to new faces and systems not having settled yet.

Four games in and the table looks a whole lot healthier for Rovers. After defeats to Southend and Doncaster in the first two fixtures, the following two saw them beat Bradford City on their own turf with a narrow 1-0 win, and then a first home win of the season beating MK Dons 4-1 – we’ll not mention the League Cup defeat to them down the road, our season does not need a cup run!

Although performances haven’t necessarily been fantastic, it does seem that some of the simple mistakes have been cut out and we have a degree of creativity – at the end of the day, the sole purpose of this season is to get out of the division. It doesn’t have to be pretty, it just needs to be effective. If it takes another 42 1-0 wins with balls bouncing off backsides to go in, I’ll take it now, yes please sir.

With the International break came the end of the Summer Transfer Window – the end of the biggest period of spending in English Football history, and the end of the madness; just how can Kyle Walker command a transfer fee of £50m when Leonardo Bonucci cost a seemingly resurgent AC Milan just £37m?! At the end of the last season I thought there would be an exodus at Ewood with the likes of Graham, Mulgrew, Lenihan, Lowe, Akpan, Bennett, Mahoney, Guthrie and Stokes all leaving the club. There needed to be exits to balance the books given the decrease in TV money for the League 1 season, but Mowbray needed to keep us competitive. The fact the majority of players leaving the club were those out of contract, and that we have managed to retain the services of the likes of Graham, Mulgrew and Bennett, whilst adding to the squad (even spending some money we must’ve found down the back of the sofa at Brockhall) is a good sign for the season to come, and also a sign that Mowbray’s wishes are being heard by the Venkys – it would have been easy to sell our best assets to balance the books and leave us struggling for the season.

One of those players brought in during the Summer window was Dominic Samuel, purchased from Reading for an undisclosed fee. In the opening 6 games of the season (4 league games and 2 cup games) he has found the net 3 times, and is managing to keep the experienced Danny Graham out of the side. I’ve said in previous blogs that I thought our style of play at times so far this season hadn’t suited Graham, but what hasn’t suited Graham has definitely worked for Samuel – he has looked sharp off the ball, put himself about, and has taken his chances. At this moment in time, he has to be our first choice striker.

Three goals in six games is not a bad strike rate for forward at any level (maybe with the exception of Ronaldo and Messi), but having decent forwards has always been a strong point for Rovers – over the past few seasons with the likes of Rhodes and Gestede leading the line, with a better – or more consistent – defence, we could potentially have pushed harder for promotion. After the defeat to Doncaster after the first home of the season a friend said to me that we didn’t have a commanding centre forward to dominate the opposition; someone who when the ball came in to the box would kill if it meant he got his head to the ball first. Samuel isn’t the finished article yet, but he has the attributes and the desire to become that one day. What also helps, is that he puts himself about, chases down lost hopes, pressures goalkeepers – all things that get the crowd going, something that has been lacking from Ewood in recent seasons – Richie Smallwood must also get a mention here as another who gets the crowd going by pressuring the man on the ball and putting a tackle in. He doesn’t do much different to the much maligned Jason Lowe, but instead of standing off the opposition, he puts a foot in and rushes them in to playing the ball, pressuring the pass, forcing mistakes. 

I’m not getting carried away, but Samuel is heading the right way towards becoming a fan favourite at Ewood – especially if he can keep getting the goals and propel the sifde towards promotion. Looking at former strikers to have graced the turf like Speedie, Shearer, Jansen and McCarthy, he has plenty of good examples to follow if he wants to reach that goal.

 

Image source: http://www.rovers.co.uk 

 

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False Start or False Dawn

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Two weeks ago, on the dawn of the new season, for the first time since probably when we had just been relegated from the Premier League, I had a sense of optimism about the season ahead. Given the signings we had made, the players and manager we had kept hold of, I was relatively confident that we would be finishing in the play-off spots at least, hopefully in the automatic places. I had turned my nose up at the naysayer pundits who thought we would face another season of struggling and I put my money were my mouth was and backed Rovers to win the Division.

An opening game away at Southend is not the ideal start for a team faced with the task of escaping the third tier of English football for the first time in almost three decades; it is probably the further journey and not a glamorous ground to say the least; and in Phil Brown they have a good experienced manager, and with players like Michael Kightly in their ranks, they undoubtedly have some quality. Before every game for the last couple of seasons, when asked how I thought Rovers would do at the weekend I have invariably responded “I’ll take a point”, and that was my response ahead of the Southend game – except, knowing that these are the sort of games we should be looking to win to get out of the division; saying “I’ll take point” for the next 46 games will only get us 46 points and that is nowhere near enough to mount a promotion charge. But in this instance, given the context, I was confident it would turn out to be a point gained rather than two dropped.

I was not surprised when we conceded first, and I wasn’t surprised that it was a moment of brilliance from Charlie Mulgrew that drew us level, and given recent history, especially in away games, it was no surprise when we went behind again and ended up losing. An opening day defeat away against a team who would be pushing for the play off’s was not the end of the world I thought, hopefully it would be the kick up the backside the players needed. On to game two, the first home game of the season.

The first home game of the season, the match football fans look forward to all summer, and what better way to kick off at Ewood than to face newly promoted Doncaster Rovers – a team who only a few months earlier where two divisions below Rovers. Surely this was what was needed to get us off the mark and some points on the board. Again, I was that confident I put us in my accumulator (for the record I also had Chelsea in that accumulator). Unlike the Southend game, this was a game against a newly promoted team, at home. Regardless of who you are playing, if you are looking for promotion you should be looking to win all your home games. Last season my optimism for the season lasted just 12 minutes against Norwich at home, I suppose I should just be happy that the optimism lasted in to the second half of the second game this season.

I think what is most disappointing about the start we have made is that it is the same old story – in fact not even the same old story, at least towards the end of last season we were taking the game to the opposition. Judging by Saturdays performance, teams view us as a big fish in this league and are happy to set up for a point with men behind the ball, and hit us on the counter-attack, something Doncaster did brilliantly on Saturday. The problem with this is that we are far too happy to pass the ball across the back four (three or five depending what stage of the game it was on Saturday) and wait for something to open up – which on most occasions it doesn’t because Tugay retired over 8 years ago and we are still looking for someone to provide that spark and creativity. What this does is put us under pressure and gets the fans frustrated (I am happy for us to keep the ball if it leads to something, but I am fairly confident that Barcelona would get booed off Ewood for “not getting it forward”) – with Ward and Mulgrew at the back it only takes one bad touch or misplaced pass and anyone with a bit of pace is away and in (see Mulgrew chasing back and conceding the penalty for Doncaster for reference). The only bright spark from the game – other than the final whistle – was the introduction of Bradley Dack who looked like he wanted the ball and looked like he wanted to go forward and create.

This brings me on to the formation and line-up on Saturday. We played with a formation that Mowbray will claim is a 3-4-3 with wing backs which enables us to get players forward when we have the ball, but which reverts to a 5-4-1 when we don’t. Call me a purist but at home in the third tier of English football what is wrong with 4-4-2? In a 4-4-2 system everyone knows their job and at home it puts at least two people up front to either deliver the ball to in the box, or to get the ball to for one to win and flick on. The problem with the 3-4-3 was that to often Danny Graham was isolated at the top of the pitch having to win the ball, hold it up and then try and do something with it – at his age and condition he should be in the 18 yard box waiting for the cross or the flick on to tap in the goal. This isn’t helped by the players tasked with getting forward to support him being Peter Whittingham and Elliot Bennett. Bennett has the pace and the legs to do this, albeit everything he tried on Saturday failed. On the other hand, Whittingham is coming towards the end of his career – lets face it, not many years ago he was touted as the best player in the Championship, if he was still of this calibre he wouldn’t be being released and dropping down a division. On Saturday I thought it was a case of his legs having gone and that he had fallen off the edge of the cliff with this being one season too many, but looking back now, I don’t think he has played as a winger for a number of years, and it was a similar role he was being asked to perform on Saturday. He is no longer a player who is going to get the ball on the halfway line and run at defenders, if he ever was. Surely his best position is in the centre of midfield orchestrating things. I was really impressed with signing him in the Summer – I only hope this isn’t a repeat of the Danny Murphy saga which promised so much and delivered so little.

