Wednesday, 21 December 2011

No Winners in Rovers Mess

As I write this the final whistle has just been blown at Ewood Park, the inevitable din of boos and stangled Lancashire screams of "Kean out" drowning out the final words of Sky's Martin Tyler as a familiar forlorn figure fills the screen.
Having seen his side slip to their 11th defeat of the season at home to an equally troubled, but hugely more united Bolton Wanderers, Steve Kean puffs out his chest, raises his chin and turns to shake the hand of the plainly sympathetic Owen Coyle.

At the same time, the smart money is on the digits of Kean's mobile number being punched in to a phone in Pune, India, where surely Venky's group is about to finally yield to the inevitable; "Kean out" will go from a chant on the terraces to a back page story so long in the making that it surely just needs a spell check before it hits the presses.
And yet, even if the poultry giants do show their fowl side, what will become of Blackburn? By my estimation, this is a lose-lose situation that would rival Rovers' form book.

We'll start with the owners. Having just provided their manager with the infamous 'vote of confidence' and the promise of funds in January, it is likely Kean will be in the dugout for Monday's trip to Anfield. In this situation, whilst a lot of the purists and fans getting sick of chop and change nature of modern football will
commend Venky's for a brave and defiant show of solidarity seldom seen in today's game, the vast majority of the Ewood faithful will double their expenditure at local banner manufacturers and turn their blue and white bile on the boardroom as well.

Venky's will then become an even bigger laughing stock in the wider football world than they were when they first rolled into the club on a wave of big-money promises and finger-lickin' snacks, bizzarley sacking Sam Allardyce and installing his assistant Steve Kean as their man until the end of last season. They looked on as Kean, in his first top job in management, led Rovers through their worst run of form in 26 years, narrowly avoiding relegation to the Championship. He was rewarded with a 2 year contract.
This encouraged disbelief from Rovers fans; standing by him a second time will provoke outright hostility.

Second option - After the recent crisis engulfing the club, many say that Venky's will surely now bow to the pressure of fans, local MP's and ex-Blackburn players (if you could classify the inexplicably in-demand Robbie Savage as a former 'football' player). Even regional paper The Lancashire Telegraph, usually known for not printing anything more controversial than a bus timetable, printed a front-page headline calling for Kean's head in a hotpot.
So, say they do it. Kean is finally out. Magic drumstick waved, up the table we go.

Well, not quite. First they'll face the initial scorn from the fans for taking so long to give Kean the push, before being forced to admit that they made a mistake appointing him in the first place. Then comes the really tricky part: replacing him.

The club are bottom of the table going in to Christmas (West Brom's 'Great Escape' in 2004 is the only instance wherein a club in this position have avoided relegation in the history of the Premier League), have poor attendance figures, and the manager has been subjected to unrelenting and increasingly personal abuse from his own home fans since the third week of the season. To summarise - who on Earth would want this job? Will the likes of Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes, or talented Championship managers like Nigel Adkins and Malky Mackay really want to enter into such an up-hill task with the knowledge that a few bad results could see their names splattered on banners around their own back yard?

Unfortunately for Venky's the answer will probably be no, meaning they will have to turn to the forgotten men of football, desperate for a way back into the game; enter Alan Curbishley, Ian Dowie et al. Hardly the calibre required to save the club from impending doom, or even to guide the club through a rebuilding programme. No win for Venky's, then.

Next, to the Rovers supporters. They have become the most publicised rebelling force since the National Transitional Council of Libya, and should they get their wish and Steve Kean is relieved of his duties as manager, the scenes around Blacburn won't be far off the wild, euphoric state that engulfed Tripoli last month following the news of Colonel Gaddafi's death. However, as stated above, their incredibly hostile treatment of Kean over the course of the season (there was even a demonstration following their side's thrilling 4-3 victory over Arsenal earlier in the campaign) has surely nullified the prospect of any sort of in-demand manager being attracted to the post.

