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.

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