Tag Archives: Steve Kean

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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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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The Impacts of Financial Fair Play

This week Tom Cairney became the most high profile sale of the summer so far for Blackburn Rovers as he completed his move to Fulham, making him the sixth player to leave the Lancashire club so far this summer – and it is only June still. Rumours are still abound that both Rhodes and Gestede will be following him out of the door this summer as the club look to claw back money to pay off dates and comply with Financial Fair Play. Considering that earlier this year the total net debt of the club was believed to be up at £79.8m, and with FFP permitting clubs to make a total operating loss of £8m (2013/14), the club will still be some way off that target even if all saleable and profitable assets are sold for large sums – arguably, selling the first choice 11 would not make much a dent into this figures. The result, Blackburn will continue to be a club in debt and with a transfer embargo. It is a catch 22 situation – unable to buy players, so our best players will have to be sold to pay the debts, but then the goal of promotion (and the pay packet it brings) disappears further and further in to the distance. For Blackburn, arguably the only way back up, is to drop down, create a sustainable financial foundation and with it a business model which allows the club to only operate within its means, and then start a crusade back up the table, or potentially, leagues.

Blackburn aren’t the only team to fall foul of the FFP rules, last season Leeds United and Nottingham Forest joined them in the no-buy club. Had QPR not gained promotion the season before last they would be in the same situation, possibly with greater debt, however, by getting out of the Championship they exempted them from their FFP rules and the fines which would have followed – but now they are back in the Championship, and with a heavy fine to pay. Only they are not paying it, they are refusing to acknowledge that they owe the money back to the league, and the sucker punch: they are even looking to bring players in. Which raises the question: what is the point of FFP if not everyone is going to abide by it? By ignoring the rules and fine QPR have an unfair advantage over the other clubs in the league who have slaved to comply, most likely taking a heavy blow to their ambition. Why should QPR be any different? Look at the Premier League and Champions League: for almost a decade Arsenal went trophy less as they sought to move in to their new ground and balance the books without going massively in debt. So they didn’t spend huge amounts on transfer’s season on season, and instead paid of their stadium. Now they’ve paid back the majority of the monies owed for the stadium they are able to pay high values in transfers and wages, without falling foul of FFP. Look across London to Chelsea and it has been apparent that over the previous few seasons they have not been the free-spending club they were in previous years under Abromovich – the outcome, last year they posted a profit. Now, look to the North West to the Etihad, and similar to QPR, Manchester City have completely ignored the impending doom of FFP, and continued their endless spending to ensure they make the top four every season and challenge for the title. Across the channel PSG have done pretty much the same. So when UEFA and their FFP campaign came knocking, what was the heavy penalty they paid – reduced Champions League squad numbers. Is this a crime fitting of the punishment, of un-levelling the playing field? I don’t think so. If UEFA were serious about FFP large fines and bans would follow the breaking of the rules, acting as a lesson to keep within the guidelines and operate more sustainably. Funny how two of the richest clubs in Europe spent their way in to the UEFA Champions League, contravening all the rules, only to be hampered by a couple less players in their tournament squads. FFP isn’t hitting the big clubs competing in Europe, who, let’s face it, can probably manage the debt they are in; but it is crippling other smaller clubs who have never had, or who no longer have, sugar daddies to finance them. I’m not saying the likes of Blackburn, Leeds and Nottingham should be given a free reign – but the punishment currently imposed is not only hampering clubs who are already in trouble, but driving them down the leagues down a path they may not be able to recover from.

