Thursday, November 1, 2012
Berg ready for titanic challenge
There were the three La Liga-winning managers. The former England coach and the man long touted to be one of his successors. The veterans of the Championship and the men utterly untried in the dugout. Those interested in succeeding Steve Kean as Blackburn manager comprised a Who's Who of footballing talent. Those linked with the job, from arguably the greatest player of all time down, only added to the colourful nature of an exhaustive, exhausting search.
But rather than Diego Armando Maradona, it was Henning Berg who strode into Ewood Park with a mandate to secure promotion. During his two spells as a Rovers player, the Norwegian epitomised the quiet dependability that Blackburn long stood for. Now his task is to bring consistency where there was chaos.
Never overly flashy in his days as a defender, Berg emerged from the shadows of the shortlist to become Rovers' preferred candidate. "He ticked every box," said managing director Derek Shaw.
Global advisor Shebby Singh elaborated on an appointment process that has generated headlines and taken time. "We looked at three different categories," he explained. "We looked at the wise old heads, the senior men, then we looked at the middle group, who have been in management enough, who have tasted success and failure and then we looked at third group, the young, vibrant dynamic modern-thinking manager who could possibly be the next best thing.
"I think that is no different from what most top clubs in the world do. I always cite Jose Mourinho as an example. In 2002, Porto said: 'You are the man'. AVB [Andre Villas-Boas] in 2010 and Jurgen Klopp in Borussia Dortmund in 2008 [are other examples], so that was the third category and I think we have found a manager in Henning who is in the middle group and is also in the third group."
Rovers' third way threatened to alienate fans. Sections of the support, worried by the precedent set by the unproven Kean, expressed concerns about Billy McKinlay and Tim Sherwood, neither of whom has been tested in a top job.
"Sometimes it gives a bit more security with an older guy who has done it over the years," said Berg. A former team-mate of both, he was keen to outline his experience, even if he accepts that most are unaware of his track record.
"I have been a manager in Norway but people don't know too much about what I have done there," he added. His initial taste of management was his most successful, with Lyn Oslo almost winning the title in 2005. Both there and at Lillestrom, however, resources were limited.
"Lyn was a small club in the top Norwegian league which had a lot of young players. It was more like a development club and we were more like a selling club, selling players to Serie A or the other big leagues," Berg said. "Then I went to Lillestrom, which is an older club and one of the bigger clubs, but was really struggling with money. This was when the financial crisis set in. They had been going for the championship and then nearly got relegated. There were a lot of things to do there. I had to halve the costs. My biggest achievement is I made more money than we spent ourselves."
Balancing the books is less of an issue at Ewood Park. "Those two clubs were not in the position to win leagues and had to sell players to survive," he said. "This is a little bit different." Berg cited the summer signings of Jordan Rhodes, Leon Best, Danny Murphy and Nuno Gomes as proof of the commitment of owners Venky's but he was once among the sceptics. As a television pundit in Norway, he had been critical of them, saying: "There are no real managers with credibility who would accept a job like that."
After arriving at Ewood Park, however, his tune has changed. "It's been a frustrating time and I looked at it from the outside," Berg said. "Now I have spoken to the people inside the club, I know what they're thinking, I know what their ambitions are, I know what they're planning."
The Ewood overhaul, together with the extra expenditure, helped convince him. "Changes have been made, in terms of bringing players in and changing the manager. These are big decisions. Now they have made them and they are putting money into the club." As a reminder of the glory days, Berg hopes to be a unifying figure at a club divided by events of the last two years. "I know how fantastic Blackburn fans can be and the lift they can give the players," he added.
The choice of a Blackburn favourite seems to have been a tonic to the long-suffering supporters. Berg, the first man to win the Premier League title with two different clubs, was a champion of England in 1995 and lifted the League Cup as captain in 2002, but Rovers have not won a trophy without him since 1928.
In that respect, it is a pedigree none of the other candidates for the job could rival. Yet if Rovers' quest was to unearth a special manager in the making, Berg's task is on his third coming is to follow in the footsteps of Graeme Souness and Kenny Dalglish, the men who took them into the top flight. Emulating Mourinho, Villas-Boas and Klopp can wait.