Rovers have confirmed that Mark Venus will be the new assistant manager. Venus has previously worked with Tony Mowbray at a number of clubs.
Venus said that he was delighted to join Rovers and was looking forward to the challenge "It's a great challenge, it's a great football club, the training ground facilities are in place, we just have to try and put a team on the pitch which plays the way we want to play, but still wins lots and lots of games along the way. I think it's a massive club with a lot of footballing history and it's going to be a great challenge to try and bring it back to where it should be. It's something that I'm really looking forward to, I have to say. Everything about the club since I've come to have a look around it has been really good, really professional and I just hope that we can give back what it deserves."
There is no news on the futures of David Dunn and David Lowe who were part of Mowbray's backroom team last season. Rovers players are due to report back for pre-season training later this month as the club prepares for the start of the league 1 season.
The Demise of Blackburn Rovers Under Venky's – 2011-2012 Season Part 1 – By Dan Ely
Dan Ely (@DE.) continues his look back at the demise of Rovers under Venky’s. We move onto Venky’s first full season incharge of the club. Due to the many events that happened during that season we will be splitting this into a few smaller parts to make it easier reading. So without further-ado part one of the 2011-2012 season. May 2011 to end of August 2011.
Blackburn Rovers had ended the 2010-11 season on a relatively high note. Having spent most of the second half of the season desperately battling relegation under new manager Steve Kean, Rovers secured survival on the final day of the campaign, beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-2 at Molineux. The final whistle brought huge relief, a light at the end of what had seemed like a long tunnel. Little did Rovers fans know that they were about to enter a much longer, much darker tunnel which would ultimately become the club's sarcophagus.
The dust had barely settled on the 2010-11 season before the first piece of bad news hit the club. On 31st May 2011, just nine days after Rovers had secured Premier League survival for another season, Managing Director Tom Finn resigned from his position at the club. It had been heavily rumoured that Finn would vacate his role for some time, particularly after John Williams left the club, but it was still a jarring blow to a fanbase that was still recovering from the previous season's turbulent end.
Much like John Williams, Finn was diplomatic upon leaving, saying "The owners are putting in place their plans for how the club is to operate going forward, such as the appointment of Paul Hunt who joins the club this week. I have told Paul that he is joining a special football club that is an integral part of its local community. Blackburn Rovers might not enjoy the fan base of some of its Premier League rivals, but no one should doubt the supporters' passion and commitment to their club. I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of that for the past 15 years, have had fantastic support from the staff at Ewood Park and Brockhall and wish the owners and everyone associated with Blackburn Rovers all success in the future."
On 8th June, the Lancashire Telegraph reported on Steve Kean's first appearance in court over a drink driving offence from earlier in May. Kean pleaded not guilty, with his defence gearing up to try and prove the Scot had his drink spiked. The LT wrote that the allegation against Kean was that he "registered 65 microgrammes of alcohol in 100millilitres of breath at a roadside test. The legal limit is 35", making him nearly twice the legal limit. Kean was represented by Freemans Solicitors, who the LT noted "specialises in helping celebrities and figures from the sporting world fight motoring offence allegations". Another notable quote appeared when the LT reported: "Kean was asked when the new season started and replied ‘August 22’." - the season actually began on August 13, suggesting that Kean was unaware of when the Premier League was set to begin. As a result his trial was set for 15th August, two days after the first match of the season.
On 15th August, Kean would be convicted of drink driving and had his driving license suspended for 18 months, as well as being fined £1,800. Kean had eventually opted to plead guilty, but applied for extenuating circumstances due to the claim that his drink had been spiked. The BBC reported that "Kean admitted drinking two-and-a-half glasses of red wine with Sir Alex Ferguson after the game, and later a bottle of Budweiser at a pub in Blackburn. Mr Harrison [Kean's lawyer] argued that one of his drinks must have been spiked. Rejecting Kean's case, Judge Sanders said: "There is no direct evidence of lacing of drinks or tampering of drinks. There is another possible explanation and that is that he had more to drink than he has admitted today".
Further to the above, the Guardian noted "The 43-year-old initially told the police he had not drunk any alcohol that day", a lie which would undoubtedly have had a bearing on the court's perception of Kean's defence. As Judge Sanders himself said in court: "It is perhaps relevant that when he was stopped by the police and asked whether he had had anything to drink he replied 'no' and that was clearly not true". Despite the public embarrassment suffered by Rovers as a result of this incident, there was no suggestion that this tawdry episode would have any bearing on Kean's position at the club.
Meanwhile, things were getting no better on the transfer front. Phil Jones, Rovers' 19 year-old defensive “wonderkid”, had attracted interest from Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool. Jones had only signed a new five year deal in May 2010, but it soon came to light that he had a £16m release clause, and that Man United had triggered this clause. It was then reported that Rovers were kicking up a fuss, with the Daily Mail claiming that "Venky’s believe the clause allows clubs to talk to the 19-year-old if they offer in excess of £16m, but does not force Blackburn to accept the bid". The paper also claimed that Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool met Jones' release clause, but the player opted for Manchester United.
Inevitably, the player got his wish and joined Manchester United. Confusion still reigned over the fee paid, though. The Telegraph reported that "Blackburn are adamant that United were forced to increase their original offer of £16.5 million after the club’s owners, the Venky’s poultry group, sought legal advice to prevent the Old Trafford side signing the player for the value of a release clause inserted into his contract earlier this year", with Steve Kean quoted as claiming "With all the bits and pieces, all the games he will play it will go above £20 million". United, meanwhile, insisted they had paid no more than the £16.5m stipulated in Jones' contract.
With Rovers fans concerned by the sale of one of the team's star players, Steve Kean was eager to stress that Rovers had let Jones go reluctantly, telling reporters: "We gave it a real good fight and made a fantastic offer. We offered him the biggest contract in the history of Blackburn to stay here. It was a staggering offer for a 19 year-old but Phil wanted to play Champions League football". Jones, meanwhile, simply stated "I’ve loved my time at Blackburn and I will always be a huge fan".
The next departure was Andrew Pincher, who had been employed by the club as Secretary for six years. His name might not be well known to the casual fan, but according to the Daily Mail, when contacted by the FA in March 2011 and asked about the running of Rovers: "Andrew Pincher wrote to the FA's head of integrity, David Newton, to disclose the Kentaro contract. Pincher also confided to the FA that Venky's received consultancy services on their takeover from Brunei-based firm Crescendo Sports Limited. He wrote: 'An officer of SEM Limited, Jerome Anderson, has a connection with Crescendo". Pincher was replaced by Everton's assistant secretary Anthony Bloch, who at 27 years old became the youngest secretary in the Premier League.
The steady exodus of backroom staff continued throughout July. Academy doctor Chris Mowbray, club doctor Phil Batty and club physio Adrian Lamb all left the club before the month was over. Towards the end of July, Rovers appointed former army medic Duncan Robertson as new club doctor. Speaking to the Lancashire Telegraph, Robertson said "I turned down a couple of job offers just to come for the interview here, that’s how important this opportunity was to me. My career journey has taught me that it is always the quality of the people you work with which I value most, not the fanciness of any surroundings – and I know I am joining a great and highly-respected team. After everything that went on at Aston Villa, I knew I wanted to give it another shot, and I am confident that it’s going to be a very different kettle of fish here at Rovers, working with Steve Kean".
On the 28th July Rovers found themselves being laughed at once again by the footballing world. Venky's enlisted the players to star in a cringeworthy advert for their chicken franchise, with the likes of David Dunn, Ryan Nelsen, Michel Salgado, Morten Gamst Pedersen and Jason Roberts appearing in this brief clip. At a time when the club were already considered a joke for their handling of Sam Allardyce's sacking, Steve Kean's continued employment, various ridiculous statements and the general chaos surrounding the club, this did nothing to change perceptions.
As far as transfers were concerned, there was little activity during this period. Various players would leave the club due to contracts ending. Zurab Khizanishvili, Jason Brown, Michael Potts, Maceo Rigters, Toni Vastic, Benjani and Aaron Doran all left the club in July. Either for minimal fees or simply released. The Sunday People, however, reported that Steve Kean had a "£50M warchest" at his disposal stating "Steve Kean is ready to launch the biggest Blackburn transfer spree since the moneybags days of Jack Walker – and sign SIX top targets". The paper then went on to link Rovers with an incredible amount of players, including Robbie Keane, Papiss Cisse, Pablo Piatti, Jose Rondon, Miranda, Marko Marin, Alexander Anyukov and former loanee Jermaine Jones. The paper also claimed Rovers had sealed a deal for 16 year-old Paraguayan starlet Rodrigo Baez. None of these players would make the move to Ewood Park.
The People's article also claimed that Venky's "‘man in Brazil’, Joao Souza, has been at Ewood Park to help land players". This would not be the last time that Souza, who according to the Independent was "manager of their Brazilian division, Venky's do Brasil Ltda", would be linked to transfers at Rovers. At no point would he appear to have any major influence on incoming transfers, but it was concerning that, a man seemingly completely inexperienced in English football (or football at any serious level) was being consulted on transfer policy. As July came and went without any signings being announced, Rovers' fans began to fear the worst. Kean had said just before the final match of the previous season "It was important to know what type of budget we had and it's very healthy. The wage bill won't be cut, there will be funds available. It's a very competitive budget. Miles bigger than Rovers have had in the past. It was all positive and most enlightening for me to hear what they want to do next season and the season after" - but these quotes were beginning to look like little more than hot air.
