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.

Safety first

As the curtains close on another Championship season, Blackburn Rovers just about avoided a second successive relegation – just about. But does this reflect a very poor season? A season reflective of the off-field antics? Or a season of consolidating?

At the beginning of the year, before even a ball was kicked, most Blackburn fans would tell you that the Play-Offs where an absolute minimum, with many eyeing up second place and automatic promotion. Fast forward to February/March time, and those same fans would happily have taken finishing 21st on goal difference. The Championship is the most gruelling league in the world, and it can be the cruelest, as Peterborough found out yesterday when they were in the bottom three for three minutes – unfortunately for them it was the last three minutes.

Blackburn started the league well with wins and draws keeping them in the top six up until September, albeit the performances did not warrant this, then the merry-go-round started with Steve Kean claiming his position was untenable with people calling for his head after a home defeat to Middlesbrough, who at the time were flying, and them him resigning. This was followed by a consolidatory period under Eric Black were we didn’t win so many games, but we didn’t lose too many. Then in came Berg and the hopes of a romantic relit love match with him being the man to guide us back to the Premiership – but it wasn’t to be and he was sacked after a poor run of results seeing him pick up one win in ten and then his P45 after just 57 days. Step up Gary Bowyer, reserve team manager. He did what he was asked and steered Blackburn through to the next round of the cup, and to three wins and a draw in his four games – a feat which it seemed would see him remain in the post indefinitely, potentially until the end of the season – within the week, Michael Appleton was poached from neighbours Blackpool. Appleton’s reign resumed much of the mediocre performances that were witnessed under Berg – except, he removed a lot of players sending them out on loan or cancelling their contracts – the result of which was a return to Allardyce hoof-ball tactics, to a striker who plays best with the ball to his feet. Appleton’s reign last a lengthy 67 days and consisted of four wins, five draws and six defeats, including a poor showing in an FA Cup Quarter final and last-minute equalizer against Burnley. Step up again Mr Bowyer – with the team dropping towards the foot of the Championship at a rate of knots, Bowyer was again asked to steady the ship and set a course for dry land – a task he completed with a game to spare with the club finishing 17th, four points above the drop. Other items of note during the season on the pitch are pretty much confined to Jordan Rhodes, who equaled a consecutive scoring club record, and finished second top goal scorer with just one behind Glenn Murray; another shining light was the performances of Scott Dann who featured in all Blackburn’s games, and the progress made by the young Scot Grant Hanley.

So that is on the pitch, what about off the pitch? It can be argued, with some ferocity, that the reason for Blackburn’s poor league showing was the off the field issues – starting with Shebby Singh setting Steve Kean an ultimatum, through to the dragging of the club’s name through the Courts as the owners defended their right to not pay Henning Berg all his compensation for an early holiday. Sandwiched inbetween these two incidents included: a slander case as Kean made accusationary comments about former boss Allardyce; resignations; sackings; the appointment of a general manager and an operational director; claims of agents running the club; fan ownership issues; chickens on the pitch; the managing director told to stay away from the club; the managing director offering contracts he didn’t have the authority to and issues ‘untrue’ press statements on the clubs website; release of the details of players wages; managers being sacked by PA letter – the list goes on.

I think you could easily argue the case that regardless of the performances on the pitch, the club was never going to get an instant return to the Premiership, and arguably, they didn’t deserve to given the way they were being run.

So what is the solution to get Blackburn Rovers fighting at the top of the league for promotion? I don’t think the answer is the removal of the owners – they have the commitment and they have proved this through the amount of money (rumoured to be £20m) that they have pumped in to the club, but I think they have been very poorly advised – by whom, I’m not too sure. Given the amount of money it takes to run BRFC a fan owned club could be a disaster from a financial point of vie. Here is my 5 point plan for promotion in 2013-14: –

  1. Keep Jordan Rhodes, and keep him fit;
  2. If the Venkys are staying, they need to appoint a CEO to run the club properly at this end (I’d personally start grovelling to John Williams now);
  3. Transparency – make clear who is making the decisions at the club – to often statements have been released with muddy the water around who is actually running the club and making the decisions;
  4. Attend more games and show more commitment – you can hire as many PR companies as you want – the best form of PR in this instance is commitment and open communication;
  5. Hire a manager proven in this league to get the wheels turning from the start and push towards the play-offs. This needs to be done quickly, as they don’t hang around for long*;
  6. Let the manager do their job – from picking the team, to scouting and buying players, to offering new contracts – if the Venkys are committed to getting the club back up, they need to let the manager do things his way with pressures around contracts.

