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.
Edited by Kamy100