In the midst of what appeared to be rather sensational reporting, Andy Cryer at the Lancashire Telegraph cautioned on 8th July "Fiction can easily be turned into fact at this time of the summer, as the national tabloids feed on the fans’ hunger for transfer activity by linking every player under the sun with a move to their club. What has to be remembered is not all these players are targets, have never been targets and probably never will be targets". Cryer bucked against the concerns of the fans by suggesting that the club were just "biding their time", and that "there is still more than a month remaining for Rovers to get their squad sorted. A major shake up isn’t needed, just a few additions here and there."
However, as July came to a close, Rovers appeared no closer to signing anybody. The Guardian posted an article on 26th July, quoting Steve Kean as saying: "We'll be spending. We've got a very good budget and we're looking to recruit and strengthen in areas where we've seen we have to improve from last season. It's no secret that we're looking for a striker, and we lost Jermaine, who went back to Schalke, as well so we're trying to get a central midfielder in. And we need a centre-half to replace Phil Jones. We have a fixed budget to spend but it's one that is competitive which will bring in players of good quality."
Kean continued: "The owners and the fans should be excited about what we're doing here. Trying to deliver European football in three or four years for this club is achievable. We're not going to say we'll get it next year but, if we can get a foothold in the top half of the table, that's a realistic goal". The Guardian noted that "Kean must convince his current key players to remain at the club if progress is to be made", quoting the manager as claiming "Any time we have a bid accepted for a player and we can get in front of them and speak to them, we can get across how exciting a period this is for the club. Sure, it's difficult recruiting players who are at clubs already playing European football, who are used to playing at that level, but if we can take them from different leagues or areas of the world and show them what we're trying to do, we're not a hard sell."
In an opinion piece, again posted by the Guardian just a day afterwards, journalist Paul Wilson reflected that "Kean was responding to questions at a press conference, not posting a mission statement on the club website, but even so it is unusual to see a Premier League club go about its transfer business in that way. Most clubs and most managers prefer to do the business first and the talk later. Presumably Kean was seeking to reassure Blackburn fans that the club is not content merely to supply others but has some ambitions of its own, but if ever there was a case of actions speaking louder than words, the modern way of doing summer transfer business is the area to watch. When you have let more than half the window go past with no signings, just departures, it hardly strikes the necessary confident note when you speak, from a distant country, of signings you are still hopeful of making and areas in which you would like to strengthen.
"This is not to say that Venky's, the club's owner, is keeping a damagingly tight control of Kean's budget, or that Rovers will not astound the world in August with a quartet of nifty captures that no one saw coming, but at the moment it does not look like that and time is beginning to slip away. In an ideal world Kean would like to make a statement signing, and present it as a fait accompli. Not Ronaldinho or David Beckham, or any of the other daft marquee projects with which the club has been loosely linked, just a building block such as Shaun Wright-Phillips or Matt Jarvis. At the moment Rovers look as if they will have another season of struggle and good players are leaving rather than joining, so the club will always find it hard to sell itself to targets who may prefer to join someone more obviously upwardly mobile. Kean is talking of a top-half finish, though that ambition is patently at odds with what has happened so far in the window."
As Kean spoke of grand targets, the club were facing a fight to keep talismanic captain Chris Samba. The Congo international had made it clear when Sam Allardyce had been sacked that he had wanted to leave, and he continued to push for a move during the summer of 2011. With reputed interest from Arsenal, Samba told Sky Sports in June: "For four-and-a-half years I have been at Blackburn and fought against relegation. If a good opportunity presents itself, I want to take it. I hope the club will understand if I want to make the step up and not prevent a deal". Having just sold Phil Jones and yet to make a single signing, this was not good for the club.
According to goal.com, Anuradha Desai was aware of Samba's ambitions, but had told the Daily Mail: "We don't want to let Chris go. I'm confident that we can keep him and I hope he'll stay. I know he has an ambition to play for Arsenal but I hope we can keep him for another year at least and prove our own ambition". The article also stated that Venky's had considered legal action over Manchester United's signing of Phil Jones, but had ultimately decided against it because, according to Desai, "we concluded that the person who would be most damaged by a delay and legal action was Phil. That wasn't fair on him. We wish Phil well". Samba would ultimately not leave Rovers in the summer window, but this difficult situation would rear its head again in January.
One player who had succeeded on getting a move was misfit striker Nikola Kalinic. The Mirror reported on the 26th July that Kalinic had been spotted in Croatia, suggesting that "The Croatian refused to fly with Rovers to the Asia Cup, as Mirror Sport revealed, and he also spurned Steve Kean’s attempt to bring him to Hong Kong for today’s Aston Villa game". Kalinic had been frustrated towards the end of the previous season as Kean froze him out of the squad, and from that point onwrads his departure seemed an inevitability. The Mirror noted that "Rovers are still holding out for £8million, but look set to agree a compromise figure to let the striker go and give boss Kean funds for a couple of signings". Kalinic would eventually sign for Dnipro on the 11th August 2011 for an undisclosed fee, believed to be around £6m.
Rovers finally made their first signing of the transfer window, bringing in Scottish international striker David Goodwillie from Dundee United. The fee was reported by the BBC to be "£2m plus £800,000 in potential add-ons", with Rovers having outbid Rangers to get their man. Goodwillie had been voted young player of the year in the previous Scottish Premier League season, and on the surface appeared to be a decent if not spectacular signing. Steve Kean would later invite ridicule, however, by telling journalists "David has always been put on a parallel with a young Wayne Rooney and you can see that when you see him play. He can score all types of goals, not just nice build ups and a tap in. He can create a goal for himself, score from outside the box, he can chip them in, pass them in, smash them in. We don’t mind how they go in because that is what we need at the club, a natural finisher, and that is something he is."
Rovers' second signing of the summer was confirmed soon afterwards. On the 9th August it was confirmed that 22 year-old Serbian international midfielder Radosav Petrovic had joined the club on a four year deal from Partizan Belgrade. Steve Kean was quoted as saying: "Many European clubs were interested and we consider signing him a major coup. His record to date speaks for itself and he is exactly the sort of player we have been looking to recruit". The BBC noted that "Blackburn face a race against time to make sure Petrovic is eligible for Saturday's Premier League opener against Wolves at home", which was just four days away.
As the first team squad continued to change, so too did staff behind-the-scenes. Martin Goodman, a Rovers director and Company Secretary, resigned from the club in early August. The Business Desk, running an article on the story, noted that "Goodman’s departure means the only director remaining from the Walker-era board is ex-chairman Robert Coar", referencing the departures of John Williams, Tom Finn and Richard Mathewman - the son-in-law of Jack Walker, who had stepped down from a non-executive director role in June.
With Crown Paints having decided to end their relationship with Rovers' the previous season, it wasn't until the 11th August 2011 - two days before the Premier League began - that Rovers announced a replacement. The Princes' Trust charity were to be sponsors for the season, meaning that the club would not get a penny from primary shirt sponsorship. Balaji Rao commented on this, saying "Helping young people is very much at the forefront of our community work in India and this partnership is a perfect way for us to support charities and worthy causes through football over here". Whilst on the surface this seemed like a generous and worthy gesture, supporters couldn't help but wonder if the club was already so toxic that no serious company would pay money to appear on Rovers' shirts.
It was reported on the 10th August that Rovers were set to appoint Simon Hunt as Sporting Director. Hunt was a former player who had spent most of his career in Sweden. After retiring he held primarily scouting roles at various clubs, and had a brief stint as Sporting Director at West Brom. The Mirror reported that Hunt was at the club to "help out manager Steve Kean" and noted that he was "a close ally of George Burley".
The day of the opening Premier League match of the season, Rovers would make another signing. Secured by Venky's "man in Brazil", 28 year-old right-back Bruno Ribeiro signed for the club on a free transfer. Ribeiro, who had never been capped by his country, had spent his entire career in Brazil and both the decision to grant him a work permit and a three year contract baffled Rovers' fans. Kean would once again display his penchant for making ridiculous comparisons when he told reporters just before the signing was officially announced "Bruno, or Denis after Denis Irwin the boys call him because he never gives the ball away, will fill in that position and that is great for us". Ribeiro would not be seen again for the entirely of the 2011/12 campaign.
The bizarre budget signing of Ribeiro made a little more sense when an article published by the Guardian on the 11th August stated that Steve Kean's transfer budget "may have diminished due to a restructuring of the club's debt". Kean was quoted as saying "the actual money that is available I don't know because the banks are involved in that and there is a restructuring taking place on the debt at the club. There are more qualified people than me at the club to answer that". It was a significant climb-down from earlier comments he had made, claiming Rovers would have the biggest transfer budget ever seen in the club's history. Nonetheless, Kean set a rather optimistic target for the season, telling reporters: "We want to be in the top half of the table this season, two good cup runs and to assemble a squad capable of pursuing all three targets."
Finally, after a lot of off-field nonsense, the first day of the Premier League season began. Just over 21,000 supporters turned up at Ewood Park to watch the opening game of Rovers' season - against Wolverhampton Wanderers, the team they had beaten on the final day of the previous season to ensure survival. Rovers had been hit with defensive injuries - Chris Samba and Ryan Nelsen were never in contention to play this match, but on the eve of the game Gael Givet suddenly fell ill and was not available for selection either.
