Tag Archives: Championship

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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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.

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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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Europe to the brink of League 1 in 10 years

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Ten years ago this weekend, Blackburn took on Portsmouth in the first game of the 2006-07 Premier League season. Their sixth season in the top tier following promotion from the Football League First Division, after only a two year stay in the second tier. Although the opening day of the season saw a 3-0 defeat away at (ironically) Portsmouth, there was a sense of optimism at the club following the summer signings of South Africa’s leading all-time goal scorer Benni McCarthy, former Champions League finalist Shabani Nonda, and the Dutch defender Andre Ooijer. The previous season Blackburn had finished the previous season in 6th place behind only Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham.

Fast forward 10 years and in the same weekend, Blackburn lie bottom of the Championship, drawing 2-2 with newly promoted Burton Albion (a team who ten years ago where in the Football Conference), following three defeats to Norwich, newly promoted local rivals Wigan, and Cardiff – the only team on 1 point in the division.

Back in 2006-07 there was a sense of excitement around the football team – throughout the summer months I would keep a close eye on Skysports and the local and national media to see who potential comings and goings would be, prophesising about who would be a good fit or who could be the biggest name we could attract. That summer we signed Benni McCarthy of the best European striker of the previous 5 years, a Champions League winner. As well as looking at who we could bring in, there was always the worry that key players could be snapped up by the bigger clubs – the previous season had seen brilliant performances from the likes of David ‘the new Beckham’ Bentley, Morten Gamst Pedersen and Brett Emerton, all players who had been linked with moves away – but we had managed to hold on to them.

In 2016-17 times have changed somewhat. The attendance against Burton yesterday was 10,356 – the lowest league attendance at Ewood Park since the month after Kenny Dalglish took charge in October 1991 when Rovers were in the old Division Two; this includes the period when Ewood Park was being redeveloped. Of those 10,356 it could be argued that only around 10-20% showed any sort of emotion when Burton twice equalised. Rather than the anger, disappointment and want to apportion blame that has followed many a goal conceded, there was a sense of inevitability and acceptance. A sense that it was bound to happen and that the supporters half expected it. You could call it a lack of passion, but these supporters have been through a lot in the last 5 years, never mind the last ten. In the space of 5 years, Blackburn Rovers have gone from being a mid-to-top-table Premiership club, well run, regularly attracting crowds of 20,000+ and contending in Europe – to a side who in allegedly hundreds of millions of pounds of debt; attendances struggling to break the 13,000 mark; hunting for free transfers; and on their 6th manager in 5 years (that including a two and a half year stint from Gary Bowyer).

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Attendances have shrunk significantly over the past 5 years

In the early 2000’s Blackburn were seen as the shining light of how to run a top division team in a small town without building up masses and masses of debt. They never spent beyond their means yet always outperformed where there spending on transfers and wages should have placed them. This was in no small part down to the Chairman/Chief Executive John Williams.

Now instead of spending the summer exciting/worrying about potential new players in and stars leaving, there is no checking of websites or media outlets, only the hope that we have a squad of players come the first day of the season with the ability to compete. All hopes are placed in finding a player on a free transfer who has dropped down the leagues but has the talent to get back to the top, or in loan deals bringing in players of higher quality looking to show their ability to their parent clubs. The turnover of players in five years has been incredible; even from the starting line up from the first game of the season the defence featured only one player, the captain Jason Lowe. Even when players leave the club now there is a sense of acceptance that we probably need the money to pay off debt or to reduce the wage bill; but we have been saying this for a number of years now, yet we are still a selling club who has to balance the books and pay off the debt – surely there can’t be many players left at the club on Premier League wages, or who could potentially generate a big transfer fee (by big I mean more than £2.5m).

In the last five years Blackburn have sold (reported fees):

  • Phil Jones (£22m)
  • Nikola Kalinic (£7m)
  • Yakubu (£1m)
  • Junior Hoilett (£4m)
  • Steven Nzonzi (£4m)
  • Martin Olsson (£2m)
  • Mauro Formica (£0.6m)
  • Alan Judge (£0.35m)
  • Tom Cairney (£3.5m)
  • Josh King (£2m)
  • Rudy Gestede (£6m)
  • Marcus Olsson (£1m)
  • Jordan Rhodes (£9m)
  • Grant Hanley (£6m)

Total Monies raised: £68.45m

And signed (reported fees):

  • David Goodwillie (£2.8m)
  • Radosav Petrovic (£2.7m)
  • Simon Vukcevic (£2m)
  • Yakubu (£1.5m)
  • Scott Dann (£8m)
  • Jordan Slew (£1m)
  • Leon Best (£3m)
  • Dickson Etuhu (£1.5m)
  • Jordan Rhodes (£8m)
  • Corry Evans (£0.6m)
  • Ben Marshall (£1m)
  • Shane Duffy (£0.4m)

