There are only four teams which have won the English Premier League in its modern form; Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers. The last in the list does leave some young fans gawking, but Blackburn Rovers put everything behind their title bid in 1995.
After the takeover by steel baron Jack Walker, a lifelong supporter, Blackburn secured premiership status under Kenny Dalglish in 1992, after spending 26 years in Tier II football. Having splurged millions on purchases, including Alan Shearer from Southampton for a then record £3.5 million, they finally managed to bring home the silverware in the form of the Premier League title in 1994-1995. That changed in the future though, after they were relegated in the 1998-1999 season, confirmed by a goalless draw against Manchester United on the penultimate day of the season.
Blackburn then quickly made amends to find Premiership status again in 2001-2002, where they stayed put, until the day before, that is. In the November of 2010, Venky’s bought Blackburn Rovers for £23 million and left Sam Allardyce in the rain, replacing him with Steve Kean, who was brought in on a supposedly temporary basis. After 11 years in the Premiership, Blackburn Rovers are now headed back to the NPower Championship, and the Indian owners have assured the fans of a long term result.
Now, however, is the time for finger pointing. Who takes the blame? The new owners, the manager or the players?
The New Owners
Clearly inexperienced in the field of football, the wealthy owners had initially aimed for a top four finish. That was, obviously, not to be. But even when they were staring down the barrel, they chose to turn a blind eye and kept persevering with a failing mix of tactics, players and personnel.
The owners were rarely seen at the games, including the last one against Wigan, and didn’t take any proactive effort to comfort the distressed fans. Threatened by administration at one point, the clearing of the debt was the most positive step this year. A revelation, in the form of a letter from the Blackburn Rover’s deputy CEO, Paul Hunt, addressed to the club’s owner, Anuradha Desai, sent in November, asked for Kean’s dismissal. He also expressed his desire to meet her, which he surprisingly hadn’t even done six months after his appointment.
The letter went on to give further insights on the club. Venky’s was allegedly issuing statements in India which were not through the approved Blackburn Rovers’ channel of communication. Even sponsorships were coming under threat after Blackburn shirts were being manufactured in India. The owners may have agreed to hang on through these hard times, but making better use of the available resources is certainly desirable, and maybe the Newcastle example can be stated here.
A replacement for the mercurial Allardyce, Steve Kean was nowhere close in experience, potential or even charisma. Kean was booed by most supporters, and a season ticket holder even threw his stub at the manager when they met Wigan. As of today, Steve Kean is Blackburn Rovers’ second worst manager ever, with only Paul Ince scoring lower on win percentage. Out of a total of 65 games for the Rovers’, he has been in charge of a meager 17 wins, giving him 26% wins.
In spite of the obvious negative feedback, Kean was given an improved contract in November 2011, while Blackburn was languishing at the bottom of the table. Fans took up cudgels at Ewood Park to get Kean ‘kicked out’, but the owners have always held on to their belief in the Scotsman. Hopefully, he’ll have a better time in the Championship.
A little more attention to football and a little less in PR may have helped the cause. Pointless trips to India and exhibition matches against local clubs, such as Pune FC, were mere stunts. No one in India actually shed a tear when Blackburn were relegated, exactly as no one really rejoiced when they were bought by Venky’s. Certainly it was a major step, but maybe investing in Pune FC would have given them better PR value, rather than in a club in faraway Lancashire.
The players also took a hit with these weary trips and the disgruntled fan following. Proven players like Paul Robinson, Morten Gamst Pedersen, Yakubu and Michel Salgado couldn’t come together as a cohesive unit to stay afloat.
Upsets over Arsenal and Manchester United are the highlights of their season. Their top scorer, Yakubu, has a respectable total of 15 goals in 25 games. However, money splashed on Scott Dann and David Goodwillie haven’t given due returns. The defender has been largely ineffective while the striker has scored 4 goals in 18 outings. Individual shortcomings apart, this was a collective failure, and the entire squad is responsible for the final result. The only person laughing is Chris Samba, who cashed in during January, and that may have eased the pain a bit, at least financially.