With Phil Jones now plying his trade at Manchester United, and no money as of yet spent on a replacement, Rovers lined up with midfielder Steven N'Zonzi and 19 year-old central defensive youth prospect Grant Hanley at the heart of their defence. Of the 18 players that had been a part of the match day squad in the final game of the previous season, only 10 were available for selection in the first match of the 2011-12 campaign. Chris Samba and Gael Givet were out due to injury and illness respectively. Phil Jones had been sold to Manchester United. Jermaine Jones and Roque Santa Cruz had returned to their parent clubs. Keith Andrews had been loaned out, whilst El-Hadji Diouf had been frozen out and would soon be released.
This match also saw the much-anticipated debut of the man Steve Kean had dubbed "a young Batistuta" - Mauro Formica. The Argentine briefly lived up to that comparison by opening the scoring on twenty minutes. That was as good as it got, though. Wolves equalised within two minutes and scored again on 47 minutes to sink Rovers. Not even the introduction of "young Wayne Rooney" David Goodwillie could rescue a point for Rovers. After the match, Steve Kean bemoaned his squad depth, stating "11 players have left the club and we've had three in. We need to strengthen in different areas and make sure we have a competitive squad."
Not long after this, Rovers were once again back in the transfer headlines. On the 16th August 2011 it was announced that the club had put an official bid in for legendary 34 year-old Spanish striker Raul, who was under contract at German club Schalke - reportedly on a £100k per week contract. It fitted Venky's vision of a marquee signing - high wages and past their prime - but this one actually had a degree of validity to it, due to Raul's former Real Madrid team-mate Michel Salgado being employed by Rovers at the time. Nonetheless, it took Raul less than a day to decide against the move. Schalke's general manager, Horst Heldt, stated rather bluntly that "Raul does not want to go to Blackburn".
Bizarrely, Kean had a different take on things, claiming "We had the funds in place to make the transfer happen and we knew what it would cost. We were willing to pay it and Raúl was desperate to come, but he’s under contract at Schalke. We got the feeling speaking to Michel that he fancies it, though. We had the impression it was do-able, but we just needed the final piece, that Schalke would let him go. We thought they would, but we got a strong fax back from them saying he wasn’t available at any price. He was anxious to give us a go and we were delighted with that. We felt it would fall into place and we were told that he was disappointed not to come". Nonetheless, Kean insisted "The big name will happen. We’ll be making funding available and we’ll be willing to get the players who demand these kind of salaries".
Seven days after being beaten at home by Wolves, Rovers again found themselves coming away from a match with zero points. A resounding 3-1 away defeat to Aston Villa suggested that without reinforcements Rovers were in for a very difficult season. After the match, Kean told the BBC: "I thought we started the game positive. Then we found ourselves 2-0 down. We were in Villa's box 36 times, the same as they were in ours. There was nothing in the game," adding at the end of the interview that "I'm sure that by the end of the window we'll have a competitive squad", essentially admitting that Rovers had gone into the season without a team capable of competing. The BBC had a distinctly different take on the match, with their analysis stating: "Frankly over the course of the match Blackburn didn't do enough. I think if Steve Kean cannot be given the resources to strengthen before deadline day then they may struggle this season".
Three days later, attacking midfielder Simon Vukcevic was signed from Sporting Lisbon for an undisclosed fee, believed to have been in the £2m range. Vukcevic was given a three year deal. Steve Kean commented: "He is an exciting player who can play wide on either side. As a character, when you meet him, he is a very focused guy – takes his football very seriously. He likes to take people on, to be the guy who makes a difference, a bit of a match-winner. He is a very good player with lots of international games for a country in the top 20, so he has performed at that level at a consistent basis. He will give us a different dimension. if you can get the ball out wide to him and he can isolate a full-back, then it will be hard for anyone to stop him when he is on the run. That's exactly the type of player we have been after."
Another player Kean confirmed that Rovers were interested in was George John, a defender who played in the MLS for FC Dallas. The fee was reported to have been around £1.2m, with Kean telling reporters: "All the paperwork with the MLS has been agreed, the player has travelled to Greece to get his passport, and hopefully he will be in the country either tonight or tomorrow". This strange transfer never happened, with FC Dallas releasing a statement to confirm the deal had broken down: "Blackburn had significant interest in acquiring George; however, for the time being, they decided not to finalize the deal".
The final match of August saw Rovers lose their third match in a row, going down 1-0 at Ewood Park to a controversial last minute penalty against Everton. Incredibly, Rovers contrived to miss two penalties before Mikel Arteta converted Everton's spot kick. Hoilett's first penalty in the 46th minute was saved by Tim Howard, whilst Mauro Formica hit the post with his penalty on the 77th minute. Chris Samba and Gael Givet returning to the first team, meanwhile, was tempered by early injuries to David Dunn and Morten Gamst Pedersen. This defeat consigned Rovers to their worst start to a league campaign in sixty years.
This would be Brett Emerton's last match for the club, after eight seasons of service. The 32 year-old's contract was mutually terminated a year early so that he could join hometown club Sydney FC. It was a difficult decision for fans to understand, especially considering how thin the squad already was. Australia's The Age noted that Emerton was "the first player to exchange the English Premier League for the A-League", and claimed that "Emerton has been contemplating a move to the A-League for more than 12 months and a deal could have been struck before now if Blackburn Rovers had not avoided relegation on the final day of last season."
After the Everton match, Kean was in damage control mode. The Guardian wrote: "Steve Kean's fondness for a flattering figure is a constant in his rhetoric. For a manager who averages under a point a game, has won two league games since January and has overseen his club's poorest start to a season since Clement Attlee occupied 10 Downing Street, it can require a selective and imaginative interpretation of the facts. "I look at the stats from a half-full point of view," he said, citing 21 attempts at the Everton goal and, improbably, 60 penalty‑box entries – something that Barcelona may struggle to accomplish – before reluctantly accepting that not since 1951 had Rovers begun so badly. "If it's our worst start in 60 years then stats don't lie," Kean said. "But when you're dominating games and missing penalties, I don't know if we could have done any more." The facetious response would have involved the word "score".
"Summer signing [David Goodwillie] hit the bar. David Dunn, too, had struck wood, with Kean making the strange suggestion that, if the grass had more zip, the midfielder would have scored, rather than clipped the post. Two spurned spot-kicks provided an example of the blend of misfortune and mistakes that may sum up Kean's tenure. For him, it amounted to another hard‑luck story. "There were very few deciding factors in the Wolves game, in the Villa game we dominated in the second half. We dominated the whole of this one," he said. And while Rovers were in the ascendant in a second period that culminated in Mikel Arteta pilfering the points for Everton with the game's third and most dubious penalty, his judgments jar with those of onlookers; no one controlled a dire first half. Such analysis can be branded one-eyed."
Kean's positive spin was already being derided in the media, but was usually accompanied by the admission that he required backing from the owners if he was going to have any chance of keeping the club in the Premier League. Rovers' threadbare squad badly needed additions, but the club only managed two significant additions on transfer deadline day. Scott Dann arrived from recently relegated Birmingham City as the answer to Phil Jones' departure. This was arguably the first permanent transfer of the Venky's era that actually made some sense. Dann was considered a good defender, despite Birmingham's relegation, was only 24 years old and had experience of the Premier League. Rovers left it extremely late, but the deal was done for a reported £6m which could potentially rise to £7.5m with add-ons.
Dann commented: "I heard of Blackburn's interest a couple of days ago and it has all happened quickly and I was delighted to get it all sorted last night. From a personal point of view I would have liked it to have been done sooner so I could have got straight in with my new team-mates but it hasn't worked out that way". He also somewhat bizarrely said "with the new owners (Venky’s) it’s a good time to come to the club", a sentiment which would not have been echoed by many supporters. His new manager Steve Kean was delighted with the transfer, calling Dann "a fantastic leader and a top player".
Rovers' other "big" signing on deadline day was Everton striker Yakubu, who joined the club for a fee of around £1.5m. In truth this was somewhat of a let down for the supporters, who had seen the club linked strongly with the likes of Vedad Ibisevic and Mounir El Hamdaoui. Rather than playing in top European leagues, Yakubu had spent the previous half of the previous season playing with Leicester City in the Championship.
The man known as "the Yak" had a decent Premier League scoring record but it left fans feeling a sense of caution rather that disappointment with the transfer window. The club had signed a number of players who had the potential to become stars but apart Yakubu the majority of players signed had little or no experience of the Premier League.
With youngster Jordan Slew also joining Rovers for £1m on deadline day, Rovers had brought Myles Anderson, David Goodwillie, Radosav Petrovic, Simon Vukcevic, Yakubu, Scott Dann and Jordan Slew to the club during the summer for a combined cost of around £15m. Meanwhile Zurab Khizanishvili, Jason Brown, Phil Jones, Maceo Rigters, Toni Vastic, Benjani, Aaron Doran, Nikola Kalinic, Brett Emerton and El-Hadji Diouf had been sold or released, making Rovers around £21m in transfer fees. Rovers' outlay in this transfer window was almost certainly in negative figures, just as it had been under the Trust.
Nonetheless, Steve Kean told reporters that he was delighted with the business he had done during the transfer window, quoted by the Lancashire Telegraph as saying: "I think I’ve always said judge us at the end of the window. It was slow trying to get quality in but we’ve done that. I’m delighted for the owners and the fans that we could assemble a squad as strong as we have. I think the transfer window has been very good, very positive. There was always speculation that some of our quality was going to be leaving the club. That’s not happened, we’ve managed to keep the majority of the squad together and we’ve managed to add lots of quality on the last day – and the other business earlier in the window has all been excellent. Scott (Dann), Yakubu, Goodwillie, Petrovic, Vukcevic, we’ve made some marvellous signings. We’ve got another couple of young ones, Myles Anderson and the young lad from Sheffield (Slew). These are ones that will be for the future."