Looking specifically at Blackburn Rovers, a review of recent seasons performance on and off the pitch shows that the event that started the demise of the club was not the buying of the club by the Venkys; it wasn’t the sacking of Sam Allardyce; it probably wasn’t even the hiring and retaining of Steve Kean; or the clubs relegation; the biggest impact on Blackburn financially was the attempt to get back up to the top division at the first go. Before relegation, Blackburn had maintained a wage to turnover ratio of less than 100% – the highest being 93% the season prior to being relegated, and the highest before that being 90.6% the season Paul Ince started as manager and was eventually replaced by Sam Allardyce (arguably the high percentage here could be attributable to the fact that this was the first season in a few the club was not in the Europa League so would have had reduced revenue and also the cost of firing and hiring). Similarly, before relegation, the clubs net debt had been £21m and below – apart from the season the Venkys bought the club when it increased to £26.3m. Following relegation the net debt of the club has spiralled from £30m to £70m in the space of just 3 years.

Blackburn Rovers Performance 2009-15

It could be argued that if you are going to get promoted back to the Premier League the time to do it is in your first season down, retaining the bulk of the Premier League squad and using the parachute payments wisely. When they were relegated it can be assumed that Blackburn had a reasonably high wage bill – this is a problem in itself. The second problem was the additions the club made to the squad. Despite this only being 3 years ago, only two players from that summers spending spree still remain at the club: Jordan Rhodes and Leon Best. That summer crippled the club in three ways: the owners stuck with the manager who got them relegated, Steve Kean; then they offered high wages to bring relatively big names with Premier League experience to the club to try and get them back up; and finally, they searched Europe for good young cheap talent and then allegedly paid agents a small fortune to bring them to the club – the summer of 2012 saw no fewer than four Portuguese youngsters join the club.

Of the points raised above, points one and two link in to one almost. The club should never have kept Steve Kean. Regardless of whether he was a good coach and was ultimately the man to get the club promoted, he had lost the fans. No matter what he did that summer, or who he signed, they would always be his signings and signings that he should never have been in a position to make. From the minute those players he signed (I’m thinking of Murphy and Etuhu) put a foot wrong they were Steve Kean’s players and unlikely to win the hearts of the fans (similar to when Paul Ince signed Keith Andrews who never grew out of that shadow). Giving Steve Kean money to spend was a poor decision, an even worse decision was giving him the power to offer them ludicrously high wages in the hope of getting the team straight back up – they were on a hiding to nothing. By all reports, Leon Best was offered a decent wage and he is still at the club despite there being little to no chance of him playing again (not that he has played much anyway). Point 3 links somewhat to this as well – all the Portuguese players bought were again linked to Steve Kean and the time he spent earlier in his career in Portugal at Academica, it is not surprising to see that since Kean departed playing time has been somewhat rare for these players.

There is a lesson to be learnt here: if you get relegated don’t throw all your eggs in to the basket of aiming for an immediate return – if you don’t achieve it, that one summers decisions could take decades to recover from, as is being seen now at Ewood, were ironically Blackburn cannot even buy players for a penny to get them out of the situation they are in. Bide your time, trust in your youth and look to build a squad on a sensible footing, letting them grow in to a team capable of challenging for promotion rather than forcing square pegs in to round holes in the hope that experience (and money) shines through. Look at Bournemouth rather than QPR.

So what is the solution? I believe there whilst under transfer embargo Blackburn have two options:

