Tag Archives: Newcastle United

The Critical Path

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Manchester United: Welcome to the Real World

I’m going to put all my cards on the table from the off here: I am a lifelong Blackburn Rovers fan. I have followed them through thick and thin and in doing so have seen a Premier League title, a League Cup, multiple (and often short lived) European adventures, two relegations, two promotions and numerous cup semi-final defeats. We have never had it easy – at least not since the mid-nineties – and we currently find ourselves in the Championship, with relatively new owners and on the back of a relegation, a failed promotion attempt and 5 managers last season; not to mention the sale of numerous star players. Come the first day of the 2013-14 season the squad will be barely recognisable from that which was relegated at the end of 2012.

For many football fans across the country, the above sounds all too familiar, and it is a scenario many have witnessed since the birth of the Premier League. In fact, only a handful of clubs have yet to experience it, some have come very close to experiencing it, and others have continued along blissfully unaware.

One of those blissfully ignorant to the rigours of 99% of football fans is Manchester United. For the last 17 years whilst they have had Ferguson at the helm, they have competed on every front: league, domestic cups, European cups, big money transfers, and (front and) back page sagas. That is until now. I don’t think you’ll find many United fans who will argue that Moyes was definitely a candidate after serving his apprenticeship at Everton, what I think has shocked United fans, is the lack of activity over the summer.

Each summer every club in the Premiership (yes – even those in the top 6) brace themselves for interest from at home and abroad for their star players. A good summer for many clubs is retaining the majority of players from the season before. A good summer for Manchester United is at least one superstar signing and numerous others signing on again with big money contracts. This year however, the tables seem to have been turned somewhat.

Firstly, there’s the Wayne Rooney saga – does he want to leave? Doesn’t he? Do Chelsea or Arsenal want him? Do Manchester United want to sell him? On the surface it looks as though they don’t, but that fact that bids have been placed, mean he is potentially on the market. At their peak, you would never get a Cole, a Beckham or a Ronaldo wanting away after winning a league title, especially not to teams who haven’t won the league in at least two years, or even a trophy in many a year.

In the last few seasons we have seen Manchester United splash the cash on Van Persie, Jones, Kagawa, Young etc and there was a definite ease and power in the ability to do so. Fast forward to this year, and they are struggling to attract the players, and tempt the opposition to part with their assets – for a lot of money – meaning, to date have made one signing (a left back).

The peasants are revolting – I’ve lost count of the number of times I have heard Manchester United fans “wish that Fergie was back” or worry “they won’t be in the hunt for the title”, or complain that the “neighbours might get noisy again”. Whilst they have changed manager and pretty much nothing else, the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea, have changed their leader, spent the money, and are quietly getting excited about the prospect of the new campaign.

So Manchester United fans – welcome to the real world. For far too many summers you have had easy pickings and the chance to slowly stir towards the new football season. This season you have to suffer like the rest of us as your star players are tempted away and your top transfer targets slip through your grasp. The only difference being, that unlike us long-suffering fans, you have the experience and squad to mount an assault on the Premier League even without signing the likes of Fabregas and Thiago.

One of Manchester United’s reported summer targets is /was Gareth Bale following a scintillating season with Spurs last time out. They aren’t the only ones however, and Real Madrid have entered the race and used the likes of Zidane to stir the interest and pull at Bale’s heartstrings. The rumoured £85m may seem a little steep – especially considering that by Bale’s current age, Ronaldo and Messi had already won at least one Ballon d’Or – but by offering this amount, Madrid are effectively pricing Manchester United out of the talks. I don’t think the hierarchy would give a brand new manager a war-chest of that size to sign a player who has only had two impressive seasons in the Premiership. However, what the Bale transfer could signal is the potential departure from the Bernabeu of Cristiano Ronaldo. Rumours are he is not 100% happy at Madrid and is requesting a lucrative pay rise. Combine this with the fact that Real aren’t cash-rich, and this could hint at the money for Bale being raised by the sale of Ronaldo. In addition to this, Bale and Ronaldo are very similar players, and in recent seasons have both been moved from traditional pacey winger, to play through the middle – I can’t see either of them wanting a move back out wide. What this signals for Manchester United is that CR7 could be back on the market this summer, to help Madrid raise the funds for Bale – those holding the purse strings may be more inclined to give Moyes a war-chest to allow him to buy a constantly proven striker, who is loved still at Manchester United.

