There is no point lying on two fronts. Firstly, the decision to appoint Steve Kean as manager until the end of the season is a monumental gamble on the part of Blackburn Rovers’ new owners Venky’s London Limited. Even if the situation goes horribly wrong and is re-visited in a few months, terminal damage may well have already been done by placing the wrong man at the helm. Equally, Kean will know that he is not the object of universal goodwill. Even in the festive season, there will be fans of other clubs hoping and praying that Anuradha Desai and her colleagues from Pune have made a monumental error. In the cut-throat world of the Premier League, a side sinking without trace is one less spot in the basement to worry about.
What we know of Kean himself is that for several seasons he was right-hand man to Chris Coleman in his mixed fortunes at Fulham as well as what have to be considered failed stints with Real Sociedad and Coventry City. Clearly respected around football circles, he joined Sam Allardyce’s coaching staff at Ewood Park in August 2009, with Allardyce offering a glowing reference to his new recruit, stating that of all the applicants, Kean “stood
Interestingly however, Sam has not been amongst those congratulating his former employee on his new role, believing his assistant Neil McDonald, who had managed Carlisle United previously, would have made a more suitable appointment. He also believes there was a rat on the inside at Ewood, “I can’t put my finger on it, and that’s one of the problems, because having never really met the new owners and having had little dialogue with them, somebody somewhere has obviously said something derogatory to get me out of this job. They have said something prior to the takeover or just after it happened to make them ring up and say we no longer want your services or Neil McDonald’s.” While one gets the feeling that Allardyce may be better served by moving on than becoming a modern-day Joseph McCarthy, it is also hard to avoid the conclusion that there is some basis in truth to what he is suggesting. Naturally, Kean insists that if there has been an Ides of March moment inside Ewood in the last month, then he had nothing to do with it.
So the situation has more awkward origins than one would like, and unfortunately this is not where the complications end. Venky’s are crystal clear about their ambitions for the club and where they expect Rovers to finish in the table, “This team should be capable of finishing fifth to seventh and should not always be fighting for survival” was Desai’s mission statement regarding on-field performance. She has also taken the opportunity to lament Allardyce’s record at achieving value for money in the transfer market, an area in which most would credit him with a great deal of competence: “My father once told me that out of ten decisions you must get at least seven right. You can get two or three wrong – we’re not Gods. But to get nine or ten wrong is not good and things have been going wrong with transfers – that’s a fact.” Many would view this as a harsh criticism given that the big-spending days of the Walker era are a relic of the distant past. Given that Allardyce inherited a doomed team following the ill-fated tenure of Paul Ince, one could argue that he has done a good job in all departments merely to keep them competitive in the Premier League.
This brings us onto the second significant issue, which is held as a major reason for Sam’s sudden departure. Desai had expressed a view prior to the sacking that the style of the Rovers team was not compatible with her vision for the club, a train of thought that was repeated immediately post-Allardyce, “We want good football and Blackburn to be fourth or fifth in the league or even better.” So do most Rovers fans, but then the majority of football supporters have a general idea of what is an acceptable level of performance for their team at a given moment in time. Most would surely be of the view that bringing the club back up to the level of the mid 1990s, where European football was seen as an annual occurrence, would require a significant outlay in the transfer market, used wisely by an experienced and knowledgeable manager. With the recent talk being of ‘leasing’ (by which we presume Venky’s mean loaning) players, and the appointment of a first-time manager to the hot seat, does this level of investment look imminent? The sensible answer would have to be no.
And this is what has made Steve Kean’s job so much more difficult. He is expected to have his team competing for European competition while playing stylish football on a shoestring budget. Somewhere along the line, one gets the impression that there are just too many balls being juggled simultaneously, and that something has to give. There are plenty of instances throughout history of a club punching well above its weight while pleasing the neutral for a short period of time. However, the way in which it appears to be expected now at Ewood shows a lack of understanding of how nuanced and complicated top-level football is, and how a team needs time to develop and reach its potential. It also makes one wonder if there is any football expertise within Venky’s itself, even if it is merely an individual capable of dampening expectations and hiding the bullets somewhere else the next time Desai reaches for the revolver.
Recent history is full of successful businesspeople who have unfortunately come to the conclusion that a knowledge of their chosen market equates to an understanding of football and all that it entails. Rovers fans will be hoping that this is not the case with regards to their club, but one cannot avoid the conclusion that there are some ominous early signs that need to be the exception rather than the general trend. Most members of new management in any new project or enterprise at least take some time to assess the terrain and understand the context of the present before making a snap judgement – not here.
The appointment of Kean is one which has the potential to work out in a number of different ways and Venky’s spin of the dice could come up with a six in their favour and leave the doubters reaching for their tin hats. However, there will be many connected with other Premier League clubs who will be liking those odds right now.