How Indian ownership destroyed a Premier League club
Blackburn Rovers were today relegated to the third tier of English football, thus suffering the indignity of being the first Premier League champions to go down to the third tier.
Tony Mowbray might be the one who’ll carry the can for Rovers’ recent spectacular fall from grace, but it all started at the turn of this decade when a certain Indian poultry firm acquired the proud Lancastrian club.
From Premier League to relegation today
Venky’s, the Pune-based Poultry giants, acquired 99.9 percent of Blackburn Rovers in November 2010 and in the process cleared GBP 20 million worth of the club’s debt.
However, things have spiralled downwards ever since. The grand mismanagement of Venky’s towards the running of a stable mid-table Premier League club has now led to the club’s relegation into League One.
Before the Venky’s takeover, Blackburn had spent nine seasons in the Premier League after their promotion in 2001-02. Rovers were a consistent top-flight presence, having finished sixth in 2002-03 and 2005-06 and seventh in 2007-08.
With Sam Allardyce in charge, Blackburn went on to finish tenth in the year before Venky’s first season of full ownership of the club. But, soon after, things began to unravel for the 1994-95 Premier League champions.
Allardyce, the Premier League’s survival expert, was replaced by the little-known Steve Kean a month after the takeover, which effectively put paid to Blackburn’s hopes of a sustained run in the top flight under new ownership.
Under Kean, Blackburn somehow survived relegation in 2010-11, but there wasn’t to be a second chance a season later as the dreaded drop knocked on Venky’s and the club’s door. Rovers were relegated under Kean’s stewardship in 2012, and five inconsistent campaigns in the Championship culminated in them dropping down another division earlier today.
Kean, one of Allardyce’s coaches at Rovers, survived the relegation phase but continued poor results meant he was shown the door months into the club’s first Championship campaign in 12 years.
However, those managerial upheavals only serve to mask the real issues; issues that have so run the club to the ground that even dropping down to League One seemed inevitable for the once-proud champions of the Premier League.
There was a deal in place with player agent Jerome Anderson, who, as the head of SEM, offered consultation services on Blackburn’s transfer dealings and the club’s functioning. Rovers’ deal with SEM and Kentaro served to undermine the club’s board members.
Anderson’s SEM, now liquidated, were corporate partners of the now-defunct Kentaro, effectively handing Blackburn’s day-to-day running in the hands of an agent with potentially conflicting interests.
Such was Anderson’s influence at Blackburn that during Venky’s’ first transfer window as the club’s owners, the SEM chief was based at Brockhall—Blackburn’s training ground—through the 2011 January transfer window.
With Allardyce’s sacking, the involvement of SEM-Kentaro in Blackburn’s transfer activities apparently became more prominent. Anderson’s sphere of influence at the club increased, leading the club’s long-serving chairman John Williams to leave the club in February 2011.
Furthermore, Anderson’s son, Myles, signed a pre-contract agreement with Blackburn a month later, evidence of the agent’s sway over the club Venky’s had acquired just four months back.
With evident mismanagement, it was likely Blackburn’s association with SEM-Kentaro wouldn’t last long. And so it happened.
As Venky’s were embroiled in a secret legal battle with Kentaro, the club were disintegrating fast. They finished 17th in their first season back in the Championship, but it was a campaign riddled with false dawns and constant upheavals. Six different managers—three of them caretakers—were at the helm in 2012-13 as Rovers hovered above the relegation zone all season.
Gary Bowyer led the club to near-playoffs finishes of eighth and ninth in the following two seasons, but kneejerkism similar to 2012-13 saw the current Blackpool manager—who was doing well—being shown the boot and replaced by Paul Lambert.
Turbulent times followed as Lambert didn’t last a full season, while Owen Coyle’s appointment in June last year dragged them towards relegation trouble. In February this year, the club appointed Mowbray as a fire-fighter, but such was the rut the club were in that relegation might do them more good than bad.
Bridge with the fans is broken without repair
All the while, the club’s faithful have had to endure the ignominy of seeing their beloved Rovers fall from Premier League pedestal into the rough and tumble of Championship and now they watch them stumble into further quagmire with another relegation; this time to League One.
Glen Mullan, a founder member of the Blackburn Rovers Action Group, wrote in February this year: “If I have one message for Venky's it is this: as a fan I'm still standing. I was here long before you and will be here long after you disappear.
“We, the Rovers supporters, will continue to wait in the wings as guardians until that day comes.”
Amid all that, Venky’s have remained. Anderson, SEM, Kentaro are gone, and Blackburn have now moved away from the spotlight of the top divisions of English football.
Lower division football in England is a difficult toil, and it remains to be seen how Blackburn forge a way back to the top after their spectacular fall. The horrific ineptitude of Venky’s as the owners of Blackburn serves as a cautionary tale for all Indian owners looking to invest in the moneyed lands of the Premier League.
Venky’s’ takeover, their Allardyce sacking and subsequent appointment of Anderson’s client Kean, relegation, legal battles and further relegation make a list of things any football owner should keep as a reference for what not to do.
What was a proud moment for Indian football when Venky’s took over Blackburn in November 2010 has turned into a farcical six years with the club who have dropped from 13th in the Premier League to 22nd in the Championship, nosediving into League One.