What was evident on Saturday is that we struggle to break teams down when they retreat and often this leads to us creating opportunities for the opposition. To sections of the fans it looked as though the team didn’t care, but so early on in a season with many new faces and new formation which changed multiple times throughout the 90 minutes, it must be difficult for the players, who are also coming to terms with the league they find themselves in. Before the season started I thought that our best chance of getting out of this league was to leave the negativity around the owners on the other side of the turnstile and get behind the team 100%, and that with a good start the negativity would stay outside and allow for momentum and confidence to build. To resort to chants of “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” after 70 minutes of the second game of the season helps no-one, no matter how poor the players performed I hope to think it hurt them too. Many of them have reputations which are dwindling by the season – they need to get out of this division for themselves as much as for the club and the fans. I will get absolute pelter’s for this but I was not, and am still not, disappointed that Big Sam got the sack. At the time we were a Premier League team who took to the pitch every week in the hope of a long throw, a corner or a free kick to give us a chance to get the ball in the box for the ‘big lads’ to cause trouble and get it in the net. At Premier League level you pay your money (and lots of it) to be entertained, not to cheer winning a set-piece or subjecting world class players to being roughed up. Even now when we are in League 1 I stick by this opinion. However, we are in League 1 now. Don’t get me wrong, there are players of real quality in this division, and I hope as the season goes on we see that many of these are in fact wearing the blue and white halves, but there comes a time when the ball has to stick up top to give you a chance of winning football games. I’m not saying “lets play the statistics and keep putting the ball long and in to the mixer until it drops for us and we score”, I like all other football fans, like to see good skilful, free flowing football – but when you are trailing to a recently promoted team by 2 goals with 20 minutes, or when you are struggling to create anything, there is always an argument for putting another striker on and just getting the ball forward. It’s a last resort, but it always has to be remembered as a resort.

So where does this leave us? From the above it may sound like we are in a relegation battle already, but we are only 2 league games in of a new season with a lot of new players still to gel and find their place. If we are still playing this bad come Bonfire Night then yes, we have a problem – but I don’t think it will come to that. I was sceptical about Mowbray when he was appointed, but in the end he was Sam-Gallagher-taking-the ball-in-the-corner away from keeping us up, so we have to keep faith with him; any calls for his exit are misplaced (if he did go, who exactly are we going to turn to with any experience of getting out of this league). We have Bradford away up next which is by no means the perfect tonic to get over the defeat – they are decent side who themselves will be looking at promotion this season; but this could be to our advantage. The fact they are looking up the table and already have two league wins under their belt, and are at home, will mean that unlike Doncaster, they will look to create rather than sit behind the ball, and that could work in our favour, as could the fact that we have not had a midweek game so Mowbray has had another 7 days to work on formations and tactics. The least we need out of the game is a draw and a positive performance, especially with them Dingles down the road coming up. In an ideal world, we would be 4 games (including the EFL Cup) and 4 wins in to the season, brimming with confidence, looking forward to facing them with al the pressure on them. In true Rovers style, it hasn’t played out that way and we have somehow managed to put more pressure on ourselves, playing a team which, it pains me to say, are two divisions above us in the football pyramid.

Image from http://www.bbc.co.uk

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Uncle Jack’s Legacy could be our Saviour

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As the dust settles on Blackburn Rovers relegation from the SkyBet Championship to League 1, the enormity of the situation becomes greater almost with each passing day – not just the task of getting back to the Championship first, and then the Premier League; but also just balancing the books and remaining in existence.

Rovers relegation on the the final day of the season at Griffin Park made them the first former Premier League Champions to be relegated to the third tier of English football and the first time the Lancashire club had been in the old third division since 1979, when Rovers finished bottom of the old second division. In 1979, the hiatus from the second tier lasted only one season, with Rovers promoted at the first attempt, finished second in the division to Grimsby.

The landscape has changed somewhat since the last visit to the depths of the Third Division; not only is it now regarded as League 1, but the financial gap has never been greater. Back in 1979, a footballers wage would have more akin to the regular man’s and in the third division many players would probably have a second job to supplement the income from football, a trade they would more than likely continue at the end of their playing career. In 1979 Peter Shilton became the highest paid player by signing a new contract with Nottingham Forest for £1,200 a week – putting this in perspective, the majority of the Blackburn side relegated at Brentford would have been on at least that, and that is playing for a second tier side. The Clubs themselves were worth a lot less financially then than they are now, and there was no lucrative TV deal to support clubs – they relied on gate receipts, sponsorships and generous owners; but the days of Jack Walker’s investment were still some 12 long years away. In the same year, the first million pound transfer took place with Trevor Francis moving from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest for £1m – in 2012, Championship club Leicester City paid £1m for non-league Fleetwood Town striker Jamie Vardy.

Fast-forward 38 years and Blackburn Rovers find themselves back in the third division staring at a completely different prospect to that which would have been seen by then player-manager Howard Kendall and his team consisting of Jim Arnold, Stuart Parker and Kevin Stonehouse. For a start, the club are already in dire straits financially with debt already spiralling before the relegation (at the beginning of the 1978-79 relegation season, Rovers reported a profit of over £110,000 enabling the club to reduce its debts by about a third) – the impact of relegation financially will most importantly mean they will only receive £1m in television money for the 2017-18, compared to the £6m they would have received in the Championship. Even if Rovers could get 10,000 through the gate at Ewood every week, this would only make up £3m of the difference, and it is likely this money has already been allocated elsewhere – so it is safe to assume the £5m shortfall will have to be made up elsewhere. Most likely this will be wages and transfers (the club only spent £250,000 the previous summer).

The problem Rovers have is that the goal for the season has to be promotion at the first attempt, the cost of failing to achieve this could be catastrophic. But the books also need to be balanced. In 2012 when the club were relegated from the Premier League to the Championship a massive gamble was taken using the parachute money to bring in the likes of Danny Murphy, Dickson Etuhu, Leon Best and Nuno Gomes to name a few, all on high wages for the division – the gamble did not pay off and is, in my opinion, why we are in the football and financial situation we currently find ourselves in. Obviously the transfer budget is not there this time around for a spending spree (probably for the best), so the club need to be careful with wages. The wages paid in the Championship are going to be too high to sustain, especially for a club on the edge of the financial precipice already – so the club need to balance the release of those on high wages at the end of their contracts, with the retaining of the quality of those who remain under contract with, whilst also bringing in funds from the sale of assets to help to continue to balance the books. Mowbray has said the same since relegation, that we need to ensure we are competitive both on the field and financially. It truly is a massive balancing act.

The first action came the day after relegation with Paul Senior resigning from his role as Director of Football and Operations – he was the man thought to be responsible for bringing Tony Mowbray in, but given the lack of funds, is there much need for the role at League 1 level when you are hamstrung in the market looking only at loanees and free transfers. My opinion is that I would rather his wage be spent on someone who can improve out chances of promotion, ie a striker.

 Ten days later, news was announced of who was being retained and released by the club at the end of the season (those who are out of contract and either being offered a contract or not). The list of those released: Jason Lowe, Adam Henley, Hope Akpan, Danny Guthrie, Gordon Greer, Wes Brown, Joshua Askew and Ramirez Howarth. Those who were offered a new deal were just Connor Mahoney and Lewis Travis – it is worth pointing out that although they have been re-engaged, it does not mean they have to sign for the club. In addition to the above list, a number of the scholars at the club (8 to be precise) have also not been retained. It is also worth pointing out that according to the Clubs website we do not currently have a goalkeeping coach.  So were does this leave the squad?