Total monies out/spent = £32.5m

‘The Venkys’ bought a 99.9% stake in Blackburn Rovers in November 2010 spending £23m on the deal and taking on around £20m of the clubs debt. In its most simplistic form, they spend £43m on buying the club and debt; then have spent £32.5m on transfers (total spending = £75.5m) and raised £68.45m from transfers – the visible profit and loss from this stands at -£7.05m, arguably they could have more than halved the debt they took on board. However, as I say, this is only looking at the simple figures of transfers, and only those which we know the value of – what this doesn’t take in to account is the money spent on players wages, staff and operating costs, and agents fees. As of June this year (2016), the Lancashire Telegraph reported that although losses had improved by almost £25m, the debt still stood at £104.2m (these are the figures for the 2014-15 season). So this begs the question, where has the other £97m debt come from? A relatively large percentage of this will have arisen from wages and operating costs which aren’t covered by ticket sales, especially given the decrease in attendances – but the question needs to be asked, why are players on wages which aren’t aligned to a sustainable model for income against expenditure (i.e. keeping the amount which isn’t covered by season tickets as low as possible), especially given that the club are in the second tier and haven’t mounted a serious promotion challenge since relegation? Are they overpaid for their level of performances? If this is the case, who has agreed these deals? This brings us on to two key points in the demise of Blackburn Rovers – who is actually running the club day to day and approving transfers and wages for players who clearly aren’t of the standard required (the same could be said of >80% of the previous 6 managers)? And why have such astronomical amounts been paid to footballers’ agents in these deals?

I said earlier that there was arguably a lack of passion at Ewood Park when the opposition scores – let me clarify this: there is no lack of passion. What has happened at Ewood is that from the months after the Venkys bought the club, the supporters have known something wasn’t quite right. The sacking of Sam Allardyce was the start of this; followed by the appointment of a little known coach as manager; followed by the new improved contracts offered to key players who then mysteriously became injured and released/sold, only to make a Lazarus-like recovery; followed by the resignation of senior members of the clubs hierarchy (John Williams et al) as they didn’t feel they were being consulted or used appropriately given their previous experience and successes. This all culminated in a number of protests at Ewood before, during and after games mainly aimed at the frustrations and lack of confidence in the Manager – this gained national press for a while, but soon it became old news, and many of the supporters were criticised for wanting an inexperienced manager out before the club was relegated – eventually, the inevitable happened and Blackburn were relegated, with a game to spare. Again the fans called for the Manager to go, but unbelievably he kept his job, and was given vast amounts of money to spend (which evidently the club couldn’t afford).  Eventually Kean resigned and so commenced a further period of uncertainty and backroom hi-jinks as Blackburn got through two managers in the space of four and a half months as backroom staff wrestled for control and authority – eventually resulting in a £2.25m pay-off to Berg. When Michael Appleton was sacked in March 2013, a second relegation in as many seasons looked a likely outcome to the season, fortunately reserve team coach Gary Bowyer stepped up and ensured survival, and was then given the job for a further 2 full seasons. During Bowyer’s time in charge he was forced to hunt for free transfers and loan signings whilst having to sell his best players, and maintain a team capable of challenging for the top 6 – there were times during this period that players would appear on the pitch and supporter’s would have no idea who they, were they came from or what to expect, only for them to be released or called back to parent clubs shortly afterwards, there seemed to be an ever-revolving door of players coming in and out. Bowyer was sacked part way through the 2015-16 season as the club sat in mid-table despite having sold key squad members. Paul Lambert was given the job and promptly advised that Jordan Rhodes would be sold. Performances towards the end of the season were lacklustre and poor, and at times relegation was again a possibility – at the end of the season Lambert advised he would be leaving in the summer, rumoured due to be because of unfulfilled promises. Blackburn started the 2016-17 season with former Burnley, Bolton, Wigan and Houston Dynamo’s manager Owen Coyle in charge – much to the disappointment of fans. Never has a former Burnley manager then managed Blackburn.

Blackburn fans aren’t a wanting or overly expectant bunch. They are under no illusions that they should be battling for the top 6 of the Premier League at the minute, or arguably the top 6 of the Championship. All they are looking for is some hope. Hope that maybe things will get better; maybe it will be a long journey to get back to where they were 10 years ago and maybe it will take twice as long as that to do it, but they would be happy to know that there was a journey and not just the constant disappointment and farce that is the running of the club at the minute. The owners, Venkys, haven’t been seen at the club for years and very rarely speak to the media about the club or to calm fans fears. I am a lifelong supporter and season ticket holder and I couldn’t even tell you who our Chairman or Chief Executive is, or if we even have one. I don’t know what the owners expectations are for the season, next season or if they even have a 5 year plan. What I do know is that if I had invested £43m in to a football club, I would at least go and watch them in person every once in a while, and try to keep the fans on board and get bums on seats to raise much-needed money. But there is nothing comes from them other than the occasional press release saying they are 100% committed to the club and share the fans frustrations – this isn’t good enough. This summer they proved that they know nothing about English football, fandom or even the local area. To appoint a man who has previously managed the clubs bitterest rivals shows a complete ignorance of the clubs history and a lack of interest in what the fans wanted or definitely didn’t want. This decision will have cost season ticket sales. To further frustrations, after the club lost 4-1 at home on the opening day of the season they decided to jokingly muse that club stalwart Morten Gamst Pedersen may be re-signing, only to then announce that it was a joke and that he was only visiting. Let’s not forget that Pedersen scored some 35 goals in 288 games for the club and stuck with them during times of intense transfer speculation; when the club were relegated to the Championship it was rumoured that some people high up in the club had said he was too old to play at this level – at the time he was one of the best technical players in the squad. In the end he was shown the back door Karabukspor after having been forced to train with the youth development squad for a number of weeks. His bond with the Blackburn fans was shown when he came over to the supporters after a game he hadn’t played in shortly before his move and received rapturous applause. He could definitely still do a job in the side today, 3 years after leaving. For the club to joke that he may be re-signing is absolutely unbelievable and again shows that there is no awareness from the owners/club as to what the supporters are going through.