It sounds simple, and it should be, but it is a measure of how far from grace the club has fallen, that these things need to be spelt out to the club. Another season of turmoil off the pitch could very realistically result in relegation.

* Although point 5 states that a proven manager is required, there are rumours that Jorge Jesus, current Benfica manager, would like to manage in the Premiership, or at an ambitious Championship club. Given the number of young Portuguese players, and the alleged ambition of the clubs owners, could this be the ideal fit for him? Given that he has guided Benfica to the Europa League final and is unbeaten in the league this years says the man knows his way around a tactics board – but does this also mean he is hot property around ‘bigger’ clubs in Europe?

Divine intervention: Jesus wants to move to the Premier League.. after leaving  Benfica

http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/transfer-news/jorge-jesus-wants-move-premier-1795034#ixzz2SQ3yNW00

All PR is good PR

The definition of PR – Public Relations – is: “Public relations is about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics” (www.cipr.co.uk). Good PR is what all businesses and any organisation in the public eye strive for. Companies can spend millions of ensuring that the way they are perceived is nothing but positive.

On the 14th of January this year, Blackburn Rovers enlisted the help/services of a sports PR company to improve their media image. Since then, two managers have been sacked, a transfer window has passed, numerous players have left the club, the club reached an FA Cup quarter final, and finally, rumours have surfaced that Derek Shaw has been asked to stay away from the club. These are the tip of the iceberg. All the above can arguably only be seen as negative actions and items affecting the club – which raises the question: “what exactly are the PR company being paid to do?

The latest event at the Ewood Park circus saw rumours surface that Derek Shaw, the clubs managing director, had been told to stay at home as investigations were undertaken in to the terms of former manager Henning Berg’s contract and sacking. I heard this rumour in the early morning, yet there was no response from the club until late afternoon – to be fair, I didn’t expect to see any response, so maybe this is a step in the right direction?!

Since Appleton took charge in January he has been the main voice from the club, the way it should be. But since his sacking, Shebby Singh has been back in the frame, trying to earn his keep. Under Appleton, there was at least a glimmer of stability as he made the points the fans have known for a long time: the club is built on quicksand; some players are here for a final pay packet – to name a few. Shebby Singh stands for all the things wrong with Blackburn Rovers at the minute, and this can be summed up in one radio interview, when asked what his role was, his response was a laughing “I’m not telling” – and that is the closest we have ever got to understanding what he gets paid a lot of money to do.

Looking at the bigger picture, the role of the Venkys can also be questioned: why did they buy the club? What is their intentions for the club? Since they made the purchase the club has suffered relegation; sold its best players; been subject to mass media attention for protests against manager and owners; sacked four managers; and turned the club in to the biggest laughing-stock in English, maybe even European, football (I can’t think of a worse situation?!). I personally believe that the Venkys bought the club with the best intentions, but they have been very poorly advised, back to before they even purchased the club. The fact they have been willing to stump up the cash to bring in experienced players of the likes of Danny Murphy and Nuno Gomes, and spend £8m on Jordan Rhodes, does show that they want the club to succeed. However, on the other side of the coin, hiring Shebby Singh along with Derek Shaw and Paul Agnew, and allowing the in-fighting to take place and be pretty much public knowledge has to be put down to either poor business management, or not knowing the product and keeping an ear to the ground – from Pune, you would have to have pretty good ears. The fact that they did not make the trip for the clubs biggest rivalry, or for the FA Cup quarter finals, shows a lot about their commitment – the only time they have been to Ewood this season was when it coincided with a pre-planned holiday. I bet the hatcheries and restaurants get more direct attention. That said though, if there aim was to buy Blackburn Rovers as a means to launch the Venkys chain in to the UK, you would have to say it would be a massive failure, unless they launched in Burnley, where they would be greeted as heroes for the way they have allowed the club to tumble-down the leagues.

At the time of writing, Blackburn occupy a relegation place in 22nd – a point from safety but a game in hand. However, with remaining games against Derby (H), Huddersfield (H), Watford (A), Millwall (A), Crystal Palace (H) and Birmingham (A) – winning the next two games is crucial id we are to have any chance of survival, or it could be a local derby against Preston next year, not Burnley. The question of Venkys continued ownership is perhaps more pertinent now than ever. They have agreed to pay the current squad the terms of their contract – if they were to leave should the club get relegated, and hypothetically sell to the Supporters Trust, could they, or anyone else buying a League 1 club, afford to pay the rumoured £30-40k a week wages? I can’t help but think of the likes of Portsmouth and Leeds and their plight both on the pitch and at the banks.