  1. Trust the academy. Blackburn have one of the best academies around and produce a great number of quality youngsters, some of whom have gone on to represent their country and win titles. However, in recent years there has been very little to shout about from the academy at Brockhall, with any seemingly bright sparks being shipped out on loan never to be seen again. At a time when the club has no money to spend on transfers, a good youth policy is a sensible option. The hope is that the previous few seasons of sending players out on loan has been to get them the experience they need to cut it in the first time if, and more likely, when, required. At Championship level, there is no reason a player cannot come in to the team between the age of 18 and 20 and be able to handle the pressure and demands of the league. It would be nice to see more appearances from the likes of Mahony, O’Sullivan, Raya and, fingers crossed, a bright young striker.
  2. The ‘Moneyball’ alternative. In the book (and film) ‘Moneyball’ by Michael Lewis, the plucky Oakland A’s go from season to season with little money but still managing to compete with the likes of the New York Yankees, under the control of General Manager Billy Beane. Although he doesn’t spend anywhere near the likes of the Yankees or the Red Sox, each year he competes, and at the end of each season has to sell off his best players. He does this by finding value in the market and finding players who help him achieve what he needs. He doesn’t look to superstars, he looks at players with attributes which help him score runs (“get on base”) – in most cases these are players who have been overlooked for one reason or another, but who statistically are good enough to make it in the big leagues, which Beane proves in their 20 game unbeaten run. Another aspect of this is the American draft system and the potential to exchange players for players in addition to sums of money – selling a star player for money and a player the buying party doesn’t see as key. Blackburn can look to this model as a way out of the mire. Search the lower leagues and the academies and find these players who aren’t superstars, or who don’t have all the boxes ticked; they may only be good at one thing, let’s say crossing, but as long as they deliver on that one attribute and contribute to the rest of the team, they are an asset. The second stage is exchanges: Blackburn cannot buy anybody, but what they can do is ask for players as part of transfers – get money for an asset and get a player as well. If this method is managed well, very good players, and players eager to prove they shouldn’t have been shipped out of their last club can be snapped up for nothing – potentially filling the gap left by the outgoing player.

In my eyes a mixture of the above two methods needs to be employed – keep the core of the team if possible, sprinkle some youth in there and use the transfer of assets to your advantage. The battle to keep Blackburn Rovers alive and competitive may ultimately be won on the pitch, but a lot of the work to make this possible will be done in the stands scouting, on the training ground integrating youth, and in the boardroom thrashing out deals which ensure the club doesn’t suffer too greatly when assets are sold on. Let’s see what happens in July/August…….

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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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Re-heading the chickens

chicken

Today saw the third consecutive draw for Blackburn Rovers and the third time they had come from behind to grab a point – added to the win at Huddersfield preceding these games and that takes Blackburn to four unbeaten, 52 points, 12th place in the table and you would imagine, safety at least for this year, with an outside chance of making the play-offs, a very outside chance.

Looking back over the last three draws, the desire to remain in games must be seen – in contrast 12 months ago, and longer, had the team gone behind, the crowd would have turned, heads would have dropped and you could pretty much have written off any chances of getting anything from the game. At times, the crowd at Ewood, and to a lesser extent, the crowd at away games, were looking for reasons to get first on Steve Kean’s back, and then on the back of the owners. It is difficult to deny that such actions had a negative impact on the players on the pitch. At times last season I saw that it was hurting the players, particularly as they tumbled towards potential relegation. Last year there was a good likelihood that a poor run would result in a sacking for the manager – this year Gary Bowyer has been given time to put things right.

The job Gary Bowyer has had to undertake must not be underestimated. He has had to slash the wage bill to make the continued running of the club feasible, whilst maintaining a squad that can stay up as a minimum, and meet the expectations of the fans to push for promotion – all this, whilst contending with injuries and off-the-field issues around a number of players. Yet, as the end of March has arrived, the club are only 8 points off 6th place, with a game in hand – credit has to go to Bowyer and his staff for this.

Having said that, credit also has to go to the Venkys. They have let him get on with his job; not dragged him to India every two weeks; not had a ‘Global Advisor’ giving their two-pence every two minutes when things aren’t going right; and they have tried to bring stability back to the club they dissected it from. To add to this, they have continued to provide the funds to recruit players and pay the wages –albeit at a significantly reduced amount, but this is what the club needed. I think this reinforces the thoughts of some, that they were very poorly advised when they purchased the club and the information they were given was equally as poor.