If I could ask the Blackburn Rovers owners one question, it would be: “What is your end game for the club?” If it was because they loved football, they would be at more games (or at least some games). If it was for the love of the club, they would again be in attendance at games, and they would not have let it get in to its current state. If it was to make money, they have had ample opportunities to sell either upon relegation or upon receipt of the parachute payments before the club was plunged in to debt. Further still, offers have been made which would allow them an exit from the club without it costing them a fortune, or offers which would allow them to be part owners without putting any more money in – but they have rejected both. Is it for the marketing potential for their chicken meat processing business? If so, why isn’t Ewood Park plastered in signs and logos and why isn’t their product sold in the stadium and local vicinity? Surely there is no marketing potential in the Championship to reach an international audience as you can’t buy the product in this country. So what exactly do they want from the club?

There has been a lot of activity from supporters of the club this past week to raise awareness of the current plight of the club and raise questions about previous dealings. In an ideal world this will bring back the national media attention and at least force the Venkys to answer questions about their dealings and intentions, in an ideal world it might start the process of the sale of the club to more competent and interested hands. What I fear is that the same old story will be played out again: the Venkys will release a statement saying they are fully committed to the club and getting back to the Premier League and they are not interested in selling, but will welcome discussions with fans, which will never happen.

If things don’t change, the club is only going one way, further down the ladder to League 1.

At least we have a big screen they can advertise on in League 1.

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Be careful what you wish for – expectations vs. realism #BRFC

Whilst the domestic footballing calendar takes a break for two weeks for the next round of internationals, it comes at a time when the leagues are starting the take shape after ten games, and we are getting hints as to how the seasons are going to go: who is going to be up there challenging for the title and promotion; who is going to struggle; and who is destined for a season of mid-table mediocrity.

Before a ball was kicked this season, Blackburn Rovers were priced at around 14/1 to win the Championship and 7/1 for promotion – fast forward two months and they sit 12th in the table, 4 points off the play-offs. At this time of the season this is not a bad place to be key – the key to a successful Championship season is to get a decent start and then either continue that through the season and walk the league to the title or automatic promotion, or stay within touching distance of the play-offs and put a run together after Christmas. Looking at the league table – it seems Blackburn may have to settle for the latter. Their form so far this season reads: played 11, won 4, drawn 3 and lost 4 – a symbol of what has summed why they are so far down the table despite promising signs: inconsistency. Blackburn have been unable to find any form – they will one or two, then proceed to draw or lose the next two games.

Case in point: look at the last 3 games played before the International break: Watford at home, Rotherham away, and Huddersfield at home. Before the kick-off against Watford, I was looking at a minimum point’s return of 5, hopefully 7 or 9. The outcome – 2 points: fighting back from two nil down to get a point against Watford; two unlucky goals conceded against Rotherham; and a missed penalty leading to a goalless draw against Huddersfield. To be up there challenging for the top spots, these are the games you need to be getting maximum points from. But are Blackburn good enough to be in the higher reaches of the league?

Too many Blackburn fans who look on from a far think we are still the Premier League outfit we were under Sounness and Hughes, and that our former glories should mean we walk games against the likes of Rotherham and Huddersfield. Anybody who has ever watched the Championship will tell you this is not the case – the minute you drop in to the Championship, it is a completely different ball game. A long hard slog where you need to grind out results – there is a place for flair and free-flowing attacking football, but there is also a bigger space for grit and determination. The expectations at Ewood don’t seem to align with this, and too many supporters have been too quick to forget the circus of the last season in the Premier League and the first season in the Championship.

The game against Huddersfield is a good example: Blackburn were by far the better team, they created heaps of chances but were unable to take any, even missing a penalty. At the end of the game fans were bitterly disappointed, which is fair enough, but for certain sections of the crowd to start questioning Gary Bowyer’s tenure is completely outrageous and ridiculous. Had Rhodes put his penalty away and we had come away with a one nil win, the mood would have been completely different, 4 points from 9 and 2 points off the play-offs, with an optimism with the amount of chances we were creating. Despite the result, the football is far far better than what we have experienced in the probably the last 5 years.

The supporters need to remember how far the team, and club, have come in the last two years. Two years ago the mood and feeling at Ewood was toxic under the management of Steve Kean. The negativity was transferring to the players on the pitch, and no sooner were the players on the pitch, if they weren’t winning, the crowd was on their backs – it wasn’t their fault, it was aimed at the manager. Looking at the team now, we have players who look to express themselves, want to get forward, strikers who score goals, and if things aren’t going too well, then dig in to try and grind results out. Further to that, we have options in most areas of the pitch. Perhaps most importantly, this transformation has been done almost on a shoestring to ensure the books are as balanced as possible ahead of potentially Financial Fair Play implications.

