Sunday, November 13, 2011

A long shot - latest plot turn at Blackburn Rovers

If you hit a golf ball just a few millimetres away from the sweet spot, by the time the ball lands it will be several metres, if not a hundred metres away from the intended target. That is the most generous way I could describe the way the Venky's organisation have tried and failed in their ownership of Blackburn Rovers. Whatever is the good intention of any of their actions from the comfort of Pune, by the time that command takes effect back in Blackburn, it is horribly way off.

Throughout all the Anti-Steve Kean protests I haven't wavered in my view - he is not a good manager, he isn't the right manager and I don't like him. But he is a symptom of the problem, the owners and their advisers (SEM, Kean's agents) are the problem. They have a strategy for using a Premier League club to promote their brand in India - they have impressive plans to open stores in India and really crank up the promotion of Rovers in and around Pune. The plans for a training complex out in their home town also sound like great sense. What they don't have is a strategy in Blackburn. There may have been good reasons for getting rid of Sam Allardyce - the football was grim, they wanted to aim beyond that negative cynicism. That reluctance by the backroom management team to fire the bullets may in turn have led to the owners feeling they weren't supported - so they slowly dismantled a whole tier of management, probably on the advice of Jerome Anderson.

In every possible way you look at it, their ownership has been a disaster.

But though I viscerally dislike the way so many of these foreign owners have behaved in English football, I suspect Venky's are honest and naive, rather than bent. They don't form part of the international jetset who are plundering a national treasury. Much as football has never been a particularly clean industry, the foreign owners who have raped West Ham and Portsmouth, and their pals who hawk others around the bars of Bangkok, leave a vile taste in my mouth.

But even of the successful foreign owners ask of each one - what is in it for them? The Glazers will make a hefty return on the ownership of Manchester United. Roman Abramovich got a public profile and a home in a western country with property rights and the rule of law. The Abu Dhabi people have such wealth that they can expect to bring their country to international prominence through a successful Manchester City. It makes my blood boil when I hear callers to 606 begging for an oligarch to buy their club in order to compete in this league. I have admiration for Arsenal in staying sustainable through this period and hoping UEFA's financial fair play rules will validate their approach by the time Manchester City are only able to spend what they earn.

So what of Venky's and Rovers? Let's be clear - they bought a Premier League club at a knockdown price, compared to the value of Liverpool and Aston Villa which also changed hands recently. But even the sellers for the Walkers were surprised when they showed they had the money. I still don't know if they have paid the full £25m the Walker Trust eventually settled for, or whether they have borrowed to do so. It has given their brand an airing in the west and a new prominence in India. But there is such doubt over their ability to stabilise the finances that Barclays Bank now have a charge over pretty much everything.

The protests by the fans, thus far, have mildly shaken the owners. But they are not stirred into acting. They are also pleased that Steve Kean has been the lightning conductor for that anger. They hope that things will turn around. Afterall, there is an argument that suggests the squad is younger, fitter and arguably better placed to face the future than it was. What the Venky's really fear however is a backlash that could taint their brand back home. They bought the club to promote their brands, not to propel Blackburn Rovers to greatness as Jack Walker did - and not even out of a love for the glory of football.

The story today is that the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar is interested in buying a Premier League club. According to Alan Nixon in The People one target could be Rovers. I don't take much notice of Nixon, even on the relatively rare occasions when his punts turn out to be right I am reminded of the old phrase  - 'even a stopped clock's right twice a day'.

So I simply don't take the speculation seriously and refuse to get carried away. I just don't see it happening to Rovers for a multitude of reasons - Venky's won't sell, Qatar isn't a good fit for Blackburn, and there are other far more attractive options for a fund that sponsors Barcelona and owns Paris St Germain.

The next few weeks are so crucial for Blackburn Rovers - they need to beat Wigan, draw at Stoke, beat Bolton, Swansea and West Brom at home. A win over Cardiff to get into the semis of the Carling Cup would give everyone a lift too. Sounds easy from Marple, probably looks like a piece of cake from Pune. Lose all of them and there's a disaster which no amount of money from Qatar, or anywhere, will make the slightest difference.

There are also some very important management issues to address - a proper chief executive, a proper chairman and a board that can run the business at base. That then requires financial management, a communications strategy and, probably, a new first team manager. But one thing is for sure, they can't carry on hitting the ball in India and hope it lands near the hole in Blackburn.


@SamuelShip said...

Great post mate! I agree the next 4/5 games could shape the club for the foreseeable future! lets keep our fingers crossed!

PABBY said...

Bloody awesome post, Michael.

So sad, and oh so true.

Martin said...

Unfortunately we're all doomed! 136 of heritage 'spunked up the wall'.
It just makes me so sad.

Michael Taylor said...

Looks like Venky's have had a family tiff now.