Kean insisted that now was the time to judge his Rovers team, continuing: "When you look at the first couple of games it was difficult because we had most of our defenders injured. Starting now I think we can genuinely put a team on the pitch with people that are fit and ready to really hit the ground running. I do think we should have the points on the board. If we play as well as we did against Everton, together with the additions we’ve now got and the lads coming back from injury, then I think we’ll be climbing the table very, very soon."
Whilst Kean was talking positive, the mood across Rovers' fanbase was growing increasingly negative. Having watched Kean nearly relegate them the season before, Rovers' fans felt that a return of zero points from the first nine available signalled that Kean had not learnt from the previous season and was actually worsening the team as time went by. Although some still said Kean needed time, plenty were now of the opinion that Kean needed to leave if Rovers were to have any chance of survival.
In August an open letter had been sent to Venky's pleading for change. When this was ignored, the national press picked up and printed the story. On the 8th September 2011, Henry Winter of the Telegraph wrote: "How much the fans’ letter represents the majority view is unclear, although the sounds of dissatisfaction at Ewood have been heard. Blackburn fans are not known for any militancy and clearly Venky’s have many questions to answer about the operation of the team and club".
The letter itself included the following: "The fans were willing to give Steve Kean a chance and were very open-minded about an appointment of a very inexperienced manager, somebody who had never managed a professional football team in his life. The sense that any game was winnable under Mark Hughes has been replaced by the sense of expecting defeat against any team either home or away that now exists under Kean. There are odd team line-ups where under-performing players such as Jason Roberts and Michel Salgado continue to play whereas goalscorers Mauro Formica and David Goodwillie drop to the bench. A very real fear for the future is now setting on Rovers fans. Numbers speak louder than words. More than 1,000 season tickets down on last season? There is a growing frustration that the fans don’t believe they have been listened to by the owners. As you can tell, we are passionate football fans. We love our club. Some fans are angry, some are depressed about the current situation and some are desperate for change. Listen to our words, our chants, our unhappiness."
In response to this letter, Steve Kean reacted nonchalantly, telling the press: "It doesn’t make me feel bad at all, I’ve got a great relationship with the owners. I think if you actually speak with the fans, the way we’re playing I don’t think we could have done too much more in the last game. I think maybe there’s a minority of the fans who are frustrated. The top half is certainly achievable. One win takes you halfway up the table."
The LT noted that "A YouGov survey has also revealed this week that 81 per cent of Rovers supporters polled would like the club to have a new boss", but Kean was again undeterred, saying "I can understand people’s frustrations with results. We’re three games in and we don’t have any points on the board. I’m frustrated myself that we’ve not got at least four points. But we’ve now got our squad. Now I think our season certainly starts but that’s not because we’ve not got any points, that’s because this is our group and our group is a strong group. I honestly think the squad’s stronger than it was last year."
Kean confirmed that he was happy with the summer's transfer business, claiming he had been backed by the owners and that to spend "in excess of £10m" proved that Venky's were behind him. There was also a suggestion that Venky's were going to be at games more often, with the LT confirming they were more able to travel locally "after buying Gary Neville’s house near Bolton", a purchase which was rumoured to have cost them around £5m.
Another issue facing Kean was the expiring contract of Junior Hoilett. The young winger had been one of very few players to shine under Kean, scoring vital goals and terrorising opposition defences with his pace and direct play. On the 10th September Kean told the media that Hoilett's new deal "will be done in the next couple of days", claiming that "there are only a couple of little technicalities in it, the broad base of it’s agreed. That took quite a while to get there but the boy seems happy and we just want to get it put to bed and get him focused now."
Nine days later, with Hoilett still yet to sign a new contract, Kean again reiterated that "We are getting there very slowly. I believe the term has been agreed and his base salary has been agreed. It is the smaller detail which can be slow but the main things have been agreed". Despite Kean's constant assurances that Hoilett would sign a new deal, this would continue to rumble on well into 2012 with no resolution in sight.
Part 2 will look at what happened between September and December of the 2011-2012 season.
Rovers boss Tony Mowbray has told the Lancashire Telegraph that despite Connor Mahoney being offered a new deal he expects that the youngster will reject the deal and sign for another club. Mowbray said “I have sat opposite and spoke with him two or three times and tried to advise him on his career.
“For me he should stay and play 100 games for this club over the next two seasons and if his talent dictates that he outgrows us and he has an offer from the Premier League, and we’re stuck in the Championship in two years time, then I wouldn’t stand in his way. Personally I have told him that the most important thing is that he plays football.
“If he goes and gets a better contract offer but is sat on the bench then they would be wasted years for him. It does not look like that advice has been heeded, it looks as though he is going to test the market, but all I can do is advise him to think about football and then his talent will decide everything else.”
Due to Mahoney being under 24 and having been offered a deal Rovers would be due compensation. This can be either mutually agreed with the club he signs for or be set by a tribunal. However the money that Rovers will eventually receive will be well below Mahoney's market value.
Tony Mowbray has confirmed that following talks with Venky's in Pune he will remain as Rovers manager. Talking to the club's official website he said "I'm very happy with the discussions that I have had, I've met the owners, I've met the people that I am working for, and I am very happy to move forward. Whilst we were all disappointed with the end of last season I see it as an opportunity to now move the club in the right direction and grasp this opportunity whilst it is there for us. The owners were supportive of my ideas and plans, and they have assured me of their financial commitment to help achieve our targets. It was all very positive."
Rovers boss Tony Mowbray is expected to arrive in Pune today to hold talks with Venky's.
Mowbray has been keen to hold talks with Venky's in order to establish their what their future vision for the club and has suggested that he would decide on his own future after holding talks with the owners “I will have some talks in the next week or two with the people who matter at this football club, Whether the journey for me continues or not. Let’s see. If it does, I can only see it being really strong if we can keep the right players."
Rovers face squad faces a big overhaul as 9 players were released last week this included club captain Jason Lowe, Danny Guthrie, Hope Akpan, Wes Brown and Adam Henley. It is looking increasingly likely that Connor Mahoney will reject the new contract that has been offered to him and reports in the national press have suggested that Lenihan and Mulgrew are also considering their futures.
Local and national media reports have suggested that accounting firms KPMG and Deloitte have been bought into Rovers this week to look at the club finances.
At this stage it is not clear whether these firms have be appointed by Venky's or the club's bank the State Bank of India, or their reason for being at Ewood.
The club suffered relegation to League 1 and income is expected to be down by a minimum of £5 million.
Over the Summer the excellent Dan Eley ( @DE. ) will be writing a series of editorials which will investigate the fall of Blackburn Rovers under the ownership Venky’s. Each editorial will take an in-depth look at how things unfolded and we hope that this will become and historical record as it will also source numerous articles. So it gives me immense pleasure in presenting Part One: The start of the nightmare. This looks at how Venky’s took charge and 2010-2011 under the guidance of Steve Kean.
The Demise of Blackburn Rovers Under Venky’s: Part One – The start of the nightmare.
By Dan Eley
Jack Walker passed away on the 17th of August 2000, at 71 years old. He had been battling cancer, and on this day finally succumbed to the disease. Walker, a self-made steel magnate, had been Rovers owner for just under a decade and overseen arguably the greatest triumph in the club's storied history. Taking over in 1991, when Rovers were battling in the old Second division, Jack promptly set about making his beloved hometown club the best team in the land. The next few years were a whirlwind, as the man affectionately known as "Uncle Jack" poured millions of his hard-earned fortune into Rovers and revitalised the club from top to bottom.
The appointment of world-famous ex-Liverpool star Kenny Dalglish as manager set the tone for what was to become a meteoric rise. Walker backed Dalglish heavily with his chequebook, allowing the quiet Scot to assemble a squad capable of challenging the very best. Bolstered by the likes of Tim Flowers, Tim Sherwood, Chris Sutton, Stuart Ripley and the fearsome Alan Shearer, Rovers' rise culminated in ultimate glory. On the 14th May, 1995, Blackburn Rovers pipped Manchester United to the post on a thrilling final day of the 1994/95 Premier League season and became champions of England for the first time in eighty-one years.
The sight of Jack Walker holding the Premier League trophy aloft with tears in his eyes is an image burned into the brain of every Rovers' fan old enough to remember this glorious period of the club's history. The great man represented every fan that day, and had become a hero to every supporter of Blackburn Rovers. His dream was our dream, and we shared it together, creating memories that can never be taken away.
Sadly, the next few years saw the club begin a steady decline. Kenny Dalglish's decision to vacate the managerial position directly after the 1994/95 season ended was the first body blow, and Alan Shearer's world-record transfer to Newcastle United in July 1996 was another bitter pill to swallow. A succession of ineffective managerial appointments and an increasingly disunited dressing room saw Rovers eventually drop out of the Premier League in the 1998/99 season, just five years after they had been at the pinnacle.
These were tough times, but Jack was determined to see Rovers return to the promised land. He continued to support the club financially, and his appointment of another ex-Liverpool legend, Graeme Souness, would see Rovers promoted at the end of the 2000/01 season. Tragically, Jack would not be there to see his cherished club win their fight to get back to the top tier, but before his death he had made provisions to ensure the club would continue to prosper long after he was gone.
