Friday, September 28, 2012
An overdue exit for Kean
Steve Kean's week began with rumours that he had turned up for training the day after being sacked and ended with him resigning. It was hard to say which was the more surreal. Perhaps, though, it was the latter. As gallows humour became a growth sport in Blackburn during his reign, supporters joked bleakly that even in the event of a nuclear holocaust, Kean would remain at Ewood Park and as manager. To their despair, he was the great survivor.
Now, finally, he is gone, claiming he has been forced to resign and his position at the club has become untenable. If his was a statement designed to induce feelings of sympathy, the only lament among the majority of Blackburn fans is that he did not reach that conclusion earlier. The immediate cause may have been the arrival of Shebby Singh at Ewood Park as Rovers' global advisor and the wave of speculation surrounding Kean's position this week.
Yet he had already made Blackburn's position in the Premier League untenable. Just as the notion that Kean had kept his dignity was rarely promulgated by anyone who visited Ewood Park, the idea that he was a victim of relegation defied credibility. Naïve tactics, disastrous defending, strange selections and substitutions that made the team weaker: all became Kean's hallmarks. His final game, last week's defeat to Middlesbrough, was somehow fitting: an abject performance that suggested his players weren't playing for him, it had certain similarities with the May night when Wigan sealed Blackburn's demotion.
Kean did not just cost Blackburn points and their top-flight status. The financial effects are being felt: shirt sponsors are conspicuous by their absence and gates have gone down alarmingly. During Kean's 21-month reign, Blackburn lost 50% of their games and 40% of a previously loyal crowd. Having been ignored by owners Venky's and alienated by Kean, supporters stayed away. It was anger, not apathy, that kept them from Ewood Park.
They were disenfranchised by a regime of ludicrous rhetoric and lowly reality. Kean's habit of taking the positives infuriated followers and was soon satirised by outsiders but his self-serving speeches were believed by an audience of one: Anuradha Desai, the most influential of the siblings who control Venky's. A couple of hours before Kean's departure was confirmed, it was reported that his wife, Margaret, had talked Mrs Desai out of sacking the Scot this week. At any other club, it would have sounded utterly implausible. At Blackburn, it rang true.
Yet for the litany of errors Venky's have made, from talking of the top four and thinking they could sign Ronaldinho when they bought the club to sticking with Kean despite dreadful results, they made a step towards remedying past mistakes by investing heavily in the summer. It is why Blackburn's comparatively good league position is irrelevant to many: results have been better than performances, but a school of thought is that Rovers are promotion challengers in spite of Kean, not because of him.
Venky's would never have regained credibility with the reviled Kean at the helm. They still might not, partly because they did not dismiss him. But Blackburn have a chance to reconnect with the thousands of fans boycotting the club as long as Kean remained and, with £15 million spent on the squad in the summer, an opportunity to secure the promotion they desire.
Even had Kean taken them back up, he would never have been accepted. He regularly asserted that he and the fans wanted the same thing when all they desired was his head. For Kean, the question is if he is now rendered all but unemployable elsewhere. His sole experience of management has been unhappy. He arrived at Ewood Park with a fine reputation as a coach but if other managers believe he was disloyal to Sam Allardyce when the Englishman was sacked and the Scot appointed his successor - and even outside Allardyce's closest allies, it is thought some do - then they will be reluctant to give Kean a job on their staff.
His departure is the latest in a series of exits from Ewood Park. As well as Allardyce and his assistant Neil McDonald, chairman John Williams, managing director Tom Finn, deputy CEO Paul Hunt, stadium manager John Newsham, club captain Ryan Nelsen and team captain Christopher Samba have all gone. On and off the pitch, Rovers have lost the men who were the cornerstones of a solid, respected club two years ago. Not all are attributable to Kean, just as not everything that went wrong in that period could be blamed on him.
But he was the central figure in a time of unparalleled turmoil. Now Blackburn have to begin again, to bring in a manager who can win promotion and bring back the fans they estranged. And those supporters can revert to the club's original anthem. 'The Wild Rover' should sound from the stands of Ewood Park. 'Kean Out', the soundtrack to a civil war, is suddenly obsolete.