 The remaining playing squad consists of:

Goalkeepers: Jason Steele, David Raya, Andy Fisher (3) 

Defenders: Derrick Williams, Charlie Mulgrew, Elliot Ward, Ryan Nyambe, Scott Wharton, Jack Doyle, Lewis Travis, Matthew Platt, Lewis Hardcastle (9) 

Midfielder: Liam Feeny, Darragh Lenihan, Willem Tomlinson, Connor Mahoney, Corey Evans, Elliot Bennett, Craig Conway, Connor Thomson, Joe Grayson, Joe Rankin-Costello, Tyler Magloire (11)

Forwards: Anthony Stokes, Danny Graham, Lewis Mansell (3)

On paper this is not a bad squad, but I would expect there to be further departures – before the start of the season I would expect the club to receive offers for the likes of Graham, Mulgrew, Evans, Bennett and maybe Conway. It will be interesting to see how the club responds to these offers, as I would imagine these will also be the highest earners at the club. Do they sell and save the money, or do they try and keep hold of them in the hope they can get promoted at the first attempt? In many ways, these decisions could mould the future of the club – do they take another massive financial hit for the year and gamble on an immediate promotion? Or do they cut their losses and almost start from scratch, putting trust in the academy and youth development players? If history is anything to go by, the latter may be the more sensible option. The fans won’t be happy with this as they will want to see a team that runs away with the division, but in the long term this decision is more sensible financially, and could secure the long term future of the club.

One way to look at it is if Rovers had stayed up on the final day of the season, yes they would have received more money, and yes they have a good experienced manager in Mowbray, but would that additional money be spent on keeping the club competitive in the division or to pay off existing debts? Neither of which is a long term solution – like putting a plaster on and amputated arm. Would it not make more sense to take the hit and get relegated; accept that financially we can’t compete and ‘start again’. Release those players who the club have no obligation to retain freeing up money from wages; wait and see what offers come in for those players who have a saleable value (and as such also the higher wages) and bring funds in from their sale, and save money from their wages; and then promote from within, utilising the youth development squad complimented with sensible free transfers and loanees to provide the experience?

When Jack Walker bought the club back in 1991 he wanted to make it self-financing in the long term, developing youth who could go on to play in the first team, reducing the amount of money which would have to be spent on transfers. In 1996 an official youth structure was put in place and in 2001 Brockhall Village Academy – during and since this period, the Blackburn Rovers youth teams have been one of the most successful in the country, and players who have emerged from it have included the likes of Neil Danns, Joe Garner, Paul Gallagher, Alan Judge and Phil Jones. Others have come through the Academy and been sold or released and have gone on to have successful careers. The academy at Brockhall is still widely regarded as one of the best in the Country.

academy4x3195-495529_478x359Upon relegation a lot of media outlets jumped on the band-wagon of “Jack Walker turning in his grave” at what the Venkys have done to his football club; and they would not be wrong. However, at this eleventh hour, Jack Walker could once again provide the saviour and hero of the club. His foresight to build the academy back in 1990’s may have produced some talented gems over the years who the club have reaped the rewards of financially and on the pitch, but in the clubs darkest hour, the Academy could be the shining light that not only rescues the club financially, but allows them a second chance on the pitch. What is clear is that under absolutely no circumstances should the idea of selling the academy and/or the land it is built on be considered. During the last campaign the likes of Mahoney, Raya, Wharton and Tomlinson all made appearences for the first team and none of them looked out of their depth – yes they are only a small percentage of the players available, but it is a sign that even without the ‘big names’ we could still be competitive in League 1. Like all Rovers fans, I want a quick return to the Championship (and hopefully eventually the Premier League) but not at the cost of the club going out of business. If it takes a few years, but it means we are on a level footing financially as a result, I’d take that.

You never know, financial stability may make the club more attractive to local businesses who want to invest and tempt the Venkys to part with the club, I’m not a marketing guru but I can’t imagine they will get much positivity publicity globally from owning a club in the old third division.

 

Final Thought – similarities between 1979 and 2017:

The 1978-79 season started disastrously and there was unrest from the supporters and local press, and despite signings, the manager Jim Iley was sacked at the end of September after only 172 days. The club was by now embroiled in a relegation battle and Caretaker-Manager John Pickering was appointed, and then given the job until the end of the season in February 1979. A number of players where signed and this brought an upturn in results, but the damage had already been done and the club where relegated, but there was support for Pickering who had done a good job in his time at the helm – not too dissimilar to the support shown for Mowbray in 2017. Back in 1979 however the board decided not to renew Pickering’s contract and instead brought in Howard Kendall as a player-manager, despite him never having managed before. Despite his inexperience, Kendall’s Rovers finished second in the league which largely owed to an unbeaten 15 game run which consisted of 14 victories and draw. If Mowbray was to leave Ewood during the summer, could there be some symmetry with what Kendall achieved in his first role, and what David Dunn could potentially achieve if given the nod?

 

Note: Facts and content from the 1978-79 season taken form the book “Blackburn Rovers: The Complete Record” by Mike Jackman – well worth a read for any Rovers fan.

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The Critical Path

New-Blackburn-Rovers-Third-Kit-2013On Monday night, Newcastle United did what so many teams set out with the intention to do but so often fail – return to the Premier League at the first attempt. At the opposite end of the table, this weekend (weekend of the 29/30th April) are also the first weekend that Blackburn Rovers could mathematically be relegated. It could have been so much different though.

 In my current line of work, Project Management revolves around the critical path of projects – what milestones do you need to meet in order to deliver a project on time and on budget. At Ewood Park, this weekends potential relegation and continued demise all goes back to the Summer of 2012, the Summer following relegation from the Premier League. It was at this point in time that the wheels were set in motion for the club to end up in its current state. I’m not denying that there have been opportunities to realign the critical path and avoid the fate which potentially awaits the team, but ultimately, decisions made (or not made) that Summer are what will sentence the club to its fate.

Yes, you can argue that the demise started when the Venkys bought the club in November 2010, or even when they sacked Sam Allardyce later that year; but the line in the sand moment followed relegation in 2012 when there was an opportunity to start afresh, an opportunity for the Venkys to admit to their flaws and turn it around being the club drifted to far in to the abyss.

At the beginning of their first season in the Championship, the Blackburn Rovers squad was arguably better than the one that had been relegated, and better on paper than many teams promoted since. The signing of Danny Murphy was met with excitement: a midfielder confident on the ball who could unlock defences, with his old mate Dickson Euthu beside him to do his legwork and protect him; and once he’d picked that pass, the experienced Portuguese international Nuno Gomes to put the ball away or slide in the most prolific man in the Football League, Jordan Rhodes. At the very least, the team should’ve been challenging for the top 6.

That Summer in 2012, the Venkys spent serious money on both transfers and wages, investing in an attempt to get the club promoted at the first time of asking – but they made one big mistake; they kept Steve Kean.

Steve Kean will forever be seen as the man who oversaw the beginning of Blackburn’s downfall. Yes, he may have been a good coach, but he was not a manager. A bigger more self aware man would have resigned at the end of the 2010-11 season when Rovers stayed up on the last day, aware that he was in over his head, but he didn’t. Instead he stayed on and oversaw a horrendous 2011-12 campaign which ended in relegation. By not removing him from his position, but still investing, the Venkys may as well have burnt their money as there was no way the fans would get behind Kean and the team the way a team needs when they are pushing for promotion.

The Venkys had many viable reasons to sack Kean as well as his poor performance as a manager: his off the pitch issues regarding drink driving; the charges of slander from Sam Allardyce; and the continued unrest from the supporters – but they kept him in charge, and in doing so started the club along the critical path to where we are today.

That first season in the Championship when optimism about an immediate return should have been so high, and the quality of the pitch should have been so much better that the previous season, turned in to a shambles which saw 5 different men managing the team in some capacity over the season. Suffice to say, the opportunity was well and truly missed. Financially, the club has never recovered and the spending from that Summer has ultimately crippled the club.

As a result of the over spending without success, the wage budget has had to be slashed to a fraction of what it was in 2012 and has had to operate on a shoe-string transfer budget relying on freebies and loanees. For the 2016-17 season Rovers only paid a fee for one player, left back Derrick Williams, just over £200k – markedly different to the £8m spent on Jordan Rhodes.