Gone in 67 days

circus

 

As Albert Einstein famously declared, the true sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results – if this is so, somebody call the asylum because we have mad people at Ewood. Yet the Venkys and their puppets at Ewood have taken this to the extreme – Steve Kean, a man who took the club down, lied, sold the teams best players, caused protests and alienated the fans was given all the time in the world to do what he wanted, until he eventually decided this wasn’t for him after two years in the job, accompanied by a relegation; yet two managers who have had the support of the fans, not been booed to the extent that Kean was, are handed their P45 after 57 and 67 days? I for one have not been happy with the style of football under Appleton, and likewise was not with Berg, but these people need to be given time, the asset Steve Kean had in abundance – Henning Berg didn’t even get a transfer window, Appleton had just got his backroom staff sorted (which is also more than Berg managed in its entirety!). To put this in perspective, in one season Blackburn Rovers have had more managers than Manchester United have had since 1977.

The last week hadn’t been the best for Blackburn Rovers following a dismal showing in an FA Cup quarter final which could have seen them meet Wigan at Wembley, and the performance against Burnley was nowhere near what is expected in a local derby, and we should have been beaten – but we weren’t. That last minute goal by David Dunn made the point feel like 3, it kept the record going, and it also got the fans moving in the same direction again – all which points to the potential for momentum to build – but it wasn’t to be. No sooner had the dust settled on the damaged toilets, had Appleton been handed his marching orders by a revitalised Shebby Singh, fresh from a legal briefing. The club find themselves 4 points outside the relegation zone, with no manager, a massive injury list and the inability to sign players – at 10/1 relegation looks like a good investment. What the club needs at this moment in time is stability and a manager who is not afraid to challenge what has gone before and put his stamp on the football club – exactly what Appleton was doing. Maybe this was his downfall. Maybe he had done too much; maybe he had challenged the golden boy; maybe he had played players he wasn’t supposed to. I don’t think it a coincidence that in the days and week before his sacking he had talked of the club being built and run on quicksand, and David Dunn claiming that he had been fit to play during the season but not played due to non-footballing reasons – we can all see that this is the problem with the club, Appleton only voiced these concerns. It would not surprise me if Dunn picked up another injury during the international break, ruling him out until the end of the season when he can be released from his contract. Paul Robinson has today been ruled out for the season due to him needing a back operation, probably from the amount of time he has spent sat at home recently, or maybe this is the warning to Gary Bowyer: “follow Appleton’s tactics and you’ll be gone too”.

Cast your memories back to the period between Christmas and New Year and the victory at Barnsley and that “you know” interview – how much have we heard from Mr Singh in the interim? Ask yourself another question: how many of the players he was key to bringing in have now left the club either permanently or on loan, or who have been left out of the squad completely? Murphy, Etuhu and the Portuguese youth club to start with. As soon as Agnew and Shaw made their decision he was gone, nowhere to be seen. Adding to this, were have The Sports PR Company been this week at a time when they should be busiest – all the fans get is a 5 line statement on the website – to be honest, I’m surprised its even written in English. During his hiatus, Singh is said to have been gathering legal advice to challenge even the appointment of Appleton, claiming that as they didn’t have his backing, the appointment wasn’t lawful. Secondly, he has looked at the contracts for his players which have been dispersed from the club, rumoured to be because he wants them back. the point Singh is missing is that maybe he is the problem. He is too much of a Venkys man and he has been given too much power. The structure of any football club is usually owners, chairman (if different), directors, manager, coaching staff, players – yet at Blackburn Rovers the owners are invisible, we then have the Chuckle Brothers Derek Shaw and Paul Agnew as Managing and Operations Director, and now no manager. If you consult the rovers website, and direct yourself to the “who’s who” section, there is not even a mention of Shebby Singh, the man who, lets face it, is back to running the club. It seems that Agnew and Shaw, the Venkys, and Shebby Singh have each had a go at picking the manager, all picking a candidate against the others wishes, and all of them screwing it up – to the point that the man who has to steady the ship is someone who has been there all along – just like the fans.

This is going to be controversial, but I’m going to put a question out there – should we have kept Steve Kean? The statistics over his time at Ewood and the impact he had give a resounding NO, but looking at how he did in the Championship, we weren’t doing too bad and we definitely weren’t close to relegation, and knowing Kean, he would’ve had got us promoted just to spite us (and then probably taken us back down!). The turmoil which has ensured has been nothing short of a joke, a circus, and a shambles. Let’s not forget though, Kean wasn’t sacked, he walked, and ultimately left us in this mess, and he has probably laughed his way to the bank ever since. It’s easy for outsiders to say we should’ve kept Kean, and it’s easy to reminisce and look at the league table, but the football wasn’t good (apart from 20 minutes at Leeds) and we were winning games we shouldn’t have to the extent the kit bag was coming out the changing rooms with ‘SWAG’ emblazoned on it – the league table was Kean’s ally in the same way it has been Berg’s and Appleton’s worst enemy.