The Walker Trust was established to keep Rovers going strong, with the eventual goal of making the club completely self-sufficient. Whilst Rovers would never again challenge for the Premier League title, the club enjoyed numerous successes in the early years of the Trust. Many astute signings were made, including goalkeeper Brad Friedel and Turkish midfield maestro Tugay Kerimoglu. Big name signings such as Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke gave Rovers crucial experience, whilst youngsters Damien Duff, Matt Jansen and David Dunn provided energy, exuberance and excitement.
Rovers won the League Cup in 2002, defeating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1 in a closely contested final. The club would participate in European competition and continue to hold its own against the big boys. The next few seasons were filled with ups and downs. Souness left for Newcastle United and was replaced by Mark Hughes, who would go on to build another fantastic, combative side which at its peak finished 7th in the 2007/08 Premier League season. Top players like Damien Duff were sold along the way, but additions such as David Bentley, Roque Santa Cruz and Benni McCarthy proved worthwhile replacements.
Unfortunately, the Trust had started to lose interest in funding Rovers. The club was still far from self-sufficient, and lack of investment caused Mark Hughes to leave for Manchester City. The hapless Paul Ince briefly replaced him for a disastrous six months, before Sam Allardyce was appointed to get Rovers out of the relegation zone. Allardyce was successful, and despite working with a meagre transfer budget of less than £3 million a year - not including player sales - guided Rovers to a 10th placed finish in the 2009/10 season.
The Walker Trust by this stage were desperate to offload the club. They employed the services of investment bank Rothschilds to facilitate a sale. Ahsan Ali Syed, an Indian entrepreneur, was the first to show serious interest. He promised funding upwards of £300m, but after an investigation by BBC Radio Five Live exposing serious concerns over his credentials, he disappeared as quickly as he arrived. He would later resurface to purchase and then destroy Spanish club Racing Santander.
This wasn't the end of Indian interest in Rovers, though. At around the same time, football agent Jerome Anderson introduced Indian poultry giant Venky’s to Rovers. Venky's, headed by the Rao family, formally began negotiations to buy Blackburn Rovers around September of 2010.
As interest from Venky's became formal, Wigan Athletic chairman Dave Whelan - a former Rovers player - voiced his doubts over the legitimacy of the takeover. In an article from 10th November 2010, the Guardian quoted Whelan as saying "the Blackburn deal doesn't sound right, and it doesn't look right. It is an absolute shame. The trustees want the club to be safe but it doesn't seem to be safe. I am sure Venky's can help sell Blackburn Rovers shirts in India, but I think it'll be very short-lived. Overseas viewers are interested in the more successful clubs – Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. The smaller clubs are irrelevant. I can't see many Indian people wearing Blackburn Rovers shirts long-term. Blackburn Rovers is a founder member of the Football League, support is about being loyal, and the club should be owned by people in Blackburn."
On the 19th November 2010, it was announced that Venky's had acquired 99.9% stake of Blackburn Rovers football club. In a deal that, even at the time, seemed very generous, Venky's had agreed to purchase Rovers for the sum of £20m whilst also taking on the club's £23m debt. They became the first ever Indian owners of a Premier League club, and swept into Blackburn with grand statements of intent and assurances that they were dedicated to pushing Rovers to the next level.
The Chairman of the Walker Trust, Paul Egerton-Vernon, stated that the Trust was "very pleased to be passing on the Rovers to the Rao family. We have been impressed with their enthusiasm and their plans and ideas for investment as well as their wish to preserve the legacy of Jack Walker."
Venky's chairwoman Anuradha Desai stated that the company was "delighted, proud and humbled to be associated with Blackburn Rovers," further adding that "we will absolutely respect the Jack Walker legacy and will be actively supporting the organisation to ensure that Blackburn Rovers remains one of the best-run clubs within the Premier League. We are particularly pleased that the deal has the full support of the Walker Trust, the chairman and the management team, who will of course remain in place with our full support."
Balaji Rao, brother of Anuradha Desai and Venky's director, made it clear exactly how Jerome Anderson had sold the club to the family, explaining that they planned to "exploit our in-depth knowledge of the Indian market in particular, and beyond that, the whole of Asia" to grow Rovers as both a global and Indian brand.
Fan reaction was decidedly mixed. Most supporters recognised the need for investment, as the Walker Trust's starving of funds had severely reduced the quality of the squad since the departure of Mark Hughes, but there was plenty of trepidation alongside cautious excitement. The club had been handed to an entity unknown to practically anybody outside of Asia, and although there were suggestions of extreme wealth, nobody really knew just how much cash the Rao family had available to plough into Rovers.
Family matriarch Anuradha Desai gave some indication of the type of money that would be available after giving an interview in late October, just before the takeover was completed. She told reporters that they would be looking to invest around £5m for new players in January, suggesting somewhat naively "we don't need expensive players, we can always lease them". These were not exactly the encouraging words Rovers' fans had been hoping for, although £5m per transfer window was still significantly more than the £-7m net spend that the Walker Trust had presided over the season previous.
Desai also went on in the same interview to reiterate that the family saw Rovers as a branding and marketing opportunity. She explained that "this is an investment, it will grow on its own strength", and said that she would be happy for Rovers to be finishing in "the top 10-12" of the Premier League.
Yet, in another interview with the Lancashire Telegraph during the same time period, Desai seemed to contradict these initial quotes entirely by stating "I am not promising that we will be a top four team but I can promise that we will try and that is what we will aim for", before further promising that "there will be much, much more than £5million and we want the fans to know that", ending the interview by saying "we are going to be good responsible owners and we want to make the club stronger". A cynic might suggest that her PR team had advised her that the truth had not gone down well, and a little exaggeration might calm the locals.
The first couple of weeks post-takeover were relatively quiet. Rovers' boss Sam Allardyce stated a few days after the takeover that he was "excited" to be working with the Rao family and hoped that their vision of the club would match his own ambitions. Venky's had been present for the 4-2 away defeat to Tottenham on the 13th of November, but a 2-0 home victory at Aston Villa saw Rovers jump to 11th in the Premier League, having taken 18 points from the first 14 games. It was at this match that Bajali and Venkatesh Rao were paraded on the pitch pre-match, applauded politely by the expectant Ewood Faithful.
On November 26th, Anuradha Desai gave another interview where she stated that manager Sam Allardyce "deserves a chance" to get the results they desired. She spoke of backing Allardyce in the January transfer window and providing the money necessary to improve the squad. In the same interview, she also said that she felt she could "draw parallels between the Jack Walker legacy and our traditional business", also telling reporters that she would "never want to upset the fans". Optimistically, Desai observed that "with the right motivation I feel they can go higher than eighth. Who is to say they can not do better than that, say fifth or sixth position, why not?"
One day later, on Saturday 27th November, Rovers would be destroyed 7-1 at Old Trafford by Manchester United. It was an embarrassing result, with Rovers only managing a single shot on target. Rumours suggested that Venky's had been watching this match in India with various invited associates, proud to show off their new acquisition, and were both mortified and humiliated by the scoreline.
A week later, Allardyce and Rovers managed a little redemption by comprehensively beating Wolves 3-0 at Ewood Park. Despite this solid victory, sections of the Rovers crowd were audibly heard booing the team for playing defensively at 3-0. Some fans had never taken to Sam Allardyce's personality nor his style of football, and the 7-1 drubbing at the hands of United had yet to fade from people's minds.
Rovers' next match was a trip to Allardyce's former club, Bolton. Once again, Rovers suffered an away defeat, their third in a row, going down 2-1 to Bolton. This was especially disappointing as Bolton were down to ten men for nearly half of the match. Home form was excellent, though, and Rovers were sitting relatively comfortably in 13th. They were five points off the relegation zone, but only three points from sixth place.
Rovers' defeat at Bolton occurred on 11th December 2010. Just two days later, the first bombshell of the Venky's era landed upon Ewood Park. It was announced that Sam Allardyce, along with his assistant Neil McDonald, had been relieved from their duties - just 17 days after Anuradha Desai had told reporters Allardyce would be given a chance to prove himself to them. He had been given just three games, one of which was the disappointing but difficult trip to Old Trafford.
The club released a short statement, part of which read: "We have taken this decision as part of our wider plans and ambitions for the club. We would like to put on record our thanks to Mr Allardyce for his contribution to Blackburn Rovers Football Club". Anuradha Desai would tell the Lancashire Telegraph on 14th December that "we want good football and Blackburn to be fourth or fifth in the league or even better. The fans should trust us because this is in the best interests of the club.”
Desai's full statement on the sacking of Sam Allardyce was published by the Lancashire Telegraph, reading as below:
"We do not mean anything bad for Sam Allardyce but we feel that we need to take the club up in the league and grow.
We want Blackburn Rovers to be fourth or fifth in the league or even better. It is not about the Bolton match. It has been a long time in our minds.
It is nothing against Sam but we have a different vision looking forward and we want the club to grow.
We had been talking to Sam in the past few weeks but he did not fit in with our vision for the club’s future.
We wanted good football, wanted the games to be interesting and of course wanted to win and to have good players.
We needed to do some changes and Sam going is, of course, the main change. This is a major step but it was needed. We thought: Why delay?
The fans should trust us and have belief in us because this is in the best interests of the club.
Our thinking now is that it will be a British manager, but we are open if there is an outstanding candidate: someone who would be really, really good for the club.