If Kean remains in office, these levels of hostility will only increase; the pictures appearing on Sky Sports News of the biggest anti-Kean rally yet currently taking place outside Ewood Park are testament to that. The restlessness in the stands will begin to affect the players more and more who, it has to be said, have not been
performing overly poorly. In individuals like Paul Robinson, Christopher Samba, Ruben Rochina, Steven N'Zonzi, Morten Gamst Pedersen, Junior Hoilett and Yakubu, Blackburn have a core of solid, Premier League quality players who may yet be able to dramatically haul them out of trouble in what is an increasingly tight league.

However, how long can they continue to produce positive and committed performances on the field, while 20,000 of their supporters vehemently display their dissatisfaction with the current state of the club? How long will they go that extra yard for their manager while they are booed for celebrating a goal with him?
My guess is not long, leading to a dull, passionless descent into the Championship. So, no win for the fans either.

Finally, we come to Steve Kean himself. One thing that can be said for certain is that he is a very proud and open man, who will not walk away from this job. He has displayed these qualities in abundance during his time at Blackburn through various post-match interviews and even discussions with anti-Kean supporters groups.

However, it has to be said that one of the qualities that he has not shown during his time at Ewood Park is that of being a good football manager. For all the sympathy pouring in regarding the abuse he is receiving, the fact is that he is not blameless in all of this. They say football is a results business, and Kean hasn't got them.
In 44 games at the helm, he has managed just 11 wins, 9 of which came last season; a win ratio of 25%. He has, in my opinion, bought reasonably well (although, as an Everton fan I can assure him that no matter how much you feed the Yak, he tends to fast between February and August), but has failed to find the right balance in a team that, as mentioned, contains some top drawer players.

There are only 5 managers in the Premier League that would survive such a record over 40 games: messrs Ferguson, Wenger, Dalglish, Moyes and Redknapp, and that is due to their iconic statuses at their respective clubs. Think of the recent publicity Andre Villas Boas recieved for losing 3 out of 4 at Chelsea and ask yourself if he would still be in a job if he had won only a quarter of his games.

So, to Kean's fate. If he stays, as he expects to, he will endure another half a season of having vicious insults screamed at him from all four corners of Ewood Park, be forced to continue answering weekly questions regarding his future and remain the standard punchline for fans up and down the country.

If he does go, then the reprecussions could be huge in terms of his career. Get sacked from Blackburn following a torrid 12 months of poor results, public humiliation and ultimately meaningless shows of faith from his employers, and Kean's employability as a football manager will be lower than virtually anyone associated with the game. Which set of fans can honestly say that they would welcome his appointment with open arms? No chairman will touch him for fear the scenes that have become common place at Ewood Park will engulf their own club. His name will become synonymous with failure to the point that even the comfort of the punditry world will surely be beyond him. A brutal assessment maybe, but I fear a realistic one. Ergo, no win for Steve Kean either, though frankly he must be used to that by now.

Early reports are suggesting Kean will keep his job, but who knows what will transpire in the cold light of day tomorrow morning. Whatever the decision on his future at the club, the overriding likelihood is that Blackburn Rovers are on a fast-track to the Premier League trap door.

Even if this outcome is miraculously avoided, the events of the past 4 months will ensure that there are no real winners to this Lancashire drama.

Monday, 14 March 2011

JT has served his time; now he must be the one to lead England in Cardiff.

Over a year has now passed since Fabio Capello famously stripped John Terry of his treasured England captaincy, in the wake of allegations that the Chelsea man had been engaged in an affair with the fiancé of then team mate Wayne Bridge. 

It proved to be a rare point in 2010 when the England manager was lauded by the national media. It was common sense, they said, for Terry to be removed as the leader of the national team. Rio Ferdinand was entrusted with the sacred armband instead and Steven Gerrard promoted to Vice Captain in Ferdinand's place. Done. Dusted. And off England went to South Africa, the only difference in most fans' minds being that it would be Rio kissing the golden grail on July 11th instead of JT.

But, sadly, it was not to be. No, not the whole England winning the competition thing (we all know how that ended). I mean Ferdinand being the one who lifted the trophy. As it transpired, the Manchester United centre half injured his knee in England's first training session at the Royal Bafokeng complex in Rustenburg and was forced to pull out of the tournament.

