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One Year On, Have Blackburn Rovers Been Better Off Without Steve Kean?

By Dean Jones - Posted: 09/27/13 04:55PM EDT
Steve Kean

Kean endured a harrowing spell as Rovers boss, something the club is still trying to recover from (Photo: Reuters)

It has been one year since Steve Kean resigned as manager of Blackburn Rovers football club following a disastrous spell in-charge that saw the club relegated from the Premier League and thrown into complete disarray.

His decision was met with joyous scenes from the Rovers faithful, who campaigned long and hard for the manager's dismissal, after seeing the club turn from a stable mid-table team in the top division to a championship team who were the laughing stock of the football world.

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So, a year on, are Rovers any better off now than they were when the beleaguered Scot was in-charge?

It has been a turbulent 12 months without question, in which time the club has gone through four different managers and even flirted with the inconceivable possibility of back-to-back relegations.

Had that have happened, then it would have been a cataclysmic event for the football club, something that would have threatened their very existence.

Kean's time at the helm was an atrocity, and it was a miracle he survived as long as he did. The fact he could talk his way out of any perilous situation he found himself in confirmed the naivety of new owners Venky's, who were clearly out of their depth and had no idea of how to run a football club in the correct manor.

Following an incomprehensible reprieve, Kean was given considerable funds to get Rovers back into the top flight at the first attempt. To his credit, he did make a good start to the season, but the tension between manager and fans had simply passed the point of no return. Protesters were evident at every home game, something that the 45-year-old would dismiss as a "minority", and that he had the full support of "99% of the fanbase."

While he probably believed it himself, most saw it as complete denial and borderline delusion, seemingly unwilling to accept any of the blame for the damage he had done to this once-proud club, or acknowledge the unrest that was clearly evident at Ewood Park.

On the eve of an away game at Charlton, it was announced that Kean had left the club, with the manager claiming he "was forced to resign" and his position at the club was "untenable."

It seemed after 22 abysmal months, that the penny had finally dropped.

He left the club when they were occupying third place in the Championship, but his win percentage during his time as Rovers manager was 28%, so despite his insistence Kean was simply out of his depth managing a club of this magnitude.

The dark cloud may have been lifted temporarily, but the catastrophic events that followed indicated that things were going to get far worse before they got better.

A boardroom disagreement threatened to tear the club apart at the seams. On one side, you had the outspoken "Global Advisor" Shebby Singh, who claimed to be running the club on behalf of Venky's. The other side had Derek Shaw and Paul Agnew, who were pro-Kean and wanted to appoint someone with considerable experience into the position in his place.

Singh initially got his wish, and former player Henning Berg was given the job, despite Agnew and Shaw opposing the decision. The whole situation was farcical, and it was set to get even worse.

Berg lasted just 10 games and 57 days before he was sacked as manager. While he achieved just one win in those 10 games, it seemed Venky's had gone from one extreme to another, having been so annoyingly patient with Kean, they had now decided to be ruthless with the Norwegian, leaving him perplexed and bemused with the treatement he received from the club where he won a title in 1995.

With Singh's choice gone, he vanished from the club without trace. It was reported that Shaw and Agnew had convinced Venky's matriarch, Anuradha Desai, to part company with Berg and let them bring in a manager capable of turning their flagging promotion push around.

This was made even more incredible months later, when it emerged in the high court that Shaw had signed off on a long-term deal for Berg without the authorisation of Venky's, costing the Indian poultry giants £2.25 million in compensation.

Incompetence of the highest order.

Blackpool's Michael Appleton was the next choice to take over what now seemed like a poisoned chalice at Rovers. He was seen as the "no-nonsense" manager that would give everybody at the club a sense of direction restore belief amongst the squad.

As it turned out, it was another abrupt and calamitous spell in-charge, which had everybody at the club hanging their heads in shame.

Appleton lasted just 15 games and 67 days as manager, and it was no coincidence that Singh was now back on the scene. He looked almost smug as returned in-front of the cameras, explaining the owners' decision to rid the club of yet another manager.

In-keeping with the clueless manor the club was being run, Appleton and his staff were informed of their decision when letters were given to them at the club's Brockhall training ground when they turned up for work in the morning.

A heartless way to treat people, and it just isn't the way to do business.

It seemed Singh had finally won the power struggle, and for the second time in just a few months reserve team boss Gary Bowyer was charged with the responsibility of guiding the team out of the chaos they now found themselves in.