What should have happened at Ewood over the last 12 months, was that Kean should have been given the boot last May, or walked knowing he had failed the club and its fans. An experienced manager should’ve been brought in to first steady the ship, sort the wage structure out and set his scouts about. That manager should’ve been back to a comfortable extent (not the £40k a week wages we are now being told about for experienced/passed it players to sit on the bench) and left to go about his business, no targets set and no deadlines or ultimatums. I’m not saying I know who that manager should have been, but I do not it wasn’t Steve Kean and it certainly wouldn’t have involved hiring a Global Advisor. Hopefully the Venkys will get another chance at this and Gary Bowyer will steer the club clear of relegation and then an experienced manager can come in get to work. Better still, the Venkys might give the chance to someone else who has the clubs best interest at heart. In the last two weeks Blackburn Rovers have played in two FA Cup Quarter Finals with the chance to get to Wembley and played their fiercest local rivals, and at not one of these games was a member of the Rao family been present, or even the clubs Global Advisor Shebby Singh (the FA Cup is global – should he not have been there advising?). Compare this to Wigan Athletic down the road and Dave Whelan is there week in and week out, even giving interviews to voice his opinion and support of the manager – at Ewood Park, this concept is as foreign as those in ownership of the club.

If I was to predict the team for next Friday’s crucial match against Blackpool (not pick it, predict it) I would have to say that Danny Murphy will be back in there, Nuno Gomes will be back in there (which I DO agree with), Dunn will not be there and neither will Campbell, Stewart or possibly Jones. If this turns out to be the case, get yourself to the bookies and take that 10/1 bet.

If I could have ten minutes with the Venkys, I would ask the following: –

  • Who is running Blackburn Rovers Football Club on a day-to-day basis, and making the decisions on directions, signings and overseeing operations?
  • What is Shebby Singh’s role and do you think he has fulfilled it?
  • Why do we never see you at games?
  • Why do we never get anything in the form of communication?
  • Are you really interested in the performance of the club?
  • Why did you buy Blackburn Rovers?
  • Do you regret buying Blackburn Rovers?
  • If you could do things differently, would you and how?
  • How long do you intend to stay owners of Blackburn Rovers football club?
  • If we are relegated again, will you sell the club?

whos who

 

 

 

 

Three in Seven out equals big plus?!

deadline day

The January transfer window slammed shut last week once again leaving Blackburn Rovers fans disappointed at the lack of inbound activity, as well as at the volume of players leaving the club, even if some are only on loan.

The north-west club have come/gone a long way since the Venky’s first transfer window back in 2011 when rumours were abound that the likes of Ronaldinho were on the way to Ewood – at least this time he really is on his way, albeit only for a friendly at Wembley. That same window the Venky’s brought Roque Santa Cruz back to the club on loan, along with Jermaine Jones, and Mauro Formica and Ruben Rochina signing permanent deals. Fast forward two years and the latter two have left the club, on loan at least. That is better than the fate of Simon Vuckevic who has had his contract terminated after making just 16 appearances in the 16 months he was at the club – ask the majority of Rovers and they will admit they never saw the best of him, only glimpses of the potential.

The common denominator in the players leaving the club this January (Ruben Rochina, Mauro Formica, Simon Vuckevic, Diogo Rosado, Micah Evans and Jordan Slew) is that they are all attacking in nature – the others leaving the club from a defensive point of view are not seen experienced or first team players. More specifically of those who have played in the first team consistently, all of them were traditional ‘number 10’s’ – providing the link and the spark between midfield and attack. I myself believe that in the Championship, two up front is a must, making many of you think that the lack of any recognised number 10’s would not bother me and may even welcome the idea – incorrect. Number 10’s are a special bread. They are neither midfielder, winger or striker. Yet at Blackburn, as with most other English clubs of the past ten-twenty years, we have fit them in were seen best, either on the wing, or up top – neither of which is were they have been most beneficial. A look at Rochina, Formica, Vuckevic and Rosado shows us this – they have all at some point (more the norm than the exception) been farmed out on the wing or put too far forward, or, worse still, been played in the ‘hole behind the striker’ in a team which has been set up too defensively – as a 4-5-1 as opposed to a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-2-3-1 – rendering them relatively ineffective, and more than likely invoking fan frustration at lack of an output.