I say to those questioning Bowyers tenure: Remember the first season we were back in the Championship when we were so quick to fire off managers who did not deliver instant success – we diced with relegation for parts of the season, and depended on Bowyer to drag us out of the mire. Who else is there our there at the minute? Added to this, who else is there out there who understands the club and the financial predicament? My worry would be that if Bowyer is relieved of his duties, we would be back to square one, bringing a manager in who doesn’t understand the clubs financial situation, would look to spend money on established names to get the fans on side, and we would end with an unsettled and aging squad, deep in the depths of Financial Fair Play issues, and back to the drawing board with regards to a style of play and ‘team’.

My opinion is that Bowyer is the right man for the job, but perhaps he does need some help. I think the key to progressing from stability to challengers is an experienced assistant. Someone who has been there and done it, and can draw on experience of various situations. The example of when we are behind in games is a good one – Bowyer seems to lack the experience or the courage to change things, dramatically if needed, which often leads to the team struggling on trying the same methods with no rewards. A number 2 could give him the ideas and support to try different things to change games, rooting in the knowledge that they have done it before, with success. The big question of who this should be, is a tricky one. Again, who is there out there who could do it, and also who would want it? I think we would need to look to someone who has a history of management both at this level and in the Premiership, but it would need to be clear from the start that their role was as a number two to put to bed any potential rumours of power struggles. Someone like Sounness would be a good fit, but unfortunately, I don’t think he would take it.

At the minute, we are not situated badly in the league, and we are well placed to stay close to the play-offs with the hope of a good run from January/February to the end of the season. However, on current evidence I don’t think the team is quite the finished article yet, and you have to question that if we did go on a run, would we end up like a Burnley or a West Brom, of past years, coming straight back down with the Premiership proving to big a step up. That said, looking at the likes of Southampton, Hull and Swansea, who went up arguably a season too soon, and they have survived just fine, whilst also playing decent football. Only time will tell.

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Poor Premiership football Vs Good Championship Football?

Ask the Chairman/Owner and they will probably opt for the former and take the money, and act blissfully ignorant to the moans and groans of the supporters who they will believe should be happy they are in the top division, and put up with poor quality as a result.

Ask the supporters, and I think their opinion may be split – some fans will be happy to maintain Premier League status and all the trimmings which come with that, at the cost of actual quality football – they may feel that ingredient is provided by the opposition, their team there to provide the fodder which the opposition must use quality and flair to breakdown. Other fans, those who love not the status but the actual playing of the game will probably take the latter. MK Dons are a good example, they know it is unlikely that they could compete at the top level, but that doesn’t stop them getting the ball down and playing football – something which will continue to lead to the develop of young players, who, unlike the club, will progress up the leagues (MK Dons is only an example here, they may well follow their players to the top). It also doesn’t stop their supporters paying their money to watch them play this football, when Premiership FC just down the road are in the top flight but not playing the best of the beautiful game.

To an extent, a shift in style seems to be in progress at Ewood Park – after a poor start to the season, Gary Bowyer seems to have got the new signings playing an attacking free flowing style of football which is resulting in numerous goal scoring opportunities each week, nine of which have been taken in the last two weeks. Judgement was reserved for the first five against 10-man Barnsley, but a comprehensive victory over potential promotion pushers Bolton confirmed that style looks to be on the return to Ewood.

Rewind 5 years to the term of Allardyce and all started brightly, but soon, as results dictated, the style was switched to a more familiar kick and rush – evidenced no better than the missiles launched in to the box from once mercurial Pedersen, making better use of his arms than his undoubtedly talented left foot. At the end of the missile, the centre backs, constantly trudging forward at every opportunity to volley a ball in to the box – at the end of 90 minutes they must have been exhausted; not only that, but by sending them forward, on a number of times left gaps and breaks on for the opposition – counterproductive? Nearly three years on from the sacking of Allardyce, Blackburn fans are still split on whether he was good or bad for the club – in my mind, a question which is aligned well to the question of poor top level football or exciting second tier football. Don’t get me wrong, without Allardyce to steer the ship clear of relegation following Paul Ince’s substitute lottery tenure at the helm, we would have been condemned to the second tier 3 years earlier – but at the same time, would we have had to suffer 3 years of Saturday sore neck day? West Ham United fans may argue that Big Sam is playing football at Upton Park, but I offer them this: just wait until the chips are down and a win becomes hard to gain – he will revert to what he knows best to get the points on the board, and changing back does not come quickly.

Last week missile produce Morten Gamst Pedersen left the club for Turkish side Karabukspor, after nine years at the club – during which time he has excited and frustrated fans in equal measures (one week he would score a world class freekick or a brace at Manchester United – the next he would miss a header at point blank range in the last minute of an FA Cup semi-final, or hit a one-man wall whilst trying to deliver a freekick from 40 yards out). However, one thing cannot be argued about Pedersen, he has always given 100%, no matter where the managers have played, how much the crowd have got on his back, or whether the global advisor has sent him for his pension; and after game he has played in a Blackburn Rovers shirt, he has always clapped the crowd off the pitch. He leaves the club one of us, a supporter, and he leaves us with many great memories (without him the season review and goal of the season compilations between 2004-13 would have been a much tougher challenge to watch again). It is criminal that he has been forced to leave the club one year away from meeting his testimonial anniversary, but it is a measure of the man and the player that even though he hasn’t been involved this season, he has still trained and asked to play in the youth development squad just to get some game-time, and the fact he has moved for football rather than clinging on to a wage at Ewood perhaps highlights he still has something to offer, and that his support of the club extends beyond his back pocket.
Another player to leave the club this week was Gael Givet – another player who has been bruised and battered whilst donning the blue and white shirt, and another player who you could never question the commitment of. Again it is sad to see him go as with his and Pedersen’s departures, the last remaining memories of the relative glory days of Graeme Souness and Mark Hughes, and the stability of Allardyce are gone (Dunn remains, but his is a different circumstance altogether – a local lad scoring an equaliser to maintain a 34 year long unbeaten run against your rivals, and you can hang around for as long as you want!) – but change isn’t always a bad thing.

