Tag Archives: Nuno Gomes

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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The winds of summer change

This time 12 months ago, Blackburn Rovers were gearing up for a first season in the Championship for 12 years. Following a turbulent season resulting in relegation from the top flight, expectations were high and promotion, automatic at least, was the goal. Big money, experienced internationals were being jetted in to the club to help with the ‘project’. Even the most pessimistic Blackburn fan (myself included in that bracket) could help but get a little bit excited and optimistic. The end result of this optimism – remaining in the second flight, by the skin of their teeth, with just a game to spare, just. A mere 21 points away from automatic promotion and 10 points off the play-offs – in truth though, most Blackburn fans were just happy to have survived.

Fast forward 12 months and again the team are preparing for the annual pre-season workouts, and again there is an air of optimism about the club. However, this time, it is for completely different, almost polar opposite reasons.

First of all, gone is the pantomime villain, Steve Kean, and it seems he has been joined through the door by his widow Twanky, Shebby Singh. Kean has been replaced by the club-man Bowyer, who twice stepped up to the challenge and steered the club in the right direction last season – he is the only man to have managed Blackburn Rovers in the 2012-13 campaign and still be in a job at the club: no small feat in itself. Following Kean out of the door over the summer football hiatus has been the big money earners that brought such optimism last summer, Danny Murphy, and to a lesser extent Nuno Gomes (I feel Nuno wasn’t given the chance to prove himself over the season, but when he played he tended to score). These departures may have been set about by Bowyer, or the final nails may have been struck in to the coffins by the upcoming Financial Fair Play rules – either way, there was one party benefitting from them being at Ewood, and it wasn’t the club.

Replacing the experience has been something of a step back in time with a number of old players being brought back in: Judge and Morrow to name two. They never got the chance to prove themselves the first time around, when the club were in the top flight, probably due to the pressures of keeping the Premier League status, but now the man who gave them the chance to knock on the managers door, is the man in that managers office. If you look at Blackburn squads of the last 15-20 years (excluding Kean’s reign, and to an extent Allardyce’s) there have always been young talented professionals coming up through the ranks: your Duff’s, your Dunn’s, your Johnson’s, your Jones’, your Taylors, your Given’s, your Derbyshire’s and your Gallagher’s. Hopefully this will be the jump start that the conveyor belt needs and the Hanley’s, Henley’s (x2), Kean’s, Judge’s and Morrow’s can embark on their own success stories – hopefully starting with promotion.

There’s that word, that target, again: ‘promotion’. The phrase: don’t run before you can walk springs to mind when reflecting on last season. The big names where brought in (Singh included) and paid the money to ‘guarantee’ a return to the top flight, when maybe perhaps we should have consolidated, looked at what we had and aimed for mid-table, the play-offs at a push. Evidently the players recruited to get the club back to the top flight weren’t worthy of the job – neither were the owners – but had we got there, we would not have lasted the first season. By laying the foundations and building from the ground up, the team will be more sustainable, and the big money and experienced signings won’t be as much of a must.

The irony to the situation with regards to FFP, is that for clubs to survive and achieve their goal of reaching the Premier League, they have to watch the wallet, stick to the budget and do it on a shoestring. However, once there, to stay there, it is more than likely that clubs will have to break the bank to compete just to survive. The cost of failure could potentially destroy a club with scores of players on big wages, too high for the club to afford on the next tier down, but the player so tarnished by his influence on the relegation that nobody else wants to pay the fee or the wages.

Blackburn Rovers have a rich history when it comes to developing youngsters in to stars, and they have invested the time and money in them and the Academy over the years – now is the time to realise that investment and use it to pay for the future. In these strict financial times, the money Jack Walker invested into the club through the youth setup will be more vital than ever. If Blackburn can tap in to that resource, they could be on to a (relatively cheap) winner.

The final point has to be the owners – last year they spent too much time chopping and changing managers and backroom staff. They seem to now have realised that stability is needed and by appointing Bowyer and letting him do things his way is definitely a step in the right direction. A second step in the right direction also seems to be the step to close the doors of Ewood Park to Shebby Singh. Too many times last year he rocked the boat and left the fans to pick up the pieces. Too many times did he have an input in to things he should never have had and then ran for the hills. The club needs a manager with the board behind him, and the club needs one man to steer the ship from the top, not three – two in Blackburn and one god-knows were.

The lyrics of a song sum up Blackburn Rovers over the 12 months, it’s not a song usually associated with football, but in the case of aiming to high and ignoring the talent on your doorstep, it sums up the time brilliantly: “Don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that your used to, I know that you’re gonna have it your way or nothing at all, but I think that you’re moving too fast”.
Too many times last year, the people upstairs at the club wanted it there way, luckily it didn’t get to the having ‘nothing at all’ stage.

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