That was, however, until this year. This season, despite a managerial merry go round any circus master would be proud of, we have played a number 10, in a number 10’s position, and not as part of a defensive team. The output – we have seen the best of Ruben Rochina – arguably the most talented and creative player in a blue and white shirt since Tugay. Given a run of games in the team in this position this season has seen his contributions expand massively, as well as his goal and assist return – with his number of goals being more than double what he returned in the whole season 2011-12 in one game less in the league. However, the introduction of Michael Appleton had seen him demoted once again to the bench, however this time, in favour of a traditional 4-4-2, which has seen a certain Jordan Rhodes flourish.

So why am I not 100% convinced removing the play making number 10’s is a wise decision given my campaign for 4-4-2? A plan B. As with any team, once a formation and playing style is recognised, teams can defend adequately against it, particularly the better teams who are going to be challenging for the same goal: promotion. By having options on the bench in the form of a number 10, it gives the potential to bring on a player who can change a game, a player who can pick a pass, and a player who can unlock the door. Countless times this season, Ruben Rochina has come off the bench to provide that magic key. The number 10 gives a different option with regards to formations – switching from a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1 to a 4-3-1-2 or a 4-4-3 with a play maker with a free role. By removing these options I think it leaves us open to a tactical stalement which for most teams will consist of ‘stop Jordan Rhodes at all costs’.

With reference specifically to Ruben Rochina, I don’t blame him for wanting away on loan for first team football, at his age he needs it to develop his game, and without it he will continue to make the same inexperienced mistakes such as holding on to the ball too long; trying to beat that last man – but at the end of the day, by attempting these things, when they come off, this is what makes the crowd cheer and get to their feet. As a Blackburn fan I only hope that he gets that consistent game time at Zaragoza and comes back a wiser, more educated and well rounded player.

Back to the subject of deadline deals – although many Rovers fans are frustrated at the lack of new faces through the door and are tearing their hair out at the fact the DJ Campbell and Jerome Thomas deals fell at the last hurdle – one forgotten fact remains: a man who has 112 career goals at the age of just 23 has not been stolen from us.

Without Jordan Rhodes and his goals Blackburn would most likely be in the same situation as Bolton and Wolves, and that is also taking in to account the number of managers who have come and gone since his arrival (5 including caretakers). The boy is a breath of fresh air – no ego; no hot-head; no petulance – at 23 it looks as though he is an experience man of the game, with the strength and finishing skills to match. The goals against Bristol City at the weekend showing he only needs a sniff of goal to get on the scoresheet, and that he also has the strength and composure to slot the ball away after wrestling to the box and completing a one on one with the keeper. In my eyes, keeping hold of him, when goals are at a premium in the Premier League is a massive success. It is also worth remember, with Leon Best on the road to recovery, he will be like having a new signing. The true question will come in the summer: if Rovers don’t get promoted, will a top division club come in for him? And will the offer prove too healthy for Venky’s to turn down? If that is indeed the case – expect resurrected fan fury towards the poultry farmers.

To finish, let’s take a quick look at the men Steve Kean (or as he’ll have you believe) brought in to the club: Mauro Formica; Ruben Rochina; Bradley Orr; Marcus Olsson; Jordan Slew; Radosav Petrovic; Scott Dann; David Goodwillie; Simon Vuckevic; Yakubu; Myles Anderson; Bruno Ribeiro; Jordan Rhodes; Diogo Rosado; Nuno Henrique; Edinho Junior; Dickson Etuhu; Danny Murphy; Paulo Jorge; Fabio Nunes; Nuno Gomes; Leon Best;. Of those 22 – 10 have been sold or allowed to leave on loan; 1 has been long term injured; 5 were unheard of Portuguese youngsters; 4 have never made a first team league appearance; and only 8/9 could be said to be first team regulars. Of a reported spend of £34.6m over a period which included a relegation – less than ten players have gone on to become first team regulars. If you look back to the days of Hughes and even Souness when the market was highly inflated, in a similar 2 year period, would they have wasted such investment? A true testament of the manager that Steve Kean was, despite the negative press which Blackburn fans continuously got for the protesting against his poor management and the support Kean got in the media and football world, he has not been linked (seriously anyway) with any vacant job in the English league system, despite 29 vacancies being available. If he truly was a great manager who would have kept the team up if the protests hadn’t happened, would he still be out of a job now?

I think not.