There departures mark the end of the Souness/Hughes/Allardyce, but they also, to an extent, mark the end of the Steve Kean era. Of the squad at Ewood now, only Robinson, Dann and Rochina remain of Kean’s main signings, if you can call them ‘his’ signings, and these are probably the best of those he brought in. What this change in personnel does symbolise is almost an acceptance of the need for change to return to the Premier League. During Kean’s leadership the club was negative in every way, the football was poor, and there was an acceptance of failure before a ball was even kicked. What Bowyer has done by bringing new young blood in to the team is change the atmosphere around the club, arguably along with expectations. No longer is the club expected to challenging for the Championship title, most supporters would be over the moon with the play-offs. Blackburn Fans accept that times and tides are shifting and that with the young squad we have, there is the potential to develop a team to play football the proper way, and also do it in a financially sound way. Combine this with a group of players who seemingly know no fear and want to get forward at every opportunity, and you have every chance of making the top 6. In the last two games, Blackburn have played attacking football with wingers and full backs overlapping – growing in confidence with every attack.

Now that the confidence has grown, Rhodes has stayed through the window, it is a shame that there is a two week break before the Burnley game. Ideally, given the form of the team, Blackburn would’ve liked the game last Sunday after the Bolton game – but they will have to wait and let the nerves stew. The one worry for Blackburn is the same thing that is making them optimistic about the future – youth. There a number of players in the team now under 23 (the average age of the squad) who will never have played in a local derby, and if they have, perhaps not one as fierce as this; and there are a number of these players maybe not familiar with the rivalry and what it means to the local area – it is the job of the likes of Dunn, Dann, Lowe and Kean (Jake, not Steve) to help Bowyer get the importance across to the others. Two men I would want in that changing room come the 14th September, playing or not playing, would be Pedersen and Givet. But times have changed, and the young pretenders will learn themselves soon enough.

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The road to promotion or prolonging the inevitable?

Three games in and 7 points on the board. At the beginning of the season, I’m pretty sure most Rovers fans would have bitten your hands off – unbeaten after games against Ipswich, and then promotion contenders Hull and favourites, Leicester. Seven points, and one clean-sheet – fantastic.

Have a look beneath the surface and watch any of the three matches and even the most biased of the Ewood faithful would admit, we have been lucky to get points on more than one occasion.  The performances have been poor, at times we have been outplayed, but somehow have come out on top – a sign of a good team you may say? Or maybe, a sign of the inexperience, poor skill of the opposition?

This league is a tough league which makes all the more unbelievable that we remain unbeaten. The secret? First of all, luck. Goals allowed and goals disallowed on the back of seemingly incorrect linesman’s decisions. Second of all, the ability to keep the ball and absorb pressure when necessary. What Blackburn have had this year, which was lacked last year, is someone composed on the ball. Someone who can make a simple pass and defence splitting pass at the right times, when needed. Combine this with the inexperience of some of the opposition, and the opportunities which have been presented to the blue and white halves have been taken.

So, are Rovers just lucky, or is it good management and tactics? At this point in time, I have to air on the side of luck. The tactics from Steve Kean have again been questionable – playing a central midfielder at left back, switching the left side of midfield, and as always, sitting deep and trying to protect a 1-0 lead. Perhaps the most obvious of the tactical misdemeaners, or maybe the most confusing, is the introduction more than twelve months after signing, of Bruno Ribeiro – or as many know him – “Dennis Irwin”. Signed from Brazilian side Gremio in the summer of 2011, Ribeiro did not feature once in Blackburn’s ill-fated relegation campaign, and did not even feature on the bench. Yet three games in, he is now a cult figure with the fans. Knowing the Dennis Irwin hype surrounding him, and the fact that he has never before featured – both his appearances this season have been greeted with a sort of half-mocking, half-distraught, fanfare – at least for the first game against Hull – but then his first full start, against Leicester, the Brazilian played more than capably at right back, before moving forward and proving just as effective at right-wing – a performance that earnt him man of the match. If you’d have predicted that, even as recently as the Ipswich game, you would have been ridiculed. So why has Kean now decided to play him? At times last season we struggled in defence, often playing young central midfielders out of position, or throwing youth team players in at the deep end. At 29, and having played all his career in Brazil, Ribeiro would hardly have been inexperienced, and would have played against many an effective attacking player.

The game on Saturday against Leicester again showed Kean’s inability to make a decision – for the entire second half, the Blackburn End shouted for Ruben Rochina. At first Kean ignored the shouts, but as they got louder, it seemed the more Kean considered the option, until he finally brought him on. At this level, Rochina has the ability to rip teams to shreds and create the chances and score the goals himself – he would be more than competent in the Premier League – but by keeping him on the sidelines, I fear Kean has alienated him to an extent that he would jump at a second chance in the top league, most likely, playing every week.

