Sunday, January 15, 2012

It was wrong to target Steve Kean and still is

A year ago Blackburn Rovers stuffed Liverpool in a thrilling game. The crowd cheered the new manager Steve Kean and even chanted his name. That night I sat in the director's area at Ewood close to Jerome Anderson and the Rovers board. I asked chairman John Williams how he was and how things were going. He wasn't happy. I blogged about it here. He was gone within the month.

Thanks to the excellent research of Nick Harris on the Sporting Intelligence site we now see the detail of quite how the whole unravelling was taking place at Ewood Park. In an extraordinary and explosive letter to the owners the concerns of the three executives running the business - John Williams, Tom Finn and Martin Goodman - laid bare their frustrations. They were being frozen out of big decisions and feared the worst. This is what they said about the manager: ‘Steve is an inexperienced manager who needs day-to-day support and assistance from people experienced in the running of the football operations.’

Last week we were treated to a quite dreadful interview on Sky Sports News with Jerome Anderson of sports agency SEM. He used phrases like "certain issues" "things happened" about the Venky's and what was going on at the club without ever being challenged as to what they were or what the problem was to which he was the solution.

Anderson also makes a statement here defending himself and attempting to correct the widely held belief that he is involved in running the club.

"At the conclusion of the January 2011 transfer window I ceased to assist Blackburn Rovers Football Club in any capacity and I can confirm that I have not had any role or influence in their transfer policy or any other business of the club whatsoever since that date."

The letter from the three executives reads to me like the first step in a move towards the exit door. An expression of frustration, yes, but also a legal step in a potential case of constructive dismissal. It also paints a picture of owners who are utterly without a clue, but are relying on advice from SEM, but not their own board.  It also refers to a meeting at the Liverpool game with Barclays Bank. Now, if John Williams was telling me, a journalist, that he wasn't happy with his personal situation then it must have been equally difficult for him to confidently convey a good message to the bank. And as we now know, that relationship is crucial.

A year on, there has been nothing at all to reassure the bank that this is a sound business. The accounts made for grim reading and the Barclays are after assurances if they are going to support the business as a going concern.

I have strongly believed from the outset that these owners are the real problem, Steve Kean is a symptom of that ineptitude. His inexperience was clear from the outset, but everything else I have heard this week backs up the depth of the problems here. You even detect in Anderson some fast paddling to get as far away from these owners as possible.

It has never been established how the deal to buy Rovers was funded. The ultimate holding company is in India, where borrowing costs are high, so I suspect they borrowed internationally. My contacts on the deal were surprised when Venky's showed evidence of funds, as they suspected, as I do, that Venky's are nowhere near as wealthy as everyone has been led to believe. It was one of the many questions Sky Sports didn't ask Jerome Anderson.

So, to the present and the next few important games. For what's it worth, I think the whole BRFC Action campaign needs a rethink. All that passion and commitment needs a new direction.

The personal abuse of Steve Kean is wrong on a human level. But it has also been wrong on a tactical level too. I've heard the conspiracy theories about him as well, and I'm sure they fuel the hatred. In this kind of atmosphere untruths will fill the void of silence from the absentee landlords. Some of his public statements in support of the owners have been ill-judged, but the Kean Out protests have allowed the campaign to be portrayed as one man against the mob. With better support from a board and a proper infrastructure, who knows what he could achieve? But it's hard to construct a slogan out of that.

Any campaign for action has to have a conclusion in mind. The heat needs to increase on the owners to sell to someone who can do something with the club and who cares, but this lot have proved they are buffoons who are not fit to own a football club.

And in the middle of all of this I still have one other question - what's Bob Coar for?


Tim said...

It will be interesting to see what Steve Kean's legacy is when all the dust has settled.

Imagine if after Venky's come in and sack the manager, force out the board, flog our best players, bring in sub-par players on the dodgy advice of a mystery third party ... and Steve Kean steadies the ship and keeps Rovers in the Premier League.

Will we look back at his time differently in the cold light of day?

deftangel said...

A good read. I've been saying the same thing re: backing off Kean and focusing on Venky's since the Swansea game.

I hold nothing against the crowd for booing as Yakubu went to celebrate with Kean that day; had I been in attendance, I probably would have done the same thing but it's been clear to me since that in light of the media reporting of the incident, getting after Kean thereafter has undermined the protests.

The problem is, the issue is extremely divisive amongst fans. A large proportion of fans either can't or won't appreciate the wider ongoings behind the scene and focus on the manager. Dare to suggest a change in tactics, let alone explicitly the abstention of giving Kean grief and you are sometimes branded a "happy clapper" or as a fan who just wants to sit there and watch the club go to the wall. "At least we're doing something" they cry.

Even the latest protests, and I mean no ill reflection on Glen Mullan who is attempting to lead these efforts admirably had fans at the 24 hour protest rocking up with the "Kean out / Venky's out" t-shirts.

It might not be their fault that the media won't read past the first two words but we need to protest smarter and ditch the "nobody likes us, we don't care" attitude and find a way to get the media onside and appraised of the real issues.