Right now Steve Kean will take over while we are looking for someone to take over on a permanent basis. Steve is a hard worker and he is doing a very good job as a coach.
We have been studying him and have been very impressed. He works long hours and is talented at his job. He also works well with our very skilful young players and that is important.
The future of the homegrown players is very important.
It could now be a couple of months before a new manager is put in place.
Right now we are going to have a study and put a lot of thought in to who the next manager of Blackburn Rovers will be.
We don’t want to make a hasty decision and we are in a good position to take our time because Steve is quite capable.
I know that John Williams was very close to Sam but their situations are very different. John is safe.
My message to the fans is that we want the club to go up and develop and we want it to perform much better.
Whatever we do we want to say to the fans that we have the best interests of the club in mind."
Allardyce responded by saying he was "shocked and disappointed" to be leaving Rovers. Club captain Ryan Nelsen was quoted as saying "not in my wildest dreams did I see this coming, nor did anyone else because of the job he has done since he has come to Blackburn. When he took over, it was a club that was absolutely in diabolical trouble and he turned it into a very efficient, streamlined club that has spent no money and has done extremely well. A huge big leadership has gone from the club and the Premier League is unforgiving if you don't have anyone directing the ship. I feel gutted for the man, the players liked him, the club liked him."
Rovers' Norwegian winger Morten Gamst Pedersen also commented on his website, noting that "the table situation does not reflect on how our performance has been in this year's Premier League season". LMA chief executive Richard Bevan admitted that it had been "extremely difficult to understand the thinking behind the dismissal".
Rovers' captain Chris Samba was perhaps most scathing of all in his criticism of Venky's and their handling of Allardyce's sacking. He made his opinion clear in media interviews. "New owners have arrived, they have fired the coach when he saved us from relegation two years ago. The least they could have done is come to us and explain their project. They haven't done that, it's a lack of respect. I don't want to be part of it."
The Telegraph reported that the sudden sacking had sparked "outrage" amongst both players and staff at Rovers, with some calling it a "disgrace", but adding a little more meat to the bones of the story. It was suggested that Allardyce had rejected a list of targets offered to him by sporting agency Kentaro, whom Venky's were very close to, and his unwillingness to work with Kentaro was the primary reason he had been shown the door.
Two days later, the Telegraph further reported that Allardyce's sacking had put the Premier League on alert over transfer dealings happening at the club. The article stated that "the role of Kentaro, a Swiss media rights agency that has contracts with international federations including the Football Association, is understood to be at the heart of Sam Allardyce’s sudden departure from Ewood Park this week". The article continued, "Allardyce is understood to have objected to the owners insisting that transfer targets would be identified by Kentaro and SEM after he was presented with a list including Middlesbrough’s Kris Boyd, David Bentley, of Tottenham, and Hull City’s Geovanni. All three players are SEM clients, and the recent transfers of Boyd and Geovanni are listed as “transfer highlights” on the company’s website."
On the same day, the Independent ran an article, which reflected that whilst it was common for managers to be offered players by agencies, "what appears to be on the cards at Blackburn is another step entirely. It has been suggested Kentaro might use Blackburn as a shop window, much as Kia Joorabchian did in parking Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano at West Ham. The big difference since then is that third-party ownership has been outlawed". The article ended by saying "Former owner Jack Walker can never have imagined such consequences when he decided to put his hometown club back on the football map".
The Lancashire Telegraph also ran an article on Kentaro and SEM. They noted that SEM were heavily in involved with Manchester City during Thaksin Shinawatra's period of ownership between 2007-08. The LT wrote: "SEM oversaw six of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s nine signings during Shinawatra’s season at the helm, including Elano, Valeri Bojinov and Gelson Fernandes. Kentaro has a wealth of experience in the sports media industry and has taken a consultancy role on several occasions in recent years for investors putting money into major football clubs. Kentaro also has a deal with the FA until 2012 for many of the international TV rights for the England national team, the FA Cup and the Community Shield. There can be no doubt that Kentaro and SEM have a vast network. How they choose to use it could yet determine where Blackburn Rovers go from here."
Fan reaction to Allardyce's dismissal, meanwhile, was one of general shock and fear over what the future held under Venky's stewardship. A poll on the Lancashire Telegraph's website showed 76% of voters believed sacking Allardyce was the wrong decision, with just 24% thinking it was the right decision.
Whilst many fans had grievances with Allardyce's style of football, some vocally so, the overall consensus was that he had done an excellent job with the resources available to him, and should have been given a chance to show what he could do with a larger budget. The gravity of Kentaro and SEM's influence had yet to dawn on the majority of fans, who were more concerned over whom Venky's would select to replace Allardyce.
Steve Kean, a client of SEM himself - and therefore intrinsically linked to Kentaro - was placed in "temporary" charge, having been promoted from his position as a first team coach. Unlike most caretaker managers, Kean was very quick to state that he wanted the job permanently, admitting that he had hurriedly arranged a trip to India for a four-hour meeting with Venky's to convince them he was the man to take Rovers forward. He offered an optimistic view of the future, suggesting that "the chairlady would like us to play winning football, if we can entertain as well that would be great. She wants us to eventually push for the top four, but there is a layered-on approach. We can push for the top half and get as high as we can. Next season we will strengthen again."
Fans got a glimpse into the madness that would descend under their new owners on December 15th, when the Telegraph reported that Venky's wanted Argentine football legend Diego Maradona to take the hot-seat at Ewood Park. Anuradha Desai was quoted as saying: "We thought about Maradona as a coach after we took over. Talks were at the initial stage then, but there is no development on that front yet". The man who had once told journalists during his brief tenure as Argentina manager to "suck it and keep sucking it" never arrived at Ewood Park, but it was an ominous sign of things to come.
The first match of the Steve Kean era was a tetchy 1-1 draw with West Ham United at Ewood Park on 18th December 2010. It broke a streak of three wins at home on the bounce, but was evidently impressive enough for Venky's, as it was right after this match that Kean was given the manager's job until the end of the season. Kean claimed in the post match interview that "I've no idea on the time frame of how long I'll be in charge", but it was announced on December 22nd 2010, just nine days after Sam Allardyce had been sacked, that Kean would take charge of the team until the end of the season. This was not the last time Kean would appear to be somewhat economical with the truth.
Venkatesh Rao, the brother of Anuradha Desai, also Venky's director and co-owner of Rovers, commented to the media "everything is looking positive and anything Steve wants we are there for him and the players too. We're looking for stability and to move forward", although the Daily Mail reported that there was still significant unrest within the Rovers squad, many of whom were still reeling from the sacking of Allardyce.
To add further intrigue to the story, former Rover Andy Cole revealed in an article written on the 24th December for The National that despite the outrage and shock over Allardyce's sacking, he was not surprised because "a trusted little bird told me two months ago what was going to happen. He said that the club would be taken over by an Indian company and that Sam would be pushed aside, to be replaced by the coach Steve Kean. If Keano does well then he keeps the job. If I knew that, then Sam did and he is probably right to think that he is been stabbed in the back."
Fan reaction was once again mixed, although many were very uneasy over entrusting the managerial seat to a total novice. Kean, bald-headed and unnervingly chirpy, spoke a good game and was a respected coach at the highest level of the game. Crucially though, he had no pedigree at management level and there were serious question marks over whether he had the ability to attract the right players to the club, or placate the current squad, who had been stunned and angered by the swift removal of Allardyce. The decision to hand Kean the reigns until the end of the season was met with consternation across the fanbase, who saw Venky's putting their Premier League status at serious risk within just a single month of becoming owners.
Media focus on Rovers' connections with Kentaro and SEM continued to ramp up as the January transfer window approached. Steve Kean told journalists he was "proud" of his connections to SEM, saying that he had been with SEM "long before" being appointed at Rovers (by Sam Allardyce in 2009), and that they were "a worldwide organisation who have got lots of top sportsmen and top managers, including Owen Coyle and Tony Pulis. It's something I'm proud of and glad that SEM are happy to look after me. I don't see that as anything other than positive and good for the rest of my career."
Early form under Steve Kean was patchy. A disappointing 2-0 home defeat by Stoke City on 26th December was evened out by a 3-1 away win at West Brom on 28th December. 2011 would begin with a 3-0 defeat away to Sunderland on 1st January, but just four days later Rovers would go on to record a stunning 3-1 home victory against Liverpool. The Merseyside club were in disarray under boss Roy Hodgson, who sacked shortly after this defeat. Rovers played the type of attacking, passing football that had not been seen at the club in some years and gained widespread plaudits for the manner of their victory.
After the Liverpool match, a delighted Steve Kean said "The lads showed a real together and a spirit about the group that was tremendous tonight". Nervously licking his lips and appearing like a rabbit in the headlights, Kean dismissed talk of transfer activity, instead insisting that he was focusing on "the lads that are here" and that if there were additions it would be to "assist the squad, not to replace anybody". This match, so short into Kean's tenure, would be the high point of his time as Rovers manager. It was a false dawn, which, for a fleeting moment, made some fans believe that things might turn out okay.
The January transfer window began with a bang, as Venky's announced that they had intentions to sign 30 year-old Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho. Despite being well past his best and having just been released by AC Milan, the player would represent a significant coup for Rovers and a serious statement of intent from Venky's. Desai clarified that Rovers would be prepared to pay Ronaldinho "7.6m euros (£6.5m) for the first year and about 8.5m euros (£7.2m) for the second and third years".