As the transfer deadline approaches, I fully expect players to leave – mainly Olsson, N’Zonzi, Vuckevic and maybe even Robinson and Rochina – but Scott Dann’s mistake on Saturday could leave him stranded at Ewood until at least January. Coming in, I’m not too sure. I think we need a right-winger and at least one other striker and potentially another centre half. However, if you were a footballer, would you choose Blackburn Rovers, a Championship club in turmoil, the fans still against the manager and owners, over a Premier League Club? The rumours of Rickie Lambert being the next target are almost laughable – it questions just exactly what does Shebby Singh advise on? Other than transfer gossip, rumours about sackings and slandering the players?

Back to the orginal question: road to promotion or prolonging the inevitable? As a true Rovers fan I hope it’s the promotion option, but I can’t help feel that when that first defeat comes, it may be the first of many, which, in turn, will lead to the crowd (those who bother to attend) to turn again on Kean and the owners – lets just hope that this defeat comes long in to the season and doesn’t lead to a crash back down to earth (or further) as I think it might.

One final note – chuffed to bits for Pedersen – proving that he has the quality to succeed and contribute at this level – no other player in blue and white could have scored that goal!

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Pre-Season Blues

With less than 48 hours to go until the new football season, this is usually time of excitement, optimism and hope – but this year, these feelings have been replaced by some of an acceptance of reality, apathy and frustration.

Prior to the start of new season most football fans get in the mood, they pick a fantasy league team and place a few bets, and most of all look at the new signings and how they have done over the summer and in pre-season. But for some reason, I cannot get excited about the new season on Saturday 18th August. I don’t know whether it is the excitement of the olympics still burning out, or more likely, the continued on-goings at Ewood Park.

In summers gone by we Rovers fans have been promised achievements such as Europe, Champions League and survival to get us in the mood for the big kick off – in comparison, a promise of promotion should rank up there. However, at the minute, with the same set-up as last season – which showed us related – and the addition of another meddling ‘know-it-all’, I can’t see it.

We have lost some of our best players over the last 12 months, and others who have either fallen out with Steve Kean or are transfer targets for Premiership clubs, unlikely to remain at the club much longer. The players we have brought in are probably good ‘Championship-players’, which is what we need, admittedly, but it just doesn’t get the excitement mounting.

Our first home game is next Wednesday against Hull, which will be a dramatic realisation that we are in fact in the Championship, and no longer the Champions League – but with many fans planning on boycotting the game and standing outside in protest, this could be more of a damp squib affair which could play in to the hands of new boss Steve Bruce – Hull incidentally, are a team I think will have a good season, so at this early stage, the points could be very important.

Another reason I less than excited is the lack of any clout in the transfer market – yes we have bought Leon Best and brought in the entire staff of Nando’s, but there is no-one has come in who I thought “yes – he will be decent, he will get the fans cheering”. The only player so far who has offered any sort of such excitement is Jordan Rhodes, and it looks unlikely now that he will be making the trip down the M62. So who does that leave us with? Marouane Chamakh a man who I believe only scored against Blackburn last year, and who uses more hair product than John Travolta in Grease – he hasn’t been able to cut it at Premiership level, and to be honest, I don’t think he has shown signs that he can do it a step further down the ladder – but then, I wasn’t too impressed by the signing of Yakubu!

I hope I’m wrong, and I do honestly expect to get that buzz back come three o’ clock on Saturday – but the next question is, do I want a good start? Singh has said if Kean loses the first three games he is gone – do we look at the bigger picture and hope for defeat? No – I am Blackburn fan and it is against my nature to want us to get beat. If Kean is still in charge next May, hopefully it is because he has proved us all wrong – personally, I cannot see it happening.

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Singh when you’re winning

With less than a week to go until the start of a new football season, claims have been made by the Blackburn Rovers Director of Football Shebby Singh, that if the start is a poor one, and three of the first three games are lost, then Kean will be sacked. It is a welcome sound to the ears of Blackburn fans who have long campaigned for the thick-skinned Scotsman to be relieved of his duties – but one must ask the question – “why should he be given another three games? Was relegation itself not a feet that should be congratulated with a P45?”

Kean has continued to frustrate fans over the summer with the better players of the relegated squad being either allowed to leave for a fee, or placed on the transfer list like scrap thrown on the heap. He has spend money on wages and brought the experience of Danny Murphy, Dickson Etuhu and Nuno Gomes, and with them a handful of Portuguese youngsters, along with a pricey Leon Best. The signings have been encouraging, and the amount spent on wages both optimistic and worrying at the same time, but it has to be said, why now, and why not 8 months ago when the money was needed? Kean has often spoken this Summer of the experience that was missed last season, and that this lack of experience played a huge role in the clubs relegation, but lets remember, Kean sold/allowed to leave: Emerton, Samba, Diouf, Salgado, Roberts, Jones and Andrews – surely he has to hold his hands up and admit at least part of the blame.

