Thursday, October 13, 2011
The Steve Kean conundrum
Manchester City, Pune, QPR. Blackburn's is an unusual fixture list at the moment. Rovers return to a relegation battle this weekend after their October interlude in India, when manager Steve Kean received the wholehearted support of owners Venky's. As with much at the club, however, it brought rather more questions than answers. Such as...
Why do the owners believe Kean is "a brilliant manager"?
That was the phrase used by Balaji Rao, one of the co-owners. Yet Kean's record is anything but brilliant: 26 points from 28 league games, with just three wins in the last 21 and a mere four points from seven games this season. Whichever figure is used, that is relegation form. While there have been high-profile successes - victories against Liverpool and Arsenal and a draw with Manchester United - Blackburn display an ability to lose the more winnable games. And while Kean arrived with a reputation as a fine coach, that does not seem to extend to defending. Even though he inherited a reliable rearguard, Blackburn have conceded 17 goals in their seven league games; at this stage last season, their defence had only been breached eight times.
Is Kean bulletproof?
The message at Ewood Park last season, when a late descent down the table made Championship football a possibility, was that Kean would stay in charge even in the event of demotion. Similar signals are emerging now, particularly with Rao's tribute to the manager last week. None of that explains why, however. Venky's were quick to sack Sam Allardyce, a manager with a far superior record, and the value of their investment will drop dramatically if Blackburn go down.
Do Venky's realise the scale of Kean's unpopularity?
After the thrilling 4-3 win over Arsenal, the Scot argued that, because around 200-250 fans protested against him, it was only 1% of the crowd and the other 99% supported him. Last week in India, Rao described the opposition to Kean as "a few people generating thousands of mails demanding the ousting of our current manager."
The number of banners at Ewood Park - not to mention one in Pune - calling for his sacking tell another story, together with the thousands of supporters chanting against him in the 4-0 defeat to Manchester City. The likelier picture, while it is hard to put numbers on each sector, suggests a small band of support for Kean, a larger group who are undecided, and, much the biggest of all, the fans who are firmly opposed to him.
Does Kean believe his own rhetoric?
In his time in charge, the Scot has forged a reputation for a grasp of spurious statistics and exacerbating the positives, while ignoring any evidence of failings. Highlighting the goalless first 55 minutes against City, rather than the supine capitulation that followed, was a case in point; so, too, was a three-game unbeaten run last season that he kept mentioning (two were home draws against sides that were relegated).
All the while, the more meaningful facts, displayed in the league table, are depressing. As it is, his one-eyed interpretation of events has been rather contradicted by more honest assessments from his players: first Michel Salgado at Aston Villa and then Christopher Samba at Newcastle produced better analysis of the game and where Rovers went wrong. If Kean does believe what he says then he is, as his critics claim, deluded; if not, then he is trying to fool his audience, and in particular, Blackburn fans. And, as the protests against him show, he is failing.
Why did John Jensen leave?
The former Arsenal midfielder was Rovers' assistant manager until last month and his unexpected departure was all the more surprising as Kean said the decision came from Venky's, rather than himself. One of the theories is that it paves the way for the appointment of a director of football but, if Jensen is carrying the can for poor results, the majority view is that Kean should have instead.
Who is signing the players?
The Kentaro agency advised Venky's during the takeover and agent Jerome Anderson was thought to be prominently involved in their January dealings. Those, of course, did not involve the arrival of any of the superstars the owners had targeted, with Ronaldinho and David Beckham choosing to ply their trade elsewhere. Anderson's influence seems to have faded but while Kean targeted defender George John and strikers Vedad Ibisevic and Mounir El Hamdouai at the end of the summer transfer window, he ended up with Scott Dann and Yakubu. So who signed them is still a mystery.
Myles Anderson: Why?
The defender, son of agent Jerome, was the most surprising of Blackburn's summer additions after making a solitary appearance for Aberdeen last season. Nor has he made a bigger impact at Ewood Park: in the Carling Cup match against Sheffield Wednesday, when neither Ryan Nelsen nor Christopher Samba was involved and before Scott Dann had been signed, he was not even on the bench. Indeed, Anderson has only been in the 18-man squad once, for the defeat to Wolves when Steven Nzonzi played out of position in defence instead of him.
Why the delay in signing players in the summer?
Phil Jones' £16.5 million move to Manchester United was confirmed on June 13, but apart from the £2.5 million arrival of striker David Goodwillie, Blackburn did not begin spending any meaningful amounts of money until the last week of the transfer window. By then, they had begun the campaign seemingly unready - with midfielder Nzonzi starting the campaign in defence - while the lack of arrivals prompted suggestions that, for all the talk of investment, the owners were actually taking money out of the club.
Why did they talk about qualifying for the Champions League?
Arguably nothing else - not the doomed pursuits of Ronaldinho and Beckham, not the awful results, not Kean's other credibility-defying comments - has invited as much ridicule as the assertions by both manager and owners that Rovers could be headed for the Champions League in the next few years. Even last week, Balaji Rao still claimed Blackburn will be playing in Europe in the next five years. Ambition is laudable, but realism is required; the Championship is a more likely destination than the Champions League. It was something that was hard to imagine the Premier League's more pragmatic managers and directors, including the sacked Allardyce and the former chairman John Williams, saying, and with good reason. Such boasts have to be believable.