Looking back, the sacking of Sam Allardyce is still seen by many as a very poor decision – but I disagree. Yes he would likely have kept us up that season, and the season after, and probably the season after that. But people forget that the football was appalling – playing for set pieces so that the ball could be pumped into the box and hope that it dropped for someone. Under Allardyce we would never have seen the creativity of the likes of Cairney, or the pace that Hoilett brought us, or the steady passing football from players composed on the ball, that we see at the minute. Look at West Ham – they won mid-week and yet still they were booed off the pitch as the standard of football was so poor. Sacking Allardyce wasn’t a bad decision by the Venkys, a worse decision was the man they chose to appoint replacement. Again though, I think they may have been poorly advised. What the club needed was someone with knowledge of the Premier League and how to get points on the board, but whilst also playing the game properly – look at the Premier League now and there are a number of teams in that mid-table bracket who will not go down, but who also like to get the ball down and play it. Route one isn’t the only option available to stay in the division.

This season there has been no sign at Ewood of Mr Shebby Singh and I think his removal by the Venkys is a good move, and has clearly let Gary Bowyer run his part of the club as he sees fit, and let the people upstairs do their job as well – without the fear of an outburst or bizarre comment in the press from the Malaysian (type Shebby Singh in to google and the second most searched item is “Shebby Singh funny comment” – says it all really).

Rather than a circus, the club is being run like a football club again – and being done so without any pretence of having to achieve promotion at all cost, and without the thought that we can spend our way back to the Premiership.

In my opinion, too much has been left to do to make the play-offs this year, and I don’t think promotion would be good for the club in the long term – the team is some way off Premier League standard – but the foundations are there. I would happily take 7th place and a season of stability and steady progress right now. If Bowyer can keep the current group together and make a few sensible additions (a permanent right back, cover at centre half, a creative midfielder), and move certain players on and off the wage bill, it will stand us in good stead for next season. I think giving Bowyer some spending money in the summer would also be a good idea – looking at the business he did in January (Gestede, Conway and Cairney) definitely shows he has an eye for a player and knows how he wants to play. Add to that a sprinkling of youth and I think we are very much on the right lines.

Given that the play-offs are most likely out of the question for this season, is there any harm in reviewing and ending some of the loans currently at the club and replacing them with some game-time for the youngsters coming through? Similarly, look down the road at Blackpool, and given a chance Goodwillie seems to have remembered were the net is – if he could be brought back in on goal scoring form, he could be like a brand-new signing.

So, credit where credit is due. When they first came in and for the 18-24 months following their arrival, the Venkys were subject to ridicule and criticism from all angles, but given that they have now let Bowyer and his team, and the people upstairs, get on with their jobs without interference, they deserve credit. They made a business investment and it went south and they tried looking for simple and quick solutions to get them back in the big league and get their money back – the only problem is that those decisions forced the club further in to the mire. However, it seems they have this season realised the error of their ways, and perhaps stop listening to the poor advice they received previously, and let those at the club get on with it. Hopefully, this will last and this new approach can spell good times ahead for Blackburn Rovers.

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Managing Expectations

As Manchester City took on Barcelona at the Etihad this week, it marked 15 years since City took on Macclesfield in what is now League 1. I imagine if you had told fans then, that in 15 years’ time they would be taking on Barcelona in the second stage of the Champions League after finishing runners up to Manchester United a season after winning the top tier of English Football, you would have been laughed at and ridiculed, and potentially sectioned. Yet they did not look out of place, and they look as though they are here to stay in the higher reaches of the footballing ether, perhaps progressing further.

In contrast, after taking over the helm at Blackburn Rovers the poultry farmers, Venkys, announced that they would bring Champions League football within a number of years back in 2011 – at the time, Blackburn were in mid-table and had reportedly made an offer to sign superstar Ronaldinho – so not to massive a statement. However, they had just sacked an established manager and replaced him with an inexperienced coach, lost the entire boardroom, and started to lose the faith and trust of the fans. In many ways, the claim was no more far-fetched than the reality of what has happened to Manchester City.

Since making the claim, Blackburn have tumbled from the Premier League; lost the majority of their ‘star’ players; replaced these with a Portuguese contingent along with a number of experienced senior players to work on the promotion project; gone through a whole raft of manager; lost countless lifelong fans in the process, and generally been a laughing stock to all not related to the club. As a result of this, you could say expectations have changed and ambitions have had to be recalibrated. At the minute, the chances of Blackburn taking on Barcelona are about as remote as they would have seemed to Manchester City fans back in 1999 (whilst their neighbours where on their way to lifting ‘Ole Big Ears).

