Circling the drain – Opposition profile
Wednesday, 7th Sep 2016 23:12 by Clive Whittingham
Blackburn Rovers have made an alarming start to the season under new boss Owen Coyle, continuing a spiral of decline which stretches six years and shames the people running the game in this country.
The questions about Blackburn Rovers are becoming increasingly grave with each passing month.
Who are the Venkys? Did they really think they were going to sign Ronaldinho? Did they really believe there was no relegation from the Premier League? Wouldn’t they have been better off keeping Sam Allardyce in charge? What’s Jerome Anderson’s role in all of this? Who the hell is Shebby Singh when he’s at home? How did they get that rooster past the stewards? How many managers are they going to go through? How did they pass the fit and proper person test? When are they going to sell? Shouldn’t somebody be stepping in and doing something about this?
We’ve been through all of that since the Mad Indian Chicken Farmers pitched up and paid £23m to take over a then mid-table Premier League club and clear its debts in 2010.
Now the only question that really matters is exactly how much of Blackburn Rovers as we know it is going to be left when this shameful episode in British football’s recent history is over? If indeed there’s anything left at all.
Initially there was something quite smelly about one of football’s more bizarre takeovers of recent times. The stories about Ronaldinho, the promises of a push for the Champions League, and the naïve sacking of Allardyce was all pretty standard behaviour from the sort of clueless foreign owners that have been allowed to come into this country and buy clubs like Leeds, Hull, Cardiff and Portsmouth and ruin their teams, reputation and finances while the fans are left helplessly watching on and the league and FA do absolutely nothing about it. But Blackburn and the Venkys had an extra stinky element to it.
They were advised on their initial takeover of the club, which had been searching for a buyer as the trust set up by late chairman Jack Walker struggled to cope with the spiralling costs of Premier League wage bills, by football agent Jerome Anderson. Anderson had previously been working closely with fine upstanding human rights violator Thaksin Shinawatra at Man City, advising the appointment of Sven Goran Eriksson as manager and the subsequent lavish expenditure on players such as Valeri Bojinov and Rolando Bianchi. This the Man City team that subsequently lost 8-1 to mighty Middlesbrough, you may recall.
When the authorities caught up with Shinawatra and the Sheikh’s moved in to transform City, Anderson started work at Blackburn where the new owners he’d advised to buy the club soon sacked established, and successful, manager Sam Allardyce and replaced him with Steve Kean, a man with no previous experience as a first team manager but, coincidentally, one of Anderson’s clients.
Allardyce was said to be unhappy that having put a list of potential January transfer targets to his new board he was then handed a different list made up, again coincidentally, largely of Anderson’s clients. Blackburn deny this, and say things never got that far with Allardyce, but those denials rang rather hollow when Rovers subsequently handed a two-year contract to Myles Anderson, a 20-year-old who had previously managed just one solitary substitute appearance for Aberdeen in the Scottish Premier League, which we all know is a hotbed of quality footballers and extremely hard to break into. Kean described Anderson Junior as a “late bloomer”, blaming his lack of any first team experience anywhere on his extended time in full time education. He was only forced to comment on the transfer at all because Myles is in fact Jerome Anderson’s son.
Kean was right about one thing, Anderson Junior is indeed a late bloomer. In fact, we’re still waiting for him to flower. He didn’t manage a senior appearance for Rovers in two years with the club, and then went on to make six substitute appearances in brief spells with first Aldershot, and then Exeter, before shifting to similarly unsuccessful stints with Monza and Chievo in Italy. Give it time.
Following Kean’s appointment the club chairman John Williams, MD Tom Finn and finance director Martin Goodman wrote a letter, later leaked, to Venkys chair Anuradha Desai expressing concern. The trio said the sacking of Allardyce and appointment of Kean had been done without informing the board, or seeking their opinion. Transfers were also being conducted directly between Kean, Anderson and the Venkys, bypassing the board altogether who felt they were simply there as a rubber stamp, asked to process the transfers without being informed or consulted about them.
Anderson defended his role in a statement on his company’s website which has since been deleted saying he had been very successful at helping the new regime bring players into the club. The Guardian reported that one of those players, 19-year-old Ruben Rochina, had been signed from Barcelona for £372,000 in a deal which netted his agent, Manuel Salamanca Ferrer, a fee of £1.65m. Anderson worked on the deal with Ferrer but said he made no money from it himself.
And there were other unhelpful hangers on to follow as Rovers, amidst a hail of protests from their own fans, predictably slipped out of the Premier League they’d been champions of as recently as 1995, in 2012.
The attempt to bounce back out of the Championship at the first attempt was, amazingly, almost even more cack-handed than what had gone before. The Venkys attempted to take a backwards step, with the mood increasingly aggressive towards their attendance at matches, and decided to put Shebby Singh in charge under a "global adviser" title of his own design. Singh, a Malaysian, had a playing career in his homeland but was better known for his work as a television "expert" in the Far East where he would make weird and wonderful, but nonetheless forthright, assessments of stuff he knew nothing about. He should have come to work at LFW.