All this upheaval off-the-pitch was bound to have a detrimental effect on it, and Rovers now found themselves four points off the relegation zone and in real danger of being sucked into the abyss. With morale at an all-time low, Bowyer had a monumental task on his hands picking the club up after the decision-makers had brought it to his knees.

To his credit, Bowyer seemed to galvanise the players and steer them narrowly clear of the relegation zone, which was quite an achievement when you consider how visibly demoralised the players were with their experiences of the season.

While Kean may have been a large part of the problem, the inept decisions made by senior figures at the club since his departure was a clear indication that there was a more concerning problem at the club, something that needed to be rectified quickly to avoid further misery.

This, of course, was the owners and the structure of the club.

How Desai can know what is going on with the day-to-day running of the club from the safety of Pune, India, is beyond comprehension. They have clearly been taken advantage of by some of the seedier characters in football, and have been led astray by authority figures within the club who were simply looking out for their own interests.

Changes had to be made, and quickly.

During the summer months, the whole dynamic of the club has altered. Bowyer was appointed the manager on a permanent basis, given a 12-month rolling contract. Finally, a move regarded as Venky's first good decision in what seemed like an eternity. However, fans remained sceptical as to whether or not this trend would continue.

Desai and Venky's took a huge financial risk with the money they spent on salaries, agents and transfer fees to get back into the Premier League, a gamble that blew up in their face. They thought that throwing money at the problem would remedy it, when in all actuality it probably made it worse.

Venky's and Bowyer were left with the humiliation of giving their overpaid stars huge payoffs just to have them off their books. Far too many of the "experienced" players brought in to help achieve promotion treated the club like a cash dispenser without ever caring about what happened to it.

The powers-that-be have been ruthless with their cost-cutting and have shown no bias as to who had the chop. Whether it been known Kean-sympathisers like Danny Murphy and Bradley Orr, or club stalwarts who have shown genuine pride and passion during their time at Rovers, Gael Givet and Morten Gamst Pedersen, it didn't matter. The damage had already been done and a fresh start was thought to be best for all parties concerned.

Somebody had to take the fall for the incompetence of the last 12 months. After the Berg fiasco it was thought that Derek Shaw would be shown the door, but he astonishingly remains in a position of power, for now at least. The last of the Kean supporters, Paul Agnew, was given his marching orders, and he was quick to criticise the club he had help destroy. Another mercenary who had taken all he could out of the club before washing his hands of all blame upon his dismissal.

Sound familiar?

There is also no sign of Singh once again, although he is said to be still actively employed by Rovers. No doubt if there is a consistent loss of form from the team he will resurface, which will be nothing but bad news for Bowyer. There was a rumour circling last week that he was poised to return to Ewood, but so far, thankfully, there has been no sign and everyone associated with the club will be hoping it stays that way.

Bowyer has done a commendable job in replacing these veterans with a young, hungry squad with plenty of talent but very little experience. These are the constraints the manager has found himself in following the rash decisions made by the hapless people in-charge at Rovers.

There is no quick fix, and there are bound to be teething problems when you have one of the youngest squads in the Championship. There have been glimpses of their potential, most notably in the home victories over Barnsley and Bolton, but inconsistency has hampered there progress considerably.

Despite players sales and cuts in expenses, Venky's still posted a £27.1 million loss for the financial year, which is a grave realisation of just how precarious things have become. While there are still some who want the Indian owners to cut their losses and move on, if they were to leave then the club would almost certainly go into administration and possible financial ruin unless a benefactor with considerable assets came in and took over from the poultry giants.

The days of Jack Walker and Premier League titles are nothing but a distant memory and dreams like this only happen once in a lifetime, so the club seems to be reluctantly, at least for the short-term.

It's clear that the club are still licking their wounds from the Steve Kean era, but it hasn't been helped by the sheer neglect that the owners have shown the club, leaving it in the hands of incapable, unqualified buffoons who had no business being in a position of power at a high-profile club.

So are Rovers better off? Without question, there is a fresh optimism surrounding everyone at the club but the fans, players and staff should be under no illusions the task that lies ahead of them.

It could take several years to put things right, but at least some semblence of order has been restored following a year of complete carnage.

As for Kean, let's just say there's a very good reason why he hasn't found another job in management, or any other position in football for that matter.

12 months have been and gone in the blink of an eye, but Kean will never be forgiven for his role in crippling Blackburn Rovers.

And the rebuilding has only just begun.

Dean Jones: Follow me on Twitter @DeanJones_



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