As the Bale transfer saga hots up, it looks as though this he will be the first domino to fall to start the transfers moving. With £85m Spurs could in theory have anyone they want, apart from the fact that they have sold their best player and cannot provide Champions League football in the year leading up to a World Cup. One player this small issue could rule them out from signing in Luis Suarez who has said he wants to move to either a) get away from the English press; or b) play Champions League football again. So this puts him on Arsenal’s radar, but at £40m, is Arsene Wenger likely to splash that cash on one player? In short, he needs to or else he will have an angry mob of Gooners after him again, especially after the club promised to break the club transfer record at least three times this summer (so far this hasn’t happened once). That said, were Wenger has spent relatively big, the signings have never really paid off – recently Andre Santos and Andrei Arshavin spring to mind.

Looking at the spending so far this summer it is interesting to see the likes of Norwich up there with the big spending City. At the end of last season I picked them, along with newly promoted Hull and Crystal Palace, to be the team to go down. But a little over two weeks ahead of the new season, I will be backing them to finish in the top half. Chris Houghton has identified where he was weak, and used the prospect of more TV money to invest in his squad to keep them were they are. In Ricky Van Wolfswinkel they have a striker who has scored goals on the continent both domestically and in European competitions; in Leroy Fer they have a midfielder who has won league titles and played in Europe; and adding Hooper to the front line brings an air of excitement and promise – both for the fans and the player. My only worry for them is that should the two new men up front not pay off – they may regret selling the ever dependable mechanic Grant Holt.

Another team who appear to be going for broke are Sunderland. With Paulo Di Canio steering the Mackem ship, they have signed 8 players – the majority of which are known in the European footballing world, and are also internationals. If this pays off for the Italian he could potentially be looking at a very good first season in the Premiership – if it doesn’t, he could quickly find himself under pressure to deliver. One player who stands out to me is the fellow Italian Giacharrini – if Di Canio can get him firing, they have definitely got a bargain.

Look down the A1 and there is definitely a different story playing out. Following narrowly avoiding relegation last term, Newcastle are yet to sign anyone, and the backroom turmoil of appointing Joe Kinnear and the failed recruitment of Mick Harford signal that all is not well at the Toon. At least they have got Papisse Cisse to wear the shirt and get back on the pitch, otherwise the Toon faithful would once again be hoping Shola Ameobi can live up to his potential (he’s 31 now). Worryingly for Newcastle, Mike Ashley seems to be flirting with the idea of buying in to Rangers New Co – if this is the case, he may in the next 12 months be looking to sell Newcastle United to raise the funds; in which case, Newcastle fans can expect a barren season with few players through the door and a bare minimum spent to ensure top flight survival.

So, back to Manchester United – in a weeks’ time they will make there somewhat routine journey to Wembley for the Community Shield were they will be expected to win comfortably against a relegated Wigan side. If they don’t win, and do it somewhat convincingly, the pressure will definitely be on Moyes from the start. Rewind back to May and you could say that playing Wigan at this ground was the beginning of the end for Bobby Mancini.

Wigan enjoyed their time in the Premier League and will undoubtedly be trying to get back there this season, but as they venture down Wembley Way, they will soak it all in and enjoy the day, enjoy the ground, and to an extent, be happy to relive that cup final day and just enjoy the occasion. The problem with some Manchester United fans is that they will never feel this way about a game so allegedly inconsequential. And there lies the issue of drifting away from the real world – they have no comparisons to make for these days, all they have known is cup finals and league titles and win win win and win convincingly. They should take a look to their sides during the Community Shield and realise how good they have had it for so long, and look at the trials and tribulations other clubs and their supporters have to go through each and every season; and realise that change happens and it takes time, and they should feel lucky that they have a stable club on a good financial footing, which already features world class footballers who could challenge for trophies in their own rights. Failing that, if Wigan do beat them, they may crash land back on earth with an almighty thud.

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