Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Where to now for Blackburn Rovers?

When a club is relegated from their country's top division, any attempts to remedy that situation are based upon a number of key principles.

Firstly, one can most often safely assume that the club's owners want the club to succeed. Pursuant to this, those same owners must also be capable of understanding the ramifications of relegation both on their balance sheets and fan emotions. An ability – and willingness – to change what isn't working has usually led these owners to become one of the more wealthy people in the world; it should be expected owners can bring the same flexibility to sports business as well. As we well know, the last point is hardly a given.

Which brings us to a confusing point: how do we understand Venky's, the poultry-farming owners of relegated Blackburn Rovers? Since coming to power in October 2010, the company has almost wilfully alienated Rovers' proud fanbase with a procession of curious statements, odd transfer dealings and, most damningly, casual negligence.

When an autocrat has their subjects' best interests at heart, guessing their next move becomes a mite easier. So obscure have their methods been, predicting Venky's next move would have made Nostradamus rich beyond counting. However, it is obvious that with a prodigious fall from relative safety and a last-ditch escape from relegation last season, that changes must be made at Ewood Park lest the one-time Premier League champions recede into irrelevance.

With that said, here's some suggestions how Blackburn Rovers can move forward:

Keep Yakubu and Grant Hanley

Given Rovers' reluctance to commit to new or significant salaries, to think that Yakubu can stay at Rovers is extremely optimistic. The slowly-self-inflating front man had a great year for his new club, scoring 16 EPL goals this season in a return to form that would have surprised Everton and Nigeria fans alike. If he was able to produce that many goals from a team whose major creative sparks, outside Junior Hoilett, were David Dunn and Mauro Formica, he should own the Championship. His salary should be the one expensive one Rovers wear in hopes of a quick springboard back to the elite league.

Hanley is opposite: a young central defender who progressed through the Rover youth system and earned his position with a string of encouraging performances. He's good, and even better, he's cheap. With Hanley on board – and perhaps even Scott Dann, whose relegation record suggests some clubs aren't likely to touch him – Rovers should have one of the better central defensive duos in the second tier. Which brings us to …

Stop the bleeding

Both literally – they've allowed 76 goals so far this season despite the presence of Dann, Hanley and former England goalkeeper Paul Robinson – and figuratively. Rovers, through the actions and words of ownership, manager, ghost-managing player agent and even vociferous fans, have shown an alarming talent for scoring PR own-goals with a Richard Dunne-like frequency.

The one thing you can say for Rovers management is that they have (until recently) presented a relatively united front. However, squad faith in the manager varies from non-existent to excellent and fan faith in anyone attached to the club is like finding last night's thunderstorm. Make of West Ham and Messrs Gold and Sullivan what you will, but on relegation last term they clearly laid out their plans for a return to the Premiership. Rovers fans need – and deserve – the same clarity.

On-field, the situation is much easier to remedy: in direct opposition to his predecessor, Kean has promulgated an intriguing ability to keep Rovers scoring. However, it has come at the expense of any defensive stolidity at all – a fact highlighted by the departures of Phil Jones, Christopher Samba and Ryan Nelsen. Even Steven Nzonzi, who for the last two seasons has exhibited a lot of promise, was expelled from the squad as Rovers gazed at relegation. He defines rangy and can deconstruct many opposition forward moves – he needs to play.

Freeing the beast within Nzonzi comes with the one, eternal Rovers caveat: everything depends on if they can afford to keep him.

Publicly define Jerome Anderson's role

Only three years ago, Jerome Anderson was a football agent. On his books he had Steve Kean, amidst a plethora of middling-to-impressive football names. Also, he fronted his son Myles. Many of Blackburn's signings are alleged to have derived from Anderson's dealings; he is also rumoured to have been behind the firing of Sam Allardyce and subsequent installation of Kean. Suggestions of his intimate involvement with ownership only strengthened when Rovers signed Myles Anderson despite the player failing to make an impression at SPL side Aberdeen.

No-one outside the Rovers hierarchy is fully aware of how deeply Jerome Anderson's tendrils infiltrate the club. One thing is certain: such opacity suits him, but damages the club's credibility. Venky's need to prioritise either their relationship with Anderson or the club's public face.

Fix the Kean problem

Image courtesy: telegraph.co.uk
Kean's hands probably aren't clean of Allardyce's demise, nor have his tactics (which resemble a kitchen colander) inspired fan confidence. Despite incessant furore he remains respected as a coach, if not necessarily as a manager. He should be respected for getting the best from Yakubu, Hanley and Hoilett; this is balanced by his confusing relationship with Samba, Nelsen and Salgado.

In the Championship, he should have fewer gnarled veterans and more of his own foot soldiers; this in itself should promise a reasonable season. However, in sections of the media and much of Rovers fandom, his reputation is below basement level. He remains, though, obviously ownership's man.

Firing him would quickly remove the second-biggest trigger for fan ire, but may not actually provoke a better response from a team which could navigate the likes of Cardiff City and Watford quite well. Like transfers, the earlier a decision is made, the better for the club.

Kean credibility needs a quick and powerful salve. Much like Terry Connor at Wolves, he is in many ways the victim of circumstance, the puppet for faceless men. What stands against him is his alleged role in creating that situation. It is Venky's position to create a situation in which their man can thrive, but they have hardly done so. Clarifying Anderson's role and publicly drafting their plan for negotiating the Championship would allow much more perspective – and provide grounds to remove Kean should he continue to prove inconvenient or incapable.

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