Back in 2010 under the management of Sam Allardyce and following a successful relegation battle and a season of stabilising, ambitious expectations would have been a cup run and perhaps a glimmer of hope of the Europa League – if offered the prospect of maybe making the play-offs at an outside chance, most supporters would likely, and rightly, have been furious at the thought.

Fast forward to the current day, where Blackburn sit just outside of the play-offs but unable to string any sort of play-off-worthy winning run together, and the majority of Blackburn fans would tell you they are relatively happy with that. Given that the club very nearly faced a second successive relegation last time out, this is to be expected. The credit for this goes to Gary Bowyer.

After stepping in and doing a job which saved Blackburn from that relegation last season, Bowyer was given the job permanently, seemingly with a target more based on the wage bill than the league table. The job he has done so far has been admirable as well impressive. He has managed to reduce the wage bill significantly at the expense of losing some of the more senior players, and he has replaced them with young and hungry talent who like to get the ball down and play it. He has also been faced with the issue of continued speculation of the sale of the prized asset Jordan Rhodes, the off-field rumours and unrest with certain players, and other players being dragged through the media on alleged match-fixing allegations – but despite all this, he has the team sat within touching distance of the play-offs (in 10th 7 points off 6th), still hold of Rhodes, and playing a much better brand off football than has been seen in recent years. The squad is young, talented and raw, but most of all, it is showing commitment, passion and a drive to play the game the ‘proper’ way.

For many, myself included, although the play-offs are very much still achievable, it would be a step too far too soon. The squad has only really been together for 6-8 months and is only just beginning to click, and it has yet to really reach its true potential. If we were to achieve promotion, there is a worry and a danger that this could be a step backward – results would be difficult to come by; fans may get restless again; frustrations may get vented towards the owners again (who incidentally must take credit for the teams current position thanks to their trust in Bowyer, their acknowledgement that Rhodes should be kept at all costs, and most of all, there acceptance to take a step back and stop interfering – perhaps more importantly, their decision to relieve Shebby Singh from his duties); and as a result, the owners may make a knee-jerk reactions and sack Bowyer – undoing all the good work that has been done in the last ten months or so.

Looking at the bigger picture, a third season in the Championship would allow Bowyer to further build his squad, further install his footballing beliefs, and further allow the team to integrate and hopefully show what they are capable if. Preferably demonstrating this by achieving automatic promotion and avoiding the play-offs. It may not be next season, or the season after that, but if it puts the club on a better, more sustainable, financial footing, allows for better football to be played, and allows for the evolution of a squad, I’m happy to wait and still have a football club to go and support every week.

A third season in the Championship, may for many, be seen as a disappointed but it could be a building block to a brighter future – maybe not on the scale of Manchester City’s rise to playing Barcelona; but who knows, 15 years is a long time, and I bet at the end of that game at Macclesfield the Manchester City fans would have settled for a further season lower down the leagues if it meant a greater rise to a greater success.

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Riches to rags, a Blackburn Rovers story

Back in the 1990’s Blackburn Rovers where the Manchester City or Chelsea of the then First Division – 20 years on and they teetering on the precipice of financial regulation and penalty. Where did it all go so wrong?

As the financial reports for the tax year to June 2013 are were published earlier this month, it did not make for good reading for Blackburn Rovers fans. Following relegation and a dismal showing last season, their mood was made no better by the news  that a club once renowned for its savvy dealings and operations on a relative shoe-string – once thought to be one of the best run clubs in the English game – was operating well outside of its means.

According to reports, the club currently has a wages to turnover ratio of 136%, meaning that it must find an additional £10m per year just to continue to pay the players and the staff employed by the club – not taking in to account transfers. Although last year the club posted, surprisingly, a profit over the year, this year’s report highlights a £36.5m loss.