To be fair to Kean he has been dealt a cruel blow with his big summer signing, Leon Best, the man charged with firing the club back to the Premiership, being ruled out for at least 6 months. He has partly replaced Best with Colin Kazim-Richards, once of Turkish giants Fenerbahce and Galatasary, but even after Best’s arrival Blackburn were short of striking options, meaning that the club cannot stop at just Kazim-Richards. To bolster the line, Kean looked to a strange thing, a marqee signing, almost, from a club lower down the leagues (well the same league this year), and Jordan Rhodes from Huddersfield. The striker has excited in the past couple of seasons and his goals have undoubtedly got Huddersfield back to the Championship, and a host of Premier League clubs following his every move with interest. This makes it hard to believe that Blackburn would have the audacity to bid £2m for a 22-year-old international, who has scored 71 goals in 122 appearances for Huddersfield – and is yet to reach his prime. It is almost an offensive amount of money for a team who will be playing in the same division this year. However, to play Devil’s advocate: has he proven himself at international level? Has he ever scored outside of League 1? Can he adapt to the pace and physique of the Premier League? This unanswered questions are why Blackburn may believe a lower offer could do the trick – in fairness, to many, they would also Blackburn as having more chance of promotion than Huddersfield. Jordan Rhodes could be to Steve Kean, what Jon Stead was to Greame Sounness – a goal scoring saviour.

And back to Mr Shebby Singh – after issuing Kean what appears to be a last three chances, he went on to criticise some of the current crop of players at the club, most notably, the longest reigning member of the squad, Morten Gamst Pedersen, stating that he has not reinvented himself as a central midfielder meaning he is of no use, and that he has ‘lost his legs’. First of all, for a paid member of BRFC staff, this is unethical, secondly, as someone who has been at the club for two minutes, this is unacceptable. Over the past few seasons, Pedersen has not been at his best (he hit a one man wall 30 yards out last season), but he gives his all everyone game, no matter how much the crowd get on his back. He is not a central midfielder, but he has played there, got stuck in and never shied away from the facts, or the fans. And most importantly, without fault, come the final whistle, if he is still on the pitch he will come over to the fans – not many players outside of Pedersen and Robinson can admit to this – and for this reason, I think Singh may have gone too far. Pedersen is a long time servant of the club, and relegation will have hurt him a lot more than some of the others. He has played in the big games – the semi finals, the european nights, and he knows what a brilliant club Blackburn Rovers can be. And I personally believe although he may no longer cut it at the top-level, his quality will/would undoubtedly be an asset in the Championship, and his set-pieces would generate much-needed points. It has to be asked – why slate Pedersen for his loss of legs, but then offer David Dunn a new deal, a man who struggled to adapt/keep up with the game at times last season? There could be something to say here by way of getting the fans on side – if the Pedersen comments had been made about Dunn, there would have been an outcry; but make them about an ageing player who hasn’t had the best of seasons over the last couple of years, who fans have from time to time criticised, and it shows an intent that only the best will do and that Singh only has promotion in his eyes, no space for sentiment.

Only time will tell whether Singh indeed sticks to his word, and whether Pedersen is past his best and his legs are too behind him – but a trademark free-kick from Pedersen today sealed a final friendly victory. Maybe Singh has done enough to put the fire back in the Norwegian’s belly?

 

http://www1.skysports.com/football/news/11676/7982685/Singh-issues-Kean-threat

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Blackburn Rovers FC – A Soccernomincs story?

To the outside world, the last 18 or so months that Venky’s have been at the helm of Blackburn Rovers may have seemed like pure, impossible, unpredictable chaos – but have they had a plan all along?

Two weeks ago I picked up the book “Soccernomics: Why England lose, why Spain, Germany, and Brazil win, and why the US, Japan, Australia, turkey – and even Iraq – are destined to become the kings of the worlds most popular sport” – by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski – after reading a few chapters it became apparent that the ideologies they discussed about the way football clubs are run made very logical sense. The book itself uses statistics to explain why things in football happen and how traditional methods of running clubs set teams up to fail, drawing heavily from Michael Lewis’ ‘Moneyball’ (now a major motion picture) – now I am a bit of geek for using statistics to evidence facts, so the book immediately made sense to me. However, the more I read, particularly the opening chapters, the more I had the image of Anuradha Desai and her brothers in my head, making me think, is there method to their seeming madness? To explain this I’ve taken a few key points from the book and put them in the context of BRFC.

1. A new manager wastes money on transfers; don’t let him. – The Venky’s have hardly made any funds available for transfers since taking over the club. Allardyce didn’t get to spend a penny of their money, and Steve Kean has had a similar measly packet of spending money to spend on transfers (Scott Dann being the exception but also the point in case – he spent £6m on a defender who wasn’t that brilliant). Kuper and Scymanski argue that teams perform better with more money spent on wages, not transfers, however, to play devils advocate, arguably the highest waste Venky’s have paid since taking over has been for Roque Santa Cruz during his loan period – and that was hardly a success (Santa Cruz was mostly injured and failed to hit the net once).

2. Certain Nationalities are overvalued – This particularly looks at nationalities such as Brazilians. Venky’s have tended to look to certain ‘unfashionable’ nations such as Scotland, Serbia, Montenegro and avoided Germans, French and South Americans (one exception being Mauro Formica).

3. The best time to sign a player is when he is in his early twenties – in their first transfer window Venky’s brought in youngsters Mauro Formica and Ruben Rochina, and added to them with Goodwillie, Slew and Marcus Olsson the following season. Buying players young takes a gamble on inexperience (but not as big a gamble as buying 15-16 year olds the likes have Chelsea have started doing) but also allows for them to develop in to the player they want to be, and ultimately sell them off at a massive gain. At Ewood, this is replicated with the academy which has produced many stars over the years and has brought in huge sums of money from transfers (Duff, Dunn, Jones, Given etc.).