Before the first game of the 2012-13 season against Ipswich Town, newly appointed Global Advisor Shebby Singh told fans that Kean was 3 straight defeats away from losing his job. This may have been an attempt to get the fans on site but it hardly got the fans behind the team; many seeing 3 losses as a necessary evil to rid the club of Kean once and for all. Surely if Singh wanted rid of Kean this should have been done in the Summer when there was good reason (relegation, drink driving, slander), leaving the club with the opportunity to bring in a manager experienced in the division and given them the funds (or even just the players) to get the team promoted. Kean eventually resigned from his position as manager after 4 wins in 6 to start the season (wins which ultimately kept us up as fate would have it), the night before the away game at Charlton Athletic, despite having travelled with the team, saying that his position had become “untenable” and he was no longer prepared to carry on as manager. How this became known to him only at 7pm the night before a fixture having travelling down to the hotel is beyond me, and is another examples of the mans selfishness and incompetence. At the time of his resignation Rovers had lost only one game (at home to Middlesbrough the game before) and they sat 4th in the table after a draw the following day at Charlton. What followed can only be described as a circus (2 different permanent managers and 3 caretaker stints which ultimately resulted in Rovers narrowly avoiding relegation). A modern season equivalent would be Rafa Benetiz leaving Newcastle, their big signings never being seen again, and Newcastle finishing the season they were supposed to get promoted, in 18th place.

It is as clear to see today as it was back in 2012 that what should have happened was Kean should have been sacked, at the latest in early Summer in 2012 (if not months before), and a fresh start made. A manager with experience of the Championship, or just with any managerial experience, would have given some hope of promotion with the squad assembles that summer. A Crystal Palace squad many had predicted to be fighting for survival won the pay-offs under Ian Holloway, and remain in the Premier League to this day. I can’t say who the appointment should have been but like a Steve Bruce, a Mick McCarthy, a Neil Warnock, or other similar manager with experience of promotion would have been perfect. We could have done worse than try and twist Souness’s arm to come out of retirement. In fact, when Michael Appleton left after his short stint, Mark Hughes was without a job and without many offers – he would have been ideal. Yes he would’ve cost money, but it would have been money well spent. He would have had the supporters on side immediately and looking upwards. Instead, when Kean finally left, we opted for Henning Berg who had no experience of management in England and limited experience elsewhere; and after Berg was sacked we opted even more inexperience in Michael Appleton; as boardroom unrest began – something which has continued to this day.

The team that played on the last day of the 2011-12 season consisted of: Kean, Olsson, Givet, Dann, Henley, Formica/Morris, Pedersen/Rochina, Olsson, Lowe, Hoilett and Yakubu. The one which started the first game of the next season in the Championship consisted of: Robinson, Lowe, Givet, Dann, Orr, Formica, Murphy, Etuhu, Pedersen, Gomes and Kazim-Richards. The team that got Crystal Palace promoted that same season: Speroni, Ward, Moxey, Delaney, Gabbidon, Dikgacoi, Garvan, Jedinak, Williams, Zaha and Wilbraham. Out of these 3 the one most likely for promotion surely has to be the one which started the 2012-13 campaign for Blackburn.

So as Newcastle head back to the Premier League it is through sad eyes that I think about what could have been had the right decisions been made back in 2012 – that could have been us. Who knows, had we got back in to the Premier League we may even have achieved that Champions League promise. Instead, we head in to this weekends fixtures knowing that realistically back to back wins are needed against Aston Villa and Brentford to have any chance of staying in the second tier.

Final note, as I have put this piece together, another level of Kean’s incompetence has become apparent. In that season we got relegated, Rovers took a young Frenchman on loan. He only made 9 appearances and failed to find the back of the net, but has since found the net 72 times in 154 games and sees himself 3rd in the top scorers list of the Bundesliga, behind only Robert Lewandowski and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. That man was a certain Anthony Modeste. In his first appearance for Rovers he won a penalty and rightly wanted to take it, only for David Dunn to take the ball off him and miss – if he’d took the penalty and scored, who knows what might have been…

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Seven Down Eight To Go

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I’ll be the first to admit I wasn’t overly enamoured at the appointment of Tony Mowbray 3 weeks ago but as I said in my last post, he may be the best we could hope for and maybe a sensible choice given our predicament. Seven unbeaten games later and we have a fighting chance.

I had previously said that if we didn’t win at Burton in Mowbray’s first game we would almost definitely go down. However, the way we played in the first half of that game was enough to give me hope we had a chance, and having seen Burton hit the inside of both posts and the ball fall in to Steele’s hands in the last minute, I thought “you know what, we might have half a chance”. We absolutely battered Burton in that first half, keeping and passing the ball well, and unlikely to go in only one in front at half time. I wasn’t sure whether we had been really good, or they had been really bad. The second half was less of a walkover and in the end, a point was probably a fair result for both teams.

What was telling that night at the Pirelli was not only the performance of the eleven men on the pitch, but also the reaction of the crowd to the change in manager. From well before the game started, the Rovers at the Pirelli Stadium were in full voice, behind the team and the manager – something that has not been seen often this season with Owen Coyle at the helm. From the day of his appointment it would be very difficult to argue that Coyle had the full backing of the Rovers supporters given his previous connections with Burnley and Wigan and his recent track record. It was seen as yet another a stupid Venkys decision. Whenever the team went behind or conceded late on, the fans would turn on Coyle. Given Rovers predicament at the bottom of the table and the lack of anything to suggest Coyle could turn things around, things were only going to get more negative from the crowd which would not have a positive impact upon the players, their performances and the results on the pitch. A telling moment was that all through the warm up and the first half the singing and chanting had been positive about the team, players and manager; then, just before the half time whistle, one fan tried to start a chorus of “Venkys Out” – it was met with moans and groans from the rest of the crowd and never got off the ground, and has not been heard since. I don’t think it is coincidence that since the negative “Venkys Out” chants disappeared and were replaced with positivity the results have picked up and the team have either held on to wins or draws late on, or managed to get a goal to equalise late on. Yes, it is not just down to that fact, but the knock on effects of removing one negative from the club (Coyle) and replacing him with someone in no-way related to the Venkys or previous villains at the club, has had a massive positive difference. The fans realise now is not the time to moan about the owners and voice opinions and protests at them, what is more important is that the club avoids relegation and the doom which comes with it. What should be said though, is that whoever made the call on sacking Coyle may just potentially have saved the club.

Looking back, the timing of the sacking of Coyle may have been pivotal. I had previously said that he should have been kept on to try and use the positivity of the performance against Manchester United to try and get the 3 points against Burton; however, in hindsight, the timing may have been perfect: we had previously lost to Sheffield Wednesday and drawn to almost relegated Rotherham; the game against United was a freebie, it would have been stupid to appoint Mowbray to lose his first game, an almost impossible task against United, whereas, sacking Coyle after the United game and giving Mowbray a clean slate against Burton, Derby and Wigan for starters gives him a chance to have immediate impact – something he has done and continues to do.

Mowbray’s appointment has been followed with 7 games unbeaten (2 wins and 5 draws) resulting in ten more points on the board – at the time of writing Rovers sit in the final relegation place (22nd) just one point off safety with the three teams above on just 41 points. We are well in truly in the think of it now with a fighting chance. It’s a fair assumption to make that under Coyle we would not have beaten the likes of Derby and even Wigan, and picked up late points against Cardiff and Fulham.

The game against Preston at the weekend saw an attendance of 18,435 (albeit 6000 PNE fans) and although it was for the most local derby of the season, it was also one of the first times Rovers supporters came to Ewood with a sense of  realistic optimism that we might just win and secure another 3 points.