Ronaldinho was not the only aging star Venky's had set their sights on. Arguably even more ambitious was their claimed interest in former England, Manchester United and Real Madrid superstar David Beckham. Beckham, 35 at the time and playing for LA Galaxy in the United States, was discussed as a loan target and Desai said the club was "open whenever he is ready to come". Both statements were met with incredulity by most of the Rovers fanbase, who did not believe the club could attract these types of stars.
Ultimately, neither Ronaldinho nor Beckham decided their futures were at Ewood Park. Ronaldinho ended up signing for Brazilian side Flamengo, whilst David Beckham opted to wait for the American football season to start again in March. After these initial setbacks, Venky's would never again attempt to sign a 'marquee' superstar. Indeed, on 21st January Steve Kean told journalists that he did not think a marquee signing would happen, suggesting "that's probably best done when the market is stable in the summer."
Venky's also made it clear during this transfer window that Steve Kean was not going to be going anywhere once the season was over. Anuradha Desai was blunt when she told journalists "we're making a contract for him which is going to be a full-time contract. It's not just about this season. It's going to be a proper contract. At least two to three years. He thinks well. He has a vision. Mark my words, he thinks well. He's a good thinker. That's his biggest strength."
True to their words, Venky's offered Kean a contract which was hastily signed. On 20th January 2011, just over a month after taking over as caretaker manager, Steve Kean put pen to paper on a two and a half year deal that would keep him at the club until June 2013. Kean's promotion through the ranks had been eye-wateringly rapid, having gone from caretaker, to manager until the end of the season, to full time manager on a two and a half year contract in the space of around 37 days.
Of his new contract, Kean told journalists: "I am delighted to commit my future to Rovers at the start of what I see as a massively exciting new era. The owners have shown great faith in me and I will do all I can to repay them. This is a great opportunity for me and I intend to grasp it with both hands". Anuradha Desai added "We have great confidence in Steve, someone who impresses us with his work ethic, enthusiasm, positivity and football philosophy. We feel that the playing squad is in very safe and capable hands and we look forward to working with him. Stability is very important to us and this contract is further evidence of our desire to achieve such stability at the club."
Eight days prior to this, an assistant manager had also been appointed to aid Kean. John Jensen, former Arsenal midfielder and current SEM client, joined the club to replace Neil McDonald, who had been sacked along with Sam Allardyce in mid-December. Kean said of Jensen "his views and philosophies on football dovetail with mine and he has also shown himself to be a very loyal assistant – a massively important factor for me. I am delighted to welcome him aboard". Jensen meanwhile said that he viewed the appointment as "a great opportunity".
Rumours persisted that the squad were unsettled, and SEM agent Jerome Anderson was known to have made Rovers training ground Brockhall his base during the January transfer window. Despite a decent if not spectacular set of results since Steve Kean's appointment, Venky's still found themselves under scrutiny from the English media. Desai defended herself by saying "the impression is I've never watched a football match. I've not watched in a stadium but I have been watching the World Cup in India. I have watched hundreds of cricket matches but not live - it's all on TV. To say I don't have any knowledge would be wrong. I am a good listener."
Not only this, but Desai tried to further assuage the Rovers faithful by telling them "to trust us and give us some time and you will see for yourself that we are sincere people, very passionate about the football team and football club and our fans. We will not let you down". It was to be the first of many pleas for patience during the early years of Venky's ownership. After this initial period fans would rarely hear from Anuradha Desai again, although she did sign off this Sky Sports News interview by claiming the club were trying to re-sign Damien Duff. This would also come to nothing.
Ultimately, despite having some serious injury problems and badly in need of reinforcements, Rovers had an extremely underwhelming first transfer window under Venky's. Pascal Chimbonda and young prospect Alan Judge were let go, whilst the only permanent incomings were the completely unknown 22-year old Argentinean midfielder Mauro Formica (who Steve Kean referred to as "a young Gabriel Batistuta") and the somewhat unknown 19-year old Spanish starlet Ruben Rochina - signed from Newell's Old Boys and Barcelona B respectively.
The outlay on both players was undisclosed, but believed to be in the region of £3.5m for Formica and £400,000 for Rochina. It would later be revealed that over £1.6m was paid to Rochina's agent, four times more than the transfer fee itself. Rovers did also make two loan signings - former striker Roque Santa Cruz rejoined from Manchester City, whilst Schalke 04's American midfielder Jermaine Jones joined the club after a falling out with his manager at Schalke.
After Rovers impressive 3-1 win over Liverpool on January 5th, they were beaten 2-0 at Stamford Bridge by Chelsea before completing the double over West Brom by beating them 2-0 at Ewood on the 23rd January 2011. As the transfer window closed, Kean had been in charge for 7 matches, winning 3, drawing 1 and losing 3. A far from calamitous start, but things were about to go horribly wrong for Steve Kean and Blackburn Rovers. After beating West Brom on 23rd January, it would be over three months before Rovers fans experienced another victory in the Premier League.
February 2011 was an unmitigated disaster. The month started with a 1-0 home defeat to Tottenham Hotspur, which would be Anuradha Desai's final visit to Ewood Park. However, a far greater catastrophe befell the club just days later. John Williams, who had been Rovers' chairman for fourteen years, announced his resignation. There had been rumours that Williams had been unhappy since the arrival of Venky's, but his sudden decision to leave sent shockwaves throughout the fanbase.
The Guardian reported "Williams was dismayed by the sacking of Allardyce" back in December - a firing he had been forced to carry out on Venky's behalf - and had "contemplated resigning in protest". The paper also claimed that the resignation of Williams would not be a shock within the game "due to his widely-known concern over events at Ewood Park since Venky's arrival". Williams was diplomatic upon leaving, telling the club website that "there is a new order, a new way of doing things and I believe the time is right for me now to move on."
The Lancashire Telegraph - noting that Williams "was rated by his peers in the Premier League as one of the best chairmen in football" - further speculated that Williams' departure was prompted not just by concerns over the sacking of Sam Allardyce, but also "concerns over the role of sports agency SEM/Kentaro, which has been working with the owners on transfer policy", stating that "Mr Williams has not been party to the club’s inner circle in recent weeks."
Anuradha Desai, meanwhile, gave an exclusive interview to the Lancashire Telegraph to explain why John Williams had left the club. In this interview, she claimed that Williams had "lost interest in the role" after the sacking of Sam Allardyce and "didn't get on" with new manager Steve Kean. She also revealed that Williams "had struggled to accept Jerome (Anderson)'s role at the club", expanding further to say "Jerome has helped us but I want to be very clear that he does not run the club. We will be working with anybody and any agents to make this club successful but we are not controlled by his company. His role will now diminish."
The loss of Williams would have further ramifications for the club. Just hours after Williams announced his departure, Rovers' shirt-sponsor Crown Paints made it public that they would not be renewing their deal. The brand had been Rovers' sponsors for three years prior to this, but noted that they were "disappointed to hear the news of John’s departure from the club. He was an incredibly respected chairman and admired by so many people, both on a local and national level", making it obvious that Williams' departure had been a key part of their own decision to sever ties with the club.
Only days later the loss of Williams was compounded by a 4-3 loss away to Wigan Athletic, who were able to climb out of the relegation zone on the back of this victory. A 0-0 home draw with Newcastle United on February 12th was followed by a heavy 4-1 loss at relegation-threatened Aston Villa fourteen days later. Rovers had managed to gain just one point from a possible twelve in February, and were slipping towards the relegation zone, now just four points ahead of 18th placed West Brom.
Kean claimed after the Villa match that his side had been "trying to get a clean sheet as a platform" and had ended up having a "bad day" and left themselves "a little bit open". Rovers' cause in this match wasn't helped by Ryan Nelsen picking up an uncharacteristic red card for two yellow card offences.
There were only two Premier League matches in March, the first of which Rovers lost 3-2 away to Fulham, with the second being a disappointing 2-2 home draw against fellow strugglers Blackpool. Rovers were forced to come back from 2-0 down, with youngster Junior Hoilett striking in the dying seconds of injury time to equalise for Rovers. Despite this heartening comeback, Rovers had still only picked up a meagre two points from the previous eighteen available. The draw with Blackpool left the club in 13th but amazingly still only a single point above the relegation zone.
Rovers came under further scrutiny for non-footballing reasons towards the end of March when it was revealed that Myles Anderson - son of Jerome Anderson - was due to sign for Blackburn in the summer, having agreed to a pre-contract deal in January. Anderson was playing for Aberdeen at the time, but had only made one substitute appearance. He had actually had a trial at Rovers the previous summer, but the club had not taken up the option to sign him.
The Guardian reported that Steve Kean, himself a client of Jerome Anderson, had "stressed that Anderson will be signed for football reasons alone". They quoted Kean as saying "Myles Anderson is a player with great potential as a late developer. He could become something of a Chris Smalling who came through late in football and Myles has done the same because of his schooling. We think he has a lot of potential, but there was the opportunity for him to go to Scotland in January and we and he felt that would be a good experience for him."
With Rovers now fighting for their Premier League survival under their hapless new manager, the last thing the club needed was further off the field distractions. Unfortunately, key French defender Gael Givet became embroiled in a £275k tax dispute with Rovers. On 8th April it was revealed that this was the reason he had missed a crucial match against Birmingham City.
Steve Kean had told the press that Givet had not been "in the right frame of mind" to play the match - only days after he had claimed in an interview prior to the Birmingham match that "Gael has the ability to put it at the back of his mind" and that, having returned from suspension, "he is back in the squad and I am sure in the coming games he will have a massive part to play". Kean called Givet a "warrior" who would give his all for the cause, yet only days later refused to play him.