His year at Ewood Park saw them finish seventeenth in the Championship, work their way through £40m and therefore break the division's Financial Fair Play rules, and fire three managers. Kean was first to go, replaced by Henning Berg who'd won the Premier League as a centre half at Ewood Park in 1995. He lasted 57 days, and one win from ten matches. The club tried to renege on the contract they'd given the Norwegian, saying that the club's own CEO Derek Shaw was a maverick, working independently of the club and without authority while Singh was stuck in Malaysia because of Visa problems, when he agreed the settlement for the dismissal. The High Court dismissed this laughable idea and ordered a payment of £2.25m to Berg which, at just shy of £40,000 a day, made him one of – if not the – best paid player or manager ever in British football.
He was replaced by Michael Appleton, which was something of a surprise given that he'd only been appointed Blackpool manager 12 games prior to that on November 7. He was Blackpool's shortest managerial reign ever when he left on January 11 but, as it turned out, didn't last a great deal longer than Berg at Blackburn – 67 days, 15 matches. When Singh flew in for the week to fire Appleton it was the first time the pair had met.
The League Manager's Association at the time pointed the finger at the Football League, saying it had a duty under its constitution to ensure the professional conduct of its clubs. You need look no further than the arrival, and continued presence, of The Venky's at Blackburn Rovers to see just how little the Football League, Premier League, or FA give a toss about such minor details as who's owning its clubs and how they are running them.
Singh himself left at the end of the season by which time the club had taken the altogether more sensible idea of giving long-serving clubman Gary Bowyer the managerial job.
But with no sign of a return to the Premier League any time soon, parachute payments running out, and a transfer embargo to pick their way out of, Rovers have been victim to quite the talent drain. Grant Hanley, reigning Player of the Year, is the latest to depart for Newcastle but the team has been decimated from front to back. Just 18 months ago Rovers were operating a forward line of Rudy Gestede (Aston Villa £6m) and Jordan Rhodes (Middlesbrough, £9m) and are now picking Danny Graham and Anthony Stokes. Tom Cairney, Fulham’s excellent all round central midfield player, was also picked off from Ewood Park for just £2.8m.
Bowyer, who’d steadied the ship admirably and actually got the team performing consistently in the Championship, was sacked when these departures, predictably, led to a downturn in results. Paul Lambert arrived midway through last season but when promises of a workable playing budget for this summer were reneged upon, he walked out on the club. The plan to replace him didn’t seem to be thought through, or indeed exist at all. Having spent most of the summer without a manager of any description, assuring supporters that there was a high-calibre shortlist being worked through and not to worry it absolutely didn’t include former Bolton, Burnley and Wigan boss Owen Coyle, Rovers subsequently appointed Coyle following his departure from a disappointing spell with Houston Dynamo.
In front of just 12,641 supporters they started the season with a 4-1 home defeat to Norwich where the visitors led 3-0 by half time. When Fulham visited, and won, at Ewood Park before the international break, a further 2,000 had been shaved off even that meagre attendance. Blackburn the town is similar in size, population, demographic and industrial history to Scunthorpe, which struggles to support a League One club on crowds of 4,500, so it always was punching above its weight at the highest level of the game. Now the town is protesting the death by a thousand cuts of its football club in the only way it can, by not showing up any more.
Predictably, the hangers on have drifted away to other victims. Anderson, Singh, they’ve all fallen by the wayside. The money is gone, the best players have gone, the supporters have largely gone - the carcass has been stripped bare and all that remains now is rank incompetence rather than anything more sinister. Blackburn are now drifting listlessly by themselves, with only the Venkys for company.
One would imagine Blackburn would be a difficult asset to sell in its current state. Debt free following the takeover in 2016, its bank balance is now in the red to the tune of £104.2m despite the big money player sales. The majority of the debt, £87m of it in fact, is owed to the Venkys in the form of unsecured loans. The club lost £42.1m in the 2013/14 season, and £17.2m in 2014/15. It is haemorrhaging money, and losing gate money, TV money and parachute money from its already meagre income as the decline on the pitch continues. Yet when a group of local businessmen offered investment this summer they were turned down by the board. Short of deliberately trying to run the club into the ground, it’s hard to understand the motivation for that decision.
It’s not difficult to see where Blackburn are going. They’re going down, if not this season then the next or the one after that. It’s more difficult to see where the decline will end, and how much of the club will be left when it does, because that seems entirely based around the owners leaving, and that doesn’t seem like much of a possibility at the moment. It’s lamentable that the Football League, Premier League and Football Association’s sole reaction to any of what’s happened here has been to impose an 18-month transfer embargo on the club.
If ever there was a case to be made for rules permitting league or FA intervention, seizing ownership of clubs being run in this manner, appointing an independent board and management team to oversee the restoration of sanity and sound business practice before eventually selling it back into the private sector once more then this is it. It’s been done with banks and railway companies in this country, and the football authorities should have similar models for situations such as this.
A group of clueless Indian poultry farmers running a famous old British football club in this manner unchecked, unregulated and uninterrupted isn’t right and shouldn’t be tolerated.
Pictures – Action Images
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