On the face of it, a draw against a local rival flying high in the upper echelons of the league and on a good run should be seen as a positive results; especially for a team in the relegation zone. However, I can’t help but wonder whether the two points dropped may come back to haunt us come May. We started the game poorly and probably deserved to be a goal down, but the team rallied (something they would not have done under Coyle) and managed to get an equaliser before half time, and then take the lead just after half time – and few could argue that it was deserved. As has been the problem on so many occasions this year, a one goal lead is not enough to guarantee all three points (or even a point in some scenarios). Throughout the second half we were the better team and should have doubled our lead on numerous occasions; Preston where offering nothing in response. But the third goal never came, and that gives the opposition hope that if they can get one opportunity and take it, they can get something out of the game. The frustrating this is that we gifted them the opportunity. In classic Matt Derbyshire style, as the clocked ticked down past the 90 minute mark and towards the magical 95 allocated for injuries, substitutions and goals etc, Gallagher took the ball to the corner of the Blackburn End and Walkers Steel stand, and with the occupants of the home end screaming to keep it in the corner, he crossed it. A low and hard speculative drive towards the penalty spot; the only problem was, the rest of the Rovers team were behind him ready to support keeping the ball in the corner. Football is a cruel game – Preston took the ball almost immediately down the other end and equalised. Gallagher knew what he had done, but that doesn’t make it any easier to digest. The decision to cross the ball was without doubt the worst one he could’ve made. Had he played for a corner or a throw, if we had won it, we could run the clock down some more; if we had lost it we could have got back in to shape and position and re-organised. He could even have kicked it out for a goal kick and it would have been a better option, at least then it would waste some time whilst the ball was retrieved and give us chance to get back in to position. Young Sam Gallagher will most definitely learn from his mistake, but it may be to the detriment of the survival of Blackburn Rovers in the Championship.

Rovers away form this season has been dreadful – picking up just 12 points all season, meaning that if we stay up it will almost certainly be down to our form at Ewood Park, which although hasn’t been all too impressive, we have picked up an additional 28 points on home turf. Looking ahead to upcoming fixtures, it is again evident that we can’t rely on picking up points away from home – our next two away games: Brighton and Reading. Those two points dropped are looking massive already.

After the March international break (during which Charlie Mulgrew will no doubt pick up a knock whilst playing for Scotland) Rovers fixtures read as follows: Brighton (A); Reading (A); Barnsley (H); Nottingham Forest (A); Bristol City (H); Wolves (A); Aston Villa (H) and Brentford (A). Picking up not just points, but wins, at home is going to be crucial; with any points picked up away from Ewood a bonus.

Our fate is in our own hands though. Bristol City, Wolves and Nottingham Forest are all in this relegation battle and these are key games where a win is massive. If we can somehow muster wins in these 3 games, it is almost like getting 6 points for the victory as it stops them pulling away and brings us closer to them. A point from the games against Brighton and Reading would be a great return, and I like to think that we would have enough to beat Barnsley on our own patch, and if it came to it, enough to beat Brentford away on the last day of the season. Villa are a bit of a bogey side for us at home, so I’ve written off us getting anything from that game.

Usually, a points tally of mid-40s would be enough to see you home and dry in the Championship (last season Rotherham stayed up with 49 points, but Charlton who occupied the last relegation spot, where relegated with 40; the year before 42 points would have meant safety), but with only one team (Rotherham) being cut adrift this season, and the sides currently in positions 22nd to 15th only being covered by 5 points, arguably you could hit the 50 point mark and still get relegated. So those three home wins between now and the end of the season look even more important, and the 2 dropped against Preston even more costly.

If we were still under the leadership of Coyle, we would not have the points we have and the fighting chance we have – we would be more like Wigan who are being cut-a-drift in 23rd on 34 points. At least Mowbray has come in and got us fighting for points and given us a chance. We may have dropped 2 points in the last minute last weekend, but we were probably due it considering the late goals we have scored. We have 7 cup finals between now and the end of the season – let’s give it a go and get behind the team.

Tony Mowbray’s Blue and White Army!!!!!

 

 

 

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3 Days is a Long Time in Football

article-1192782-02cc1a0800000578-56_468x286There is a saying that a week is a long time in football. Whoever coined that phrase has obviously never been involved with Blackburn Rovers at any time in the last 5 years. Just seven days ago, Blackburn lost 2-1 at Hillsborough in a game were Rovers were controversially denied a point by the officials on no fewer than two instances. Following that, the Championship strugglers took on Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United juggernaut in the FA Cup at Ewood Park, narrowly losing 2-1 despite putting in arguably the best performance of the season. Fast-forward less than 48 hours and Owen Coyle and his backroom staff had left the club. Fast-forward less than another 24 hours and Tony Mowbray has been appointed on an 18 month contract. There may not be much to write about on transfer deadline day, but when it comes to the running of the club when changes are a-foot there isn’t time for the ink to dry on the last article when the next breaking news is hitting the headlines. This post was supposed to be a review of the defeat to Manchester United and the frustrations of the performances so often being below the level seen on Sunday. Then it was going to be about Owen Coyle’s departure and the poor timing given the game at Burton this coming Friday. Now it is about all three and what the future holds under Tony Mowbray.

 Leaving Ewood Park on Sunday I had a sense of surprise optimism, that maybe that game would have given the players a kick up the backside or at least the confidence to go in to the final 15 games of the season and get the results needed to stay in the division. In the first half we looked like the Rovers of old – good attacking football by a team battling above its weight; there was an atmosphere at Ewood and there was banter between the Rovers and United fans – it was like a step back in time to 20 years ago. It was good to see the ground with over 20,000 inside – maybe if the support like that had been there all season, we may be higher up the table. Ultimately, efforts where in vain and United won the tie, but it was somewhat gratifying to know that Mourinho had to turn to superstars Pogba and Ibrahimovic to get the win (against a team second to bottom in the division below) (I’m also not going to lie, seeing Ibrahimovic live is one thing ticked off the bucket list!).

 What was frustrating about the game was the effort and intensity of the Rovers team – where has that been all season? Yes, as a Championship team you don’t get to play against the likes of Manchester United every week and against the likes of Zlatan, Pogba, Martial and Mkhitaryan – but surely that any supporter can expect is that the players give 100% every week to try and achieve the clubs goals; whether they be to beat Manchester United in the cup, push for promotion, or battle against relegation. What the defeat on Sunday did show is that the ability, grit and determination, and want to win is there, somewhere. If Mowbray can get Emnes dictating play like that behind Graham for the rest of the season we will score goals. Coupled with that, Mahoney needs to be given more starts – when he came on in the second half, United didn’t know what to do, beating Darmian and even drawing a cynical foul out of Pogba. Mahoney could provide that unknown quantity and spark that not only gets us goals and points, but also gets the crowd behind the team. What is evident is that we can’t defend; we haven’t been able to all season – so maybe the answer is all out attack. Another shining light was the cameo from Tomlinson when he came on – he gives us another option in the middle and deserves more game time.

 So this post was going to be about how we can take so many positives from the United defeat and use them to push us on for the remainder of the season, starting with Burton – then the news broke on Tuesday afternoon that Coyle and his backroom staff had left the club by “mutual agreement”, stating that the decision had been made to “give the club the best possible chance of climbing to a position of safety in the Championship” – starting with Burton away on Friday.

 Now don’t get me wrong, Coyle was never the right man for the job and was never going to get fans on side given his previous connections with Burnley and Wigan and with SEM, and performances on the pitch had done nothing to change that opinion. However, following arguably the best performance of the season, praise from pundits across the nation, and ahead of the arguably the biggest game in the last 30 years, surely the sensible option would be to ride the crest of that wave and let Coyle at least attempt to get a similar performance out of the players to try and beat Burton? Coyle and his staff left the club on Tuesday – you would expect without taking training – so who took training on Tuesday? If no-body did, even if someone did, surely that is a massive dent in the preparations for Friday crunch game? All the while, Burton where gaining another important point against Derby County. Coyle was never the “outstanding candidate” in any Rovers fans eyes, and his points return has been shocking – to an extent which should have seen him out of a job weeks ago; yes we have lost a lot of games by the odd goal, and haven’t been thumped by anyone, but consistently losing a game by the odd goal in 5 highlights there is a problem somewhere. Coyle should have gone – after the Sheffield Wednesday game, not just before the most important game of the season. If Rovers don’t win the game on Friday, the blame has to lie solely at the door of Paul Senior and his employers.

 So, Tony Mowbray. He probably wouldn’t have been my first choice, and to be honest I’d forgotten he was even around. A quick Google-search shows he was last at Coventry City in 2016, a role which he resigned from after 18 months in charge, after spells at Middlesbrough, Celtic and his most successful and well known spell as a manager at West Bromwich Albion in 2006-2009. He has a win percentage of 41.98% (and a loss rate of 35.3%).