When the Venky’s bought the Lancashire club and announced they would be signing big and dipping in to their deep pockets for the likes of Ronaldinho to propel the club to the Champions League within 2 years – many laughed. However, looking back now, they weren’t a million miles off, the only difference being that the money has been spent on a series of mistakes and the backing of bad advice and decisions. I wouldn’t be surprised if the amount spent on average, over the hill players, agents fees, manager and player pay-offs and court cases wasn’t near a magical sum that would bring you a Brazilian Superstar. And I don’t mean Bruno Ribeiro.

Anyone looking at the club 3 years ago would have a seen a club out-performing its town’s status, but doing so because it was so well run. A tight wage structure, a limit on transfer spending, and only spending the money on players deemed worthy of the shirt. Fast forward to the present day and not only are the names in the team relatively un-recognisable, the background staff have all changed, and with them the savvy running of the club. Instead of managing year upon year to pay the bills, with a financial structure which roughly made ends meet (turnover being the same as spending), we have a club trying to recover from nearly spiralling to League 2 and potential administration. It begs the question, where did it all go wrong? The simple answer is the sale of the club to foreign owners with no association or real interest in the club or town – but I think that would be unfair to the owners. They have obviously put their money where their mouths are and as a result shown a commitment, it is what they have spent that money on which has landed them in the current predicament.

1)      When they first bought the club, they signed the clubs stars up to new and improved contracts, you would imagine, to fend off interest from other clubs. The likes of Samba, Robinson, Salgado, Roberts and Nelson all received new deals, presumably on more money. Yet a few months down the line they were all sold, probably for nowhere near their value when the Venkys came in. The likes of Salgado, Nelson and Roberts went for nothing and before this, were seemingly not allowed to play for the club. During this time there is a good chance that the clubs wage structure was changed, impacting on the wages to turnover ratio; and combine this with poor performances, which could arguably have been improved had those who were ‘injured’ played , the situation with the league table could have been different – reflecting higher prize money come the end of the season.

2)      One of the Venkys first big money actions was to bring Roque Santa Cruz in on loan from Manchester City for six months, at the price of paying his £90k a week from January until May (roughly over a million pounds in wages). The wage structure was well and truly shattered, and to make matters worse, he didn’t even score a single goal, possibly not a single assist at the same time.

3)      Following relegation from the Premier League, part of the master plan for immediate redemption was to hire Malaysian football guru Shebby Singh, on a reported £1m-a-year salary. The impact he had was phenomenal: he alienated and insulted one of the longest serving players at the club; backed Steve Kean and his Portuguese scouting network; orchestrated the sacking of at least one manager; and generally just poked his beak in when it wasn’t needed. The best times last season and this season have been when he has been on the other side of the world, unable to meddle in club affairs.

4)      The second action following relegation from the top flight was to recruit experienced pros capable of steering a young team back to the Premier League. At the time, I don’t think you will find many Blackburn Rovers fans who were not at least slightly optimistic of the season ahead with Danny Murphy, Nuno Gomes and Dickson Etuhu. However, as the season unfolded the players saw less and less game time, and in the case of Murphy, seemed less and less interested in performing for the club (when news broke last month that he had retired from football I was shocked – I though this had happened 10 months ago). These players again came in on high salaries to help with Steve Kean’s ‘project’ but were unable/unwilling to cope with the physical and mental demands of a long Championship season. Couple this with the large pay-offs Murphy and Gomes have received over this summer just to get them off the books, and you have a double financial hit. It was an almost “gamble or bust strategy” but in the end they got neither and are right back where they started from, perhaps in a worse predicament having spent the money and achieved nothing.