Givet wasn't the only player publicly unhappy. Nikola Kalinic, the Croatian striker signed for £6m by Sam Allardyce in the summer of 2009, was bemoaning his lack of game time. Not featured in Rovers' last four Premier League matches and completely frozen out of the squad for the previous fortnight, Kalinic told Croatian newspaper Sportske Novosti: "The only truth is that I’m unhappy with my status. I would just be happy if somebody would tell me why I have been pushed aside since my return from national team action".
Kean responded by saying, "there is no situation with Niko at all. He is under contract and is in the squad but we feel as though others are bringing different aspects to the team at the moment. Benjani has been looking very sharp and extremely dangerous in training and that has just given him the edge over Nikola Kalinic as far as a place on the substitutes was concerned". In truth, Kalinic had struggled for form under Allardyce as well, but could point to being the club's top goalscorer in the 2010-11 season - able to earn that accolade with just five goals.
Things would get worse still for Rovers, as Ryan Nelsen was injured midway through April and had to undergo knee surgery, ruling him out for the rest of the campaign. Chris Samba called for Rovers to end their dispute with Givet, his comments making it clear whose side he was on: “It is important we get Gael ready to play both mentally and physically. It has not been easy not having him around. He was recognised last season as the players’ player of the year. He is very committed and works hard in training and in games. He defends for his life. That is what we need that in the minute. We hope now we can get him back and mentally ready. I have spoken to him to try and stay up to date with what is happening. It is a small problem that should be settled by now and he is disappointed it hasn't been. I hope they will find an end to the story once and for all. The last couple of games is more important than a small problem that Gael has with the club.”
Rovers began April with an impressive 0-0 stalemate against Arsenal. This was followed by a winnable home match against Birmingham City, which Rovers could once again only get a single point from, as the teams played out a 1-1 draw, with Rovers missing Gael Givet due to the aforementioned tax dispute. The Frenchman would return for the next match, but couldn't stop Rovers succumbing to a 2-0 defeat against Everton at Goodison Park. Kean claimed after that match that "our belief is not shattered. Our team spirit has been called upon but we've got that in abundance."
On the 25th April Rovers lost again, going down 1-0 to Manchester City at Ewood Park. The defeat by City meant that, under Steve Kean, Rovers had only won two out of nine home matches. In contrast, Sam Allardyce had won four out of Rovers' first eight home matches before he was sacked. In terms of points, Allardyce had picked up 21 points from 17 matches. Since taking the reins, Steve Kean had only managed to accumulate 14 points from his first 17 matches.
The home loss to Manchester City left Rovers in 16th position, still only a point above the relegation zone with just four games left to play. The club was in freefall, under a truly dire run of form, which had seen them fail to register a win since January 23rd - ten games without a victory. Venky's released another statement pleading with the fans to give them a year to prove their worth as owners, whilst also confirming Steve Kean's job was safe despite a run of losses much worse than anything ever seen under Sam Allardyce.
By this point, many Rovers' fans had turned against Kean. It was generally accepted that the inexperienced Scot was horrendously out of his depth, struggling to gain the respect of key members of the squad. His ultra positive attitude had started to wear thin, whilst Venky's consistent backing of the manager only further served to frustrate the fanbase. Nonetheless, supporters continued to back the team, aware that relegation would be catastrophic and resigned to the fact Kean was going to be at Rovers until the end of the season at the very least.
The final match of April finally provided a little respite. On the 30th April 2011, Rovers recorded a long overdue home victory, deservedly defeating 8th placed Bolton Wanderers by a single Martin Olsson goal. This result lifted Rovers to 15th and opened a three-point gap between themselves and 18th placed Wigan, with Rovers having a vastly superior goal difference.
On 4th May, Rovers appointed Leicester City Commercial Director Paul Hunt as "deputy chief executive". It was a strange title, as Rovers technically did not have a chief executive to be deputy to. Hunt commented, "Blackburn Rovers is a great club with a fine tradition and I am truly excited about the prospect of working at Ewood Park. As a founding member of the Football League and one of only four teams to have won the Premier League in the modern era, the club has demonstrated innovation and has had great success. We must honour those traditions whilst looking forward to the future as we progress together with unity both on and off the field. I thank the owners for having the faith in me which I intend to repay with diligence and success."
A 1-1 away draw with West Ham followed on 7th May, followed by another hard-fought 1-1 draw at Ewood Park on 19th May against Manchester United, confirming United's record-breaking 19th Premier League title. It was an impressive point for Rovers, but it would be overshadowed by Steve Kean being arrested later that evening for drink driving. CM Solicitors posted that "Steve Kean, the Blackburn Rovers manager, has been charged with drink driving. Following the nail-biting 1-1 match against Manchester United, Kean was stopped on the M6 motorway by Cheshire Police. Kean was given a breathalyser test, which concluded that he was over the legal limit. He was charged with a drink driving offence and is to appear at Crewe Magistrates Court in June."
Although Rovers had managed five points from the last nine available, they went into the final day of the season still just one point above the relegation zone. In 15th on 40 points, Rovers' final match of the season pitted them away to Wolverhampton Wanderers, who were sitting in 16th, also on 40 points. Below them were Birmingham on 39 points, and Blackpool in 18th, also on 39 points. Wigan were in 19th on 36 points, but they had an extra game in hand, which they would go on to win. West Ham had already been relegated, propping up the Premier League table with 33 points.
Rovers saved arguably the best forty-five minutes of their season for the final match. Wolves found themselves 3-0 down at half time to a rampant Rovers, with goals from Jason Roberts, Brett Emerton and Junior Hoilett appearing to condemn the midlands club to relegation. A spirited fightback in the second half saw Wolves score two in response. Tottenham's victory over Birmingham meant that both Wolves and Rovers would survive at the expense of Blackpool and Birmingham, with Wigan's final day victory over Stoke giving them enough points to survive.
It had been a rollercoaster ride, but Rovers had secured Premier League survival for another season. Rovers finished the season on 43 points, in 15th place. Their ten game winless streak combined with injuries, suspensions and personal issues had come close to costing them their Premier League status, but eight points from their final four games had seen them over the line. After the Wolves match, Kean said it had been "a bumpy ride" but that the club now had "stability, a way of playing" and that he was "very excited for next season".
It was fair to say that by the time the curtain had fallen on the 2010-11 season, Rovers' January signings had not proven to be of much use. Jermaine Jones had been a combative presence in midfield, but Ruben Rochina and Mauro Formica had barely featured at all. Rochina didn't make his league debut until the 2-0 defeat to Everton on 16th April, whilst Formica - the young Batistuta who had been handed a four year contract - had not featured a single time for the first team in the 2010-11 season. In the meantime, Roque Santa Cruz managed nine appearances but struggled with fitness, which was unsurprising. Rovers were well aware of Santa Cruz' injury proneness before they agreed to loan him back from Manchester City. He didn't manage a single goal in any of his nine appearances.
Rovers went into the close season lurching from one disaster to the next. The first six months of Venky’s ownership had given supporters a frightening glimpse into a troubled future. Fans reflected at how the club had gone from being run so professionally to the shambles it was becoming so quickly, but even then people hoped that Venky’s would learn from their mistakes and start to run the club properly. In the next installment, we move onto the 2011-2012 season.
22 years ago today Uncle Jack took little old Blackburn Rovers to the pinnacle of English football.
Times are hard at the moment but we will rise again and no one can take those wonderful memories of what Jack achieved away from us.
The day started with unconfirmed reports by Indian newspaper Sakal Times that Venky's had premises raided as part of what is reported as an ongoing investigation into unpaid Income Tax.
The ongoing situation was tracked by BRFCS forum members here and then later in the day Pune Kar News reported that 40 premises of Venky’s, at 10 locations across India including Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad and others, including offices, farmhouses and residential premises of the company officials, had been raided.
In response, the Venky's AGM was postponed and it's been reported their share price has fallen 5% today.
Tonight has seen the launch of Duncan Miller's campaign as an Independent candidate for Blackburn in the upcoming general election. Duncan launched his campaign with the following message to voters
I am proud to announce my intention to stand as an independent candidate for the Election of Member of Parliament for Blackburn in the upcoming General Election on Thursday 8th June.
Unattached to any political party and the constraints that accompany such an allegiance, it is my desire to campaign on an issue extremely close to my heart and to that of many thousands of Blackburnians. I strongly believe that currently, there is no single bigger issue for the people of our town than the unacceptable plight of our Football Club.
My primary aim is to ensure the future of Blackburn Rovers FC for future generations; we want to see the Club in safe hands and this quite simply means WE NEED VENKY’S OUT!
The problems we have experienced at Rovers – products of a toothless, ineffective governing body, the opportunism of certain self-serving parties and an outdated culture blighted by concerns of corruption – must be urgently addressed. We have been let down by too many for too long and the time for action is here.
Vote to show you are tired of careerist officials, who put self-interest before the real purpose of their roles and the interests of the community they represent.
Vote for action to reform football and to combat the state of emergency at BRFC.
Vote to save Jack Walker’s legacy.
Vote Duncan Miller, vote Venky’s Out.
Despite Blackburn being a labour stronghold, the negative feeling towards towards the owners means he has a decent shot at at least retaining his deposit!
Duncan can be contacted on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/VoteDMiller and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org