Unfortunately, it was to prove a common sight for both England and United fans as the serial tweeter continued to struggle for fitness as the new domestic season approached. It is a trend that has continued with Ferdinand playing a part in just 19 of The Red Devils' 43 competitive games so far this campaign (which, coupled with the fact he managed just 21 outings last term, led to Nemanja Vidić replacing him as United skipper). Whilst he has so far held on to the national team captaincy, he has been fit for only 2 of 6 England games since the World Cup.

With all this taken into account, plus the news today that Ferdinand won't be available for next week's crunch Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales, it is very hard for me personally to see how Ferdinand should hold on to the armband on a permanent basis.

I wish to make it clear at this point that this piece is no slight on Ferdinand whatsoever; when fit, he is in my opinion England's most talented centre half and it is a great shame that he wasn't able to play his part in South Africa. Would we have shipped 4 defensively woeful goals against Germany had Ferdinand been present in Bloemfontein? His emphatic reading of the game and excellent organisational skills suggest not.

No, my point here is that a captain should be the one person in the team that can always be called upon, the first name on the team sheet, the manager's go to guy. Obviously, it is hard for a manager to 'go to' a player when he is stuck at home with icepack on knee, laptop in hand, informing his fellow tweeps of how 'gutted' he is to be out of action. Sir Alex Ferguson realised that, and now Fabio Capello must too.

Especially that now, with Steven Gerrard (who in my opinion should be first choice captain without a shadow of a doubt anyway, but I'll save that for another blog) also unavailable, England fans are left scratching their heads at who will now take over the role. Based on last month's friendly in Denmark, during which the armband was passed around more times than a crack pipe at one of Charlie Sheen's get togethers, it would appear that Mr Capello has 3 players in mind: Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Gareth Barry.

Firstly, I found it laughable that Capello instructed Lampard to hand the armband to Cole after being substituted. Having dismissed Terry from the role for apparent extramarital relations, he then turns to a player who has had more negative relationship-related stories splashed around than Henry VIII. Again, no slight on Cole as a player, he is England's most capped full-back for a reason. But a captain? I personally don't see enough presence about him. Though I hear he commands a lot of respect in the dressing room... mostly when holding an air rifle.

Then there is Barry; former captain of Aston Villa and stand in skipper on more than one occasion for Manchester City. Though, again in my opinion, I have never seen why. Barry is a good player, whom many in this country (myself included) considered a top player before he was exposed so ruthlessly in South Africa against the high tempo, liquid, triangle passing of Ger... er, Algeria. As for leadership, the only time he seems to open his mouth on the pitch these days is when apologising to Carlos Tevez for yet another failed pass into feet.

So that leaves us with Lampard who, if Capello once again shows his cringe worthy stubborn side, will surely be the one who captains the side on March 26th. I would not have too many problems with that; Lampard is a consistent performer who leads by example, either by dictating the tempo of a game or coming up with crucial goals when it matters. A bit like Gerrard, but without the same drive and dynamism.

The problem is, in the fiery cauldron of the Millennium Stadium, we don't need a leader who will provide a calming influence in possession or a quiet word in the ear of a team mate; we need a leader who will relish in the fanatic atmosphere, display raw passion and agression, get the away fans roaring with a full-blooded challenge, holler red-faced at his players even when defending a throw-in parallel with the opponents six yard box.  We need John Terry.

Like a prisoner doing a 7-10 stretch, he has taken his punishment, served his time, kept his head down (minus one er, slight outburst in Rustenburg). He has watched his beloved armband flaunted around between team mates, something that will have caused him more pain than that shot against Slovenia would have done had it connected with his inexplicably extended head during England's final group game in the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

The time has come for Capello to go back on his insistence in February of last year that Terry "will never captain England again" while he was manager, a statement as short sighted and needlessly damning as the Italian announcing that David Beckham "has no future" with England. With the squad so thin on real leaders, Terry must be the man to command the troops.

Carlo Ancelotti recognised the importance to his side of having Terry as captain; it is time for Fabio Capello to rediscover that fact for what is a crucial game against our next-door neighbours.

It is time for JT to be paroled.