4. Sell any player when another club offers more than he is worth – every club will have a figure of value in mind for every player, the problem some clubs have is they get greedy and ask for more, often meaning the player in question hangs about at the club for a couple of extra years and his value decreases (or he leaves on a free transfer) – with this in mind, Arsenal would probably be wise to sell Robin Van Persie this summer. Looking at Blackburn Rovers, since pulling up a chair at the boardroom table, Venky’s have sold no less than: Phil Jones (£17m), Chris Samba (£12m), Yakubu (£1.2m), Kalinic (£5m), Roberts (£500k), and Fielding (£300k). It would be hard to argue that any of these players could have been valued at more than these figures. To add to this, the clubs that these players were sold to is also interesting – Manchester United; Anzhi; Guangzhou; Dnipro; Reading; and, Derby – at the time of their sale, these players where not going to clubs who Blackburn where likely to be competing with. The key transfer here is Samba, in the eyes of Blackburn Rovers, they did not want him going to a QPR, a Villa or a Spurs so Anzhi offered the ideal chance to cash in on him and given that he had stated his desire to leave in the press, to keep him against his could have caused further rifts in the squad. The issue Rovers fans have with the transfers is the lies about who is staying and who is going, and then allowing key players (Nelson, Emerton, Salgado and Diouf) to leave on free transfers, particular as they were experienced and senior members of the squad.

5. Replace your best players before you sell them – here Venkys have not been too brilliant. Phil Jones was not replaced until 3 weeks in to the season, where damage had already been done, similarly, Chris Samba has yet to be replaced, as too has Jason Roberts. Kalinic was replaced by Yakubu and Fielding by the upcoming Jake Kean. Emerton was replaced by Rochina, Benjani by Goodwillie, Diouf by Formica. Moving forward I think, personally, that Venky’s have a plan to replace experience with youth, cashing in both the experienced players in their prime, and then at a later date, when youth has become experience, cashing in again and started the cycle off again. This has already been seen with the first team action for the likes of Jason Lowe, Adam Henley, Grant Hanley, Raheem Hanley and Jake Kean – the worry is that, as shown last season, it may be too soon to bring these players in to the limelight for extended periods, particular when some many are promoted at once. In the Championship though, they may flourish, and with the extra games, Rovers will need squad options and depth.

6. Buy players with personal problems and help them deal with their problems – looking at the players that Venky’s have brought in, a bit of google-research quickly reveals that some have had run in with law and others clashes with other vices. Goodwillie has been the subject of lawsuits from GBH, Bradley Orr was the first footballer to wear a tag, and Yakubu hadn’t had the best of spells at Leicester and has had issues with his size. These vices arguably knock pounds off their pricetag but also gives clubs an opening offer to get them on board – “club play for us and we’ll help you with your problems”. Blackburn isn’t a big city, and this has helped other players in past avoid the limelight and turn a corner – Craig Bellamy, Paul Dickov, Andy Todd and Kieth Gillespie. These ‘vice-players’ may not be world beaters, but take away their issues and your more likely to get more than your moneys-worth.

7. Don’t pick a ex-world class player as manager – clubs have a habit of hiring coaches who have had success on the pitch but little or no experience of management, and often they fail catastrophically. Often a key issue, is whether the manager is available immediately – usually this means they have just been sacked. With Blackburn Rovers it looks very much as though Venkys have tried to avoid this problem. They removed a reasonably successful player in Allardyce and replaced him with Kean who had a near unheard of career in Scotland and Portugal. Kean has had a many years of coaching experience and has worked with a number of managers at the top-level – not too dissimilar to Jose ‘the special one’ Mourinho. Couple this with the appointment of a little known Malaysian defender/pundit Shebbi Singh and it appears that they have gone for under the radar staff with experience but not the hype to match. The question remains though, are they up to the job? With a high-profile manager it easier to lay the blame of failure at their doorstep, with unknowns, the blame can arguably still be with the players.

8. “Doing a Leeds” – cutting your wages, getting relegated, and competing at a lower level. Unfortunately for Blackburn fans, this seems to be the way the club is heading. Although removing a large wage structure and making the club more sustainable, this could arguably also be the end of the club. The failure Kuper and Szymanski talk about here is how Leeds United paid top dollar wages in the early 2000’s to get them to the Champions League semi-final, only to then be relegated with a massive wage bill which was sliced and followed by relegations through the leagues – this is obviously not the ideal way to run a football club.

It would be best here to point out that I am in no-way condoning what Venky’s have/are doing to Blackburn Rovers, and I am against their ownership and running of the club. However, those looking for reasoning behind the decisions they have made, may well find this in the fantastic book  by Kuper and Szymanski – a recommended read for any football fans and those involved in the running of a club. It’s main point is that the traditional running of a football club makes no sense when put against business decisions and when combined with stats will not, in most cases, result in success. Venky’s appear as though they may have taken this on board, but what you cannot argue against is that they are certainly doing things differently to the norm.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Soccernomics-England-Germany-Australia-Destined/dp/1568584253/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1341058550&sr=1-2

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