 When the market was first available the usual names where mentioned: Sherwood and Dunn; in addition to recent job seekers Warburton and Rowett. My own thought’s were “god knows who we’ll get” and I had expected the option of Dunn as caretaker until the end of the season, and then the position to be reviewed depending what division we were in. If I’m being totally honest, I would have loved Rowett or Warburton. When the appointment was announced around lunch today, I was disappointed, maybe even annoyed. We had yet again gone for the cheap option – someone with a CV which had no recent success, but did have a shining light in the past that we could point to (think Coyle with Burnley; Lambert with Norwich; Berg with, oh wait…). I turned the notifications off on my phone as I awaited the onslaught of fellow football fan friend taking the mick.

 By the time I looked back at my phone and on-line I had come to my senses a little. Is it really a bad appointment? Mowbray has something to prove and this is his way back in to a division which he knows; as a minimum he may bring tighten up the defence and stop us leaking goals – that would be a start. Blackburn announced the current debt as being £106m today – and having almost halved their wage bill, there is evidently no money available for a big name, or to attract someone on a short term basis for big money, with the lure of further investment should they keep the club afloat. Looking back at those other choices: David Dunn is a club legend I have no doubt that if he keeps learning at the club he will one day be in the hot-seat, but the time is not now, now we need experience and know-how; Gary Rowett has proved he can work on a shoestring at Burton and Birmingham but he has always been looking for something bigger and better and with that in mind, is his heart set on a relegation? Mark Warburton is for me the more suitable candidate having worked a moneyball method at Brentford with success – I have said on this blog before that given our financial situation, moneyball may be the answer – but at Brentford he had owners and a board who were also invested in that theory and willing to let Warburton play it out (in the end he was too successful for his own good); at Ewood, if we get relegated I fear he would have been the first out of the door, either by sacking or by jumping at another offer. The only other candidate I could put in the frame was Mike Phelan – but even he has no experience of getting a side out of a relegation battle and the, optimistically, promoted.  

 So, the more I think about it, the more Mowbray looks like he good be a good fit. The proof will be in the pudding, and that pudding is due to be served Friday night at the Pirelli Stadium – if we lose that game, that could spell the end of Blackburn’s reign in the top two flights of English football for the first time since 1980 – if we go down this year I fear it will not be as short-lived as back then.

 On a slightly separate note, the release of the current financial situation at Blackburn today do not make for good reading. A pre-tax loss of £1.5m (a reduction of £15.8m on the previous year) but still with a net liability of over £106m show just how in the mire the club is. The wage bill has been almost halved since relegation from the top flight in 2012 when it stood at around £50m/year – it now stands at just over £25m/year. The sales of Gestede, Rhodes and Hanley have no doubt helped reduce the losses off the field, but their absences have been evident in the losses on the pitch. The team which was relegated in 2012 had some established stars on presumably big wages, such as Formica, Petrovic, N’Zonzi, Dann, Rochina, Yakubu, Vukcevic and Samba. In comparison, the current squad has been assembled with loans and free transfers and bolstered with youth team players – I would expect this to be less than 50% of that squad which was relegated. The reason for the current dire straits lies at the door of bad decisions made when we were relegated – the signings we made were not bad signings, the problem was the man picking the team. I stand by my point, that had Kean been sacked in that summer before the season started, and a more experienced manager brought in, we would have bounced right back. The announcement again shows that the Venkys have put Blackburn Rovers in a Catch 22 situation: without them, we go bust and probably drop out of existence; with them, we drop down the divisions due to their poor management and understanding of the club and game of football. The Venky’s won’t leave until they have seen a return on their investment (including the loans etc they have pumped in to the club) and the only way that will happen is if the club gets back to the Premiership and manages to survive for a few seasons – in the current light, this is a long way off happening, so don’t expect the Venkys to be leaving anytime soon.

 For now, let’s get behind Mowbray and the players, lets give them a fresh start to deliver results for the next 15 games……

https://youtu.be/PtVZkimfxso

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Blackburn Texans – Another False Hope

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In what has become regular Blackburn Rovers fashion, the week began with a Saturday defeat, 3-2, again. Although the week started in a usual fashion, by the middle of the week there was something in the air that has been in short supply for a number of months, maybe years – hope, maybe even optimism.

The reason for this new found excitement – rumours that Robert C McNair was rumoured to be interested in buying Blackburn Rovers Football Club.

Who is Robert C McNair? ‘Bob’ McNair is the current owner of the Houston Texans NFL team. A man worth an estimated $3.3bn. And a man rumoured to be interested in buying a English Football Team – and after being put off buying Reading and Birmingham, he was looking at Blackburn Rovers as a new sports project. A man with a significant amount of money and a history of working with and owning sports team; and a history of making a sports team profitable and competitive.

The rumours started on Tuesday and although they had been reasonably quashed by Friday – it had given Rovers fans some hope, and also raised some interesting points about how far they have come in their unsatisfaction with the current running of the club.

For those of you not familiar with the American NFL, Bob McNair’s Texans play in the AFC South Division, formed in 2002 as an expansion team after Houston’s previous franchise, the Houston Oilers, moved to Nashville to become the Tenessee Titans. They have not won the Super Bowl to date, but they have won the AFC Division four times in the last five years, but have yet to play in an AFC Confence Championship game. In the 2016 off season, McNair splashed the cash and signed Brock Osweiler, the Denver Broncos back up quarter back the previous season, for a lucrative 4 year $72m deal. For reference, you cannot get relegated in the NFL.

In a nutshell then, on the face of things McNair has spent an awful amount of money on a team to obtain relatively little success. So why does this bring hope and optimism to Blackburn fans? Especially given that the Venkys have done pretty much the same – spent a lot of money on a team which has since had no success, and failed repeatedly.

  1. Probably the main reason for the optimism is that Bob McNair is not the Venkys. He could be Ronald McDonald and the Rovers fans would probably get behind a takeover deal. In the early days, opinions were split between the Rovers fans as to whether the Venkys were poorly advised, massively naive, or just plain unlucky; and those that were against them from the off. Fast-forward to today and I would estimate around 99% of supporters are against their ownership and running of the club; with the other 1% employees of the club and bound by the gagging order to say how good and committed the Venkys are that evidently seems to be in place.
  2. The money behind the man is not a myth. McNair already owns a sports team so his worth is almost public knowledge – there would be no questions and rumours about his actual financial backing and the size of his empire like we have had with the Venkys.
  3. McNair has experience of owning and running a sports team. When the Venkys took over at Ewood they were very much wet behind the ears and jumped in at the relative deep end with rumours that they didn’t realise you could be relegated and with press releases stating the club would be back in the Champions League within 5 years and signings would include David Beckham and Ronaldinho. With McNair having experience of running a sports team you would hope/think he would know all the finer details, including competition rules, or at least surround himself with those who did.
  4. Although the Texans have not win the Super Bowl or competed in an AFC Conference game, they have been more than competitive and have won their Division some four times in the last 5 years – it’s not exactly the relegation fodder Rovers fans have had to get used to, and the fact they are winning divisions and competing in the play offs shows they are heading in the right direction, especially given they are a relatively young franchise.
  5. The NFL is big money and as it takes place for only a relatively short amount of time (in comparison to the English football league) team must capitalise on the period to get as many people in the stadium as possible and as many people buying merchandise as possible. If the same approach could be applied to Balckburn Rovers, there is definitely the potential to make the club more marketable, and as a result, more profitable. Attendances at Ewood this year are the lowest they have been for the last 30 years, so may be the razzmatazz of American sports is what is needed to get fans back engaged with the club.
  6. Bob McNair is a billionaire for a reason and will not invest if he does not believe there is a significant opportunity to make money. In football, the main way you make money is to be successful; at Blackburn Rovers this means promotion. If a new owners aim is to make money and will look to sell the club after achieving promotion and receiving the ludicrous TV money that the Premier League offers, so be it. If this is the case we will be out of the depressing rut we are in at the minute, back in the Premier League, and a far more attractive business for future suitors.