5)      Since they bought the club numerous rumours have conspired and progressed in to conspiracy theories – one of the most common, shared and publicised is the role of agents in the running of Blackburn Rovers. Rumours have suggested that certain groups played a large part in the buying of the club and have subsequently been rewarded with business for their players, others argue that they, for a short time, were the ones running the club and making the decisions. Either way, the £3.5m spent on agents fees in the summer running up to their first season in the Championship is atrocious. What is even more worrying is the players that were signed at that time – the only one with any positive impact on the club was Jordan Rhodes, and to be honest, any fee was worthwhile as he single-handedly kept the club in the division last time out. At times, the fees received by agents were significantly more than the fee paid for the player, which in many cases was £0.00p. An untapped market Mr Kean????

6)      Perhaps the most significant contributor to the financial situation is the unrest behind the scenes up in the boardroom. Starting with Kean – the man was rewarded for failure. He took the club down a division, decimated gates in the process and alienated lifelong supporters, yet was rewarded with a new contract, which, if had lasted the duration, would have earned him a reported £14.9m, based on a £1m per year standard salary increasing annually depended on performance. The only good thing he did for the club financially was resign, costing the club only £500,000 rather than potential millions. The Venkys are not blameless here though – they passed up multiple options and times to sack him, before offering him a new contract: slander towards Allardyce, poor team performance, loss of fans (gates dropped by 7,500 during his tenure), and drink driving offences – yet they continued to support and reward him to a point where a bond with the lifeblood of the club, its supporters, was nearly broken.

Once Kean had gone, they still did not learn from their mistakes – anyone looking in could see the club needed an experienced manager to either steady the ship or build a team capable of challenging for promotion, but instead they brought in ex-player and fan favourite Henning Berg who was untested at this level and in this country, and then rookie Michael Appleton who had done nothing to suggest he was capable of either of those things. To make matters worse, both were sacked and paid off accordingly (£2.25m for Berg and £500,000 for Appleton) – yet more money that did not need to spent. At least now they seem to be giving Bowyer the chance to do things his way and without interfering or suggesting his position was under consideration. This may be a realisation that things couldn’t continue the way they were, or it may be their only option given the financial situation.

7)      The biggest mistake of them all – putting John Williams in a position where he no longer found a use for himself at the club. The man had run the club on solid footing for numerous years and made it one of the most attractive clubs for any manager, as well as the best-case example of how to run a football club. Yet upon buying the club, the Venkys used him for less and less tasks and functions, to the point where he no longer saw a need to be employed by the club. He left and went o Manchester City who subsequently won the league and have curbed their spending – coincidence, I think not.

If Blackburn post a loss of more than £8m by the end of this season, they will be hit with a transfer embargo. If this happens and the club have won promotion, they will be fined considerably. The worry on Blackburn fans minds is that the only way to make the £10-15m extra needed to keep running the club is to sell its prize assets, one in particular, Jordan Rhodes. If that happens, promotion will not happen, and along with it, all the good work undertaken by Bowyer completely forgotten. It is a sticky situation the owners have found themselves in, but it is all their own doing. As a reported billion pound business, you would expect better. Let’s hope they have the business knowledge to avoid the impending sanctions, or at least a contingency to get the club back on its feet.

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Half way around the world to see Goodwillie

One Irish bar, two blocks from Time Square, 7 TV’s with Baseball, Ice hockey, American Football and Golf, and one man watching Dundee United against Kilmarnock – and enjoying the prospect.

I recently took a holiday to the USA and visited New York and Las Vegas – I had timed my trip to perfection picking an international week so that no domestic games would be missed; and given previous England internationals, not much would be missed on that front either.

After a day out sight-seeing I ventured in to an Irish pub at happy hour to sample the tavern environment in the US and partake in a couple of happy hour discounted beverages. It was at this point I noticed the plethora of TV sets situated around the bar. Each one of which displaying a different highlight, or prediction of a different sport. On TV1 was ice hockey, on 2 was golf, on 3 was baseball, on 4 was American Football, and on 5, the Scottish Premier League – a re-run of a recent fixture.

Naturally, I opted for the latter and settled down with by Bud Light to watch the beautiful At this point I realised, one of our own was indeed on the TV – David Goodwillie. The striker once dubbed the Scottish Wayne Rooney by the Scottish Mourinho; the striker who Rangers had been desperate to sign (when they had money), but had been trumped to his signature by Blackburn Rovers.

I got myself comfy in the chair – never in the years since he had joined Blackburn Rovers, had I seen him play for any length of time in his preferred position, as striker. At Ewood he has been used sparingly as a substitute and as a winger, but next to never has he been played in the position he was bought for, striker. Even during his short spell at Crystal Palace (some may say he played a part in the promotion campaign) he only made one appearance and did not find the net. Yet here I was on the other side of the world, presented with the chance to see him in his natural environment – Scotland, and as a striker. I settled in to my stool and ordered another ‘light’ beer.

Since the day it was rumoured Blackburn were interested in the Scot, I had been excited by the deal. The number of times I had heard Jeff Stelling mention his name on Soccer Saturday during the 2010/11 season when he netted 19 times, I thought the boy must have some potential; and when we joined in the hunt by Champions League Glasgow Rangers I thought he must have something; this was even backed up by appearances for Scotland. Even during his debut appearance on the first day of the season when he came off the bench, little had changed in my mind that he could be a goalscorer in England. It seems Managers do not feel the same way.

Throughout his time at Ewood some 6 managers (including caretakers) have dispelled him to the bench, reserves or on loan rather than play him. Only Bowyer towards the end of last season gave him a run in the team – again, out of position on the right flank though. There was a hope that he would be in the plans for the 2013/14 season, but once again he has been loaned out, this time back to Dundee United, the place where he ‘shot’ to fame – so far this season he has 4 goals in 9 appearances.

Looking down the M1 at Derby County and you will see their forward line led by Johnny Russell, Goodwillie’s former partner in crime at Dundee United, with 5 goals in 12 games. The difference between his entry in to the English game is that he has been given game time, and ultimately not been called the Scottish Rooney, by the clubs worst and most hated manager in history. Had Goodwillie been given the time on the pitch and been allowed to create a player for himself, the story could have been all so different. It still might be.

Goodwillie’s loan move back to Dundee could go one of two ways:

  1. He scores regular goals and Blackburn decide to cut their losses and sell him back north of the border, the club cutting their losses, and the player most likely taking a pay cut; or,
  2. His ability is again seen by those at Ewood and he is given a second chance (or first chance depending how look at it) in England.

Option one does seem the more likely, however, looking at the Blackburn side he does offer something different to the poachers of Rhodes and Campbell, and the strength of Best – he offers the option of a player with a bit of pace and the ability to finish both basically and also, at times, flamboyantly. Add to this the potentially that Rhodes may indeed head for the Premiership should Blackburn not make the play-offs, a striker in form may be just what Blackburn will need come next season.

When he arrived at Ewood there were rumours that his move was part of something far bigger than himself and the football clubs, and added to this, it was also likely he chose Blackburn to get away from the big city lights of Glasgow where he had been in trouble with the law – but both these two issues are now behind him and Blackburn Rovers. Times have changed and both have moved on.

During the defeat to Charlton today, following an early Athletic goal they seemed happy to put 11 men behind the ball and defend for their lives; a task they did valiantly as Blackburn failed to find the spark and creativity to produce a gilt edged opportunity. I’m not saying Goodwillie would be the answer to this, but he has pace and the ability to finish, rather than pass until a gap opens, and given his credentials in the top league of Scottish Football, he may very well excel at the Championship level.

As for the Americans in the bar with me – I was the only one with eyes on the ‘soccer’. And I may add, if footballers in this country think that TV has made their lives a goldfish ball with everyone having an opinion on them – look to America: think Skysports news on every other terrestrial channel analysing every play of every game. They should think themselves lucky the only thing they have to fear is Geoff Shreeves and Gary Neville.

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