Although the takeover never got any further than the rumour stage it would have been interesting to see what the Venkys response would have been to any bids on the table – would they have finally seen this as the opportunity to sell up and get some of their money back? Or would they have stuck to their long standing “committed to the future of the club” stance the supporters are growing exceedingly frustrated at?

Possibly more interestingly, what would the input and review of the takeover have been from the FA and EFL?

Given the impact the Venkys have had on the club and the backlash from the fans questioning the FAs fit and proper rules and their lack of concern over the purchase and running of the club despite obvious flaws, Blackburn Rovers fans (and fans in general) will be scrutinising their involvement. I would expect that as a minimum their would be a larger degree of due diligence undertaken by the FA on prospective buyers, and a more thorough background check in to the credibitility and backing of anyone wanting to complete a takeover. The best option for both parties would be for the fans and FA to sit and discuss their concerns and come up with an action plan to ensure the Venkys mess does not happen again.

The takeover bid was a false dawn on this occasion – but here’s to hoping there’s another credible one soon. Whether the Venkys treat it as serious and give it due thought and consideration remains to be seen. More than likely they would again reiterate their commitment to run the club further in to the ground.

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How do the Venky’s keep getting it so wrong?

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Currently lying 22nd in the Championship, it is a miracle Blackburn Rovers are only 2 points from safety. With a record this season of just 20 points from 23 games (won 5, drawn 5, lost 13 and with 27 goals for and 39 goals against) arguably we should be a greater distance from safety. After the latest defeat to Barnsley Owen Coyle said that the strikers have to take their chances – that is correct but it is a bit naïve of the ex-Bolton manager considering that the previous 3 games had all seen 3-2 defeats; had the defence done their jobs, we should have at least got points out of each of the games – Sheffield Wednesday have scored 27 goals thus far and find themselves in a play-off spot in 6th place, but have only conceded 23 goals.

Going in to the game at Newcastle United at the end of November you would have said that this was a home banker, but somehow Blackburn managed to get a one nil win with a resolute defensive performance – this was the last time we had one. The Rovers have now gone 5 games without a win, following an unbeaten run of three – if it was not for this run, we would likely be firmly rooted to the bottom of the division.

So what is going wrong? Firstly, the owners, the Venky’s, are so out of touch with the club, the supporters and the sport in general, they don’t see how they are hurting the supporters and how the decisions they make are so frustrating and poor. For example, take the hiring of Owen Coyle:

His only real success in football management has been the one season in which he got Burnley promoted in 2009 – the following season he left for Bolton and saw them relegated in 2012. He was then sacked from Bolton in October 2012, and joined recently relegated Wigan in June 2013 – his tenure at the DW lasted just short of 6 months as he was sacked again in December 2013. Coyle then joined MLS side Houston Dynamo in December 2014 where he lasted until May 2016 when Coyle said he was keen to move back to the UK to be with his family, whilst the Dynamo’s were not satisfied with the results on the pitch. And that brings us to the following month, June 2016 when he was appointed as the new Manager of Blackburn Rovers as he was “the outstanding candidate” during interviews.

A look back at his CV shows that he was relatively successful in Scotland and at Burnley, but that’s where his success stops – 2009, 8 years ago. Added to his poor performances as a manager over the last few years, Coyle has managed at Burnley, Bolton and Wigan – all local rivals of Blackburn Rovers. Even if he had only managed Burnley, and been relatively successful, he should never have even been considered for the Rovers job. This is yet another thing that the Venky’s have got wrong. The worrying this is, I highly doubt that they even know that they have got it wrong, or what they have gotten wrong.

A festive period record of 4 defeats in 4 games does not bode well, and for any other club in the relegation zone at this stage and with this record, this would more than likely spell the end for the manager – but not at Ewood Park. When the fans talk of Coyle being given the boot, frustrations are met  by the same question: “But who is actually going to sack him?”.

The Venky’s haven’t been seen at Ewood for a game since January 2013 when Blackburn were defeated by Charlton. A look at the “Who’s Who” page on the clubs website provides little insight in to who actually runs the club day to day and who would be responsible for pulling the trigger:

Directors: Robert Coar and Gandhi Babu

Finance Director: Mike Cheston

Club President: KC Lee

A little Google research doesn’t bring up very much information on any of these people but the silence that is deafening is that none of these people have the knowledge, experience or background to make them the right person to hire and fire a manager – there is next to no footballing experiencing amongst them, other than managing (or mismanaging the books of football clubs). This leaves me to believe that it is these people who put us in the position we are now by hiring the wrong man, based on a whim that he may be able to repeat one successful season. That, and given that Coyle’s reputation is so low, his salary would probably match.

At the time of the managerial search in May 2016, there were allegedly 4 candidates: Alex McLeish, Neil Warnock, Warren Joyce and David Dunn.

The romantic amongst us would have loved Dunny to have taken the job but realistically it would be a baptism of fire that would have likely only gone badly. For a man with as great a reputation in Blackburn, the sensible thing would be for him to get more experience elsewhere or work his way up inside the club.

So that leaves, McLeish, Warnock and Joyce – the latter is/was very much an unknown quantity but you don’t work at Manchester United for 8 years, the majority of which under Alex Ferguson without knowing a thing or two about the game – in comparison to Coyle, he was a risk worth taking; not to mention his contacts within the game and at Manchester United which could’ve proved vital with regards to loan signings given the limited budget at Ewood.

Warnock would have been the sensible option. It is a sign of how bad things have become that I would have liked Warnock to manage the club I support. In my eyes he is a bit of a dinosaur but when it comes to the Championship he knows what he is doing, and given a summer with the squad and being allowed to bring in his own players, we would be mid-table at worst in the league. Yes, he is struggling at Cardiff at the minute but I fully expect him to guide them to safety and have a challenge for promotion next season – the January window will see a transformation in their fortunes.

So that leaves McLeish – a man currently managing Egypt following a stint in Belgium with Genk, and following relative success at Birmingham, Rangers and Scotland. Sure this man had more experience of getting teams out of the Championship, and had a far better track record.

Yet, given the viable alternatives, Venky’s plumped for Coyle, a man who’s reputation was in tatters; a man who had managed Burnley; a man who had been relegated with Bolton and had struggled to make an impact with a largely talented Wigan side, and failed with MLS side Houston Dynamos – and here we find ourselves at the turn of the year, mid-way through the season on 20 points from 23 games, sat 3rd from bottom.

If whoever it is that makes the hiring and firing decisions doesn’t take action soon, it will be too late, and once we drop to the 3rd tier, the road back is even longer and harder, with the threat of administration beginning to loom overhead.

So what actions need to be taken?:

  1. Sack Coyle – he is evidently out of his depth, and his appearance on Sky Sports News knocking the confidence out of one of our strikers shows that he doesn’t appreciated the enormity of the situation – either that, or he just doesn’t care.
  2. Appoint Gary Rowett – the best man available at the minute. Rowett is a young manager who has shown he can be successful with little money (Burton) and can manage at clubs in crisis (Birmingham).
  3. Get rid of the dead-wood – there are players who seem to be the first name on the team sheet at Ewood who are seemingly not giving there all and would rather be somewhere else (I won’t name names but all Rovers fans know who they are). We shouldn’t be paying their wages if they aren’t interested in getting us out of trouble so it would be best to get rid.
  4. Blood in the youngsters – the likes of Connor Mahoney, Scott Wharton and Ryan Nyambe have all done well when given the chance, but as always they then disappear and are never seen again. At times this season we have played with one recognised defender in the back four whilst the youngsters haven’t been given a chance.
  5. Decide what you want to do with the club – when they took over at Ewood the Venky’s said they wanted success and wanted Rovers to be in the Champions League; we have never been further away from achieving this than we are now since they took over the club. If their intentions are still honest, they need to communicate with the supporters and establish a worthwhile and workable management structure at the club; and ideally go in to partnership with someone who supports the club or has a history with the club so that they can do the day to day running of the club. The Venky’s don’t want to lose all the money they have put in to the club, but the only way for this to happen is to provide the finances and allow someone who knows the club and knows football to run the club; and they must be left to get on with it. This won’t be a 6 months fix, more like a 6 year fix, but they need to be left to get on with it.

 

 

 

 

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This just in… Another Loan Signing

It was no surprise not to see any major signings coming through the doors at Ewood Park last week as the Summer Transfer Window slammed shut. In fact, I was surprised to see we actually paid a fee for one player. Whilst Grant Hanley and Shane Duffy left the club for fees as expected, they were replaced by the usual harem of free transfers and loan signings, many of whom, if previous seasons are anything to go by, will make minimal appearances and disappear back to where they came from or be absorbed by the club and spat out at the end of their contract.

deadline day

I understand that as a club we are haemorrhaging money on a daily basis as attendances fall and the parachute payments grow thinner and thinner, not to mention the massive debt that the club now has to contend with. I understand that we are now in a position were every player has a price and should that valuation be met, we will need to sell to help balance the books. However, we are running short of saleable ‘assets’ now that the likes of Rhodes, Gestede, Duffy, Hanley, Cairney etc have all been sold. Of the remaining squad I would expect to see Evans, Conway and Marshall leave in the next window. I understand that this is necessary to prolong the existence of the club. What I don’t accept is the calibre of players we are looking to replace them with.

I have nothing against the players we brought in during the Summer: Derrick Williams for a fee; the likes of Gordon Greer, Danny Graham, Anthony Stokes and Charlie Mulgrew on free transfers; or Stephen Hendrie, Martin Samuelson or Marvin Emnes on loan – in fact, looking at the names on paper, the free transfers don’t look too bad, and would have generated some excitement in years gone by. The issue is with the players we didn’t bring in, or even look at bringing in.

As always, there was nothing to get excited about on deadline day at Blackburn – no impending big transfers, and no curious last minute loan signings. Yes we brought in Emnes at the eleventh hour – but he is hardly the Ronaldinho or Beckham we were promised, or the Jordan Rhodes of yester-year. And this was on a day when the Transfer Window did somewhat live up to its hype.

Whilst we were happy with the work we had done over the summer, the following players were snapped up on either free transfers or loan deals: Chris Martin; Steven Fletcher; Glenn Murray; Matt Miazga; Rickie Lambert; Ikechi Anya; Lucas Piazon; Aiden McGeady – to name but a few. I’m not saying they would have all been suitable, affordable or even interested, but what would be nice would be to see some intent from the club. At least some rumour of exciting players potentially heading to Ewood rather than the usual radio silence and loan lottery. Yes there is a chance that the loan signings may be a success and we may buy them on the back of that success, but on the face of it, none of those who have come through the door look like they are going to be the next Rudy Gestede. Take Liam Feeney – we had him before and he did very little yet we have got him back again (and he is doing very little).

If you asked most Rovers fans who they either fancied on loan or who they thought we would end up with on loan, 99% would be nowhere near the list of those that were brought in. A further 40% probably can’t name all our dealings as there’s been that many of them.

What this all seems to point to is one thing: the lack of any sort of plan. From the start of the window most Rovers fans knew that Hanley and Duffy would likely leave, yet it took until almost September to bring in reinforcements. Looking at the number of loan signings that have been brought in – they will plug a gap but are they really a long term solution? One or two loan signings can be a good thing if they bring in either experience or promise, but to bring in six and only be able to name five in a squad smells of “we’ll take what we can get and see if it works”. I’m not saying break the bank to bring players in, but do the loan signings really offer anything that players in the Development Squad don’t? I for one would rather see the likes of Wharton and Mahoney given a go – if all else fails and we do get relegated, it will be the likes of them who have the task of trying to get us back up or steady the ship; at least give them the chance to save the ship in the first place.

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The Aston Villa Gamble

Relegated as one of the worst sides in Premier League history, despite being a league member since its inception, many believed at the end of the 2015-16 season that Villa were destined to jump on the Pompey highway and tumble down the divisions.

new-manager-roberto-di-matteo-poses-after-the-press-conference

Their relegation came following the initial optimism of management under the enthusiastic Tim Sherwood, which quickly turned to realisation that his management skills were limited to jumping around the touchline wearing a fashionable club gilet and trying to motivate his players to perform – a task he failed somewhat miserably at. Sherwood was replaced by Remi Garde, a man linked with every vacant job in the Premier League since his successful stint on the coaching staff at Lyon with Paul Le Guen during which they won the title. Garde brought with him a sense of optimism that they could get out of the struggle they found themselves in and potentially aim higher with a bright young manager in future seasons. How wrong they were – the rot continued under Garde, at arguably a worse rate as they failed to muster any sort of fight to stay up; if only Villa’s performances had been as impressive as Joleon Lescott’s ability to unlock his phone and post a picture of his Mercedez all whilst being in his back pocket. By mid-April their fate was sealed, following the sacking of Garde who won only 3 out of 23 games he took charge of, with Eric Black taking charge until the end of the season.

So Villa tumbled through the trap door and in to the Championship, manager less and with a mixture of experienced players on high wages, and youngsters who had looked somewhat out of their depth in the top flight. A worrying time for Villa fans as the scaremonger’s circled and hinted at a bigger demise. Villa turned to Roberto Di Matteo to get them back to the Premiership or at least stop the rot – a Champions League winning manager and manager who had previously got local rivals out of the Championship (remember the last time they appointed a local rivals’ manager?).

Since appointing Di Matteo Villa have spent approximately £38m on the signings of McCormack, Chester, Jedinak, Elphick and others; whilst selling £15m-worth of players in Gueye, Clark and Sinclair – a net spend of £23m; not a lot, but a significant amount in the second tier.

Thus begins a cautionary tale:

In 2012 Blackburn Rovers were relegated from the Premier League with a relatively good squad and decided that in order to get back to the big time, and fast, they had to invest in players. That summer before the 2012-13 season they spent roughly £14.4m (a considerable amount in the pre-mega TV deal days) on transfers and a hefty amount in wages to free transfers like Danny Murphy and Dickson Etuhu, all in an attempt to jump straight back up using the money left over from the Premier League and the money to come from parachute payments. The gamble didn’t pay off and by the turn of the year the club was facing a double relegation following 3 managers and a court case. They didn’t get back that season, the following season, nor the season after that, and they now find themselves propping up the Championship in +£100m debt.

So are Villa walking a tight rope and is their spending reckless? On first glances you would say it is a massive gamble which is heavily reliant on the managerial expertise of a man who most recently guided a talented team the Champions League trophy, getting the most out of a relatively average squad of players, bolstered by some big money signings. Dig a little deeper though and this is a different scenario all together to the one at Ewood in 2012.

When Blackburn were relegated they stuck with the man who took them down, Steve Kean, a man who fans had turned on many months earier and a man who defiantly insisted he was the best man for the job despite evidence to the contrary and a man who argued he still had the support of the fans (which he definitely did not). At Villa they have brought in a manager who has experience of the division and of English football in general, who has successfully gained promotion before – he is a gamble, but a measured one given his experience.

Aston Villa followed relegation by being sold to a new owner with enthusiasm to take the club back to the top, and who has backed-up his enthusiasm with finances to potentially achieve this. At Blackburn, the Venkys were already well established for not really ‘getting’ football, the realism of transfers or the fact that relegation can happen (we’re still awaiting the arrival of Beckham and Ronaldhino), and in the summer following relegation it is rumoured that they put the future of the club in the hands of others to agree transfers. It might have looked like ambition and promise at the time, but it soon became clear the problems at the club were far more deep-rooted than the playing staff. At a time when the supporters wanted dialogue and communications with those running the club there was a deafening silence from Pune, which only soured relations further. At Villa they now have an owner in Tony Xia who tweets and interviews and tells of his ambition for the club. At Blackburn we struggle to get a press release from the owners when a viable, fan backed, takeover bid is put forward.

The investment in players and the appointment of an experienced manager at Villa won’t guarantee success in terms of promotion or stability in terms of survival but they are making the right steps, and by keeping the fans on board the new owner has given the club a chance – whether they have the players, talent or mental capacity to achieve either of these is still to be seen.

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