I feel sorry for Steve Kean. Blackburn seem to be in total disarray both on and off the pitch, looking like early candidates for relegation, and Kean is carrying the can. The fans want him sacked and have gone to different lengths to show it. There have been petitions and letters to the owners, protest marches and in-game protests, all in the hope that Blackburn owners, Venky’s will fire him. There were even protests when Blackburn went to India to play a couple of recent friendly matches in Venky’s home city of Pune. Where I really feel sorry for Kean is that the abuse has started to go a bit further than just his performance as Blackburn manager. There are many Blackburn fans who seemingly despise Steve Kean the person, rather than the manager.
Now, I can see why the fans want Kean out, his record with Blackburn is dismal, with a terrible win percentage, his signings have not been able to improve the club, and Blackburn look totally disorganised at times on the pitch. However, I feel sorry for Kean because he’s been severely unlucky on a few occasions this season so far, with an extremely harshly awarded penalty on Saturday denying Blackburn a valuable away win, being the latest misfortune that Kean has suffered this season. I don’t believe that Kean’s management is entirely to blame for the position that Blackburn currently find themselves in, I believe that the owners have a lot to answer for.
Shortly after Blackburn’s new owners Venky’s took over, to the surprise of pretty much everybody, Sam Allardyce was fired as manager. The style of football Allardyce gets his teams to play is the equivalent of nails down a blackboard, but it is effective and especially works well in getting the maximum out of a squad with limited talent and few resources to buy players, which made him perfect for Blackburn. So the decision to fire Allardyce would’ve maybe made sense had Venky’s then appointed a manager who would have been able to deliver the passing-attacking football the owners seemingly crave.
What was even more surprising than Venky’s firing Allardyce, was who they hired next. Rather than going for an experienced, proven manager, which they said they were going to appoint, they appointed the unproven and experienced Kean, who had had mixed success in his spell as Caretaker Manager, when there were far more experienced candidates available (Martin O’Neill comes to mind). Kean was a well-respected coach, but is seemingly one of those coaches who can’t transition to being an effective manager.
I think part of the problem was that Venky’s didn’t help Kean at all by immediately raising expectations by making all sorts of promises that they just couldn’t keep. Venky’s started making noises about breaking into the top ten, then pushing onwards for Europe, which just isn’t as easy as they made it sound. Last season Aston Villa and Sunderland only just made the top half of the Premier League and both spent far more money than Blackburn did.
There are also suggestions that Steve Kean has little to no say in Blackburn’s transfer dealings. Venky’s have a relationship with football agent Jerome Anderson, it was he who brought Venky’s to Blackburn, and the suggestion is that it was on his advice Allardyce was fired, and the he is highly influential when it comes to Blackburn’s signings. Suspicions of this were only raised when Blackburn signed Anderson’s son, Myles, despite him only having played two minutes of professional football.
Venky’s didn’t help themselves by their own actions after taking over. Venky’s Chairwoman Anuradha Desai admitted she’d never watched a football match before the company took control of Blackburn. Venky’s lack of football knowledge wouldn’t necessarily have been a problem had they retained or employed people that do know how to run a football club, which would have minimised mistakes while they were learning. Instead, Venky’s overhauled the administrative staff at Blackburn, with people like Tom Finn and John Williams no longer at the club, when their experience would’ve been invaluable. Many of the key positions at Blackburn have never been filled since Venky’s took over. At present Blackburn don’t have a Chairman, or a Chief Executive, the consequence of which has been that Blackburn totally lack direction off the pitch, which is showing on the pitch.
There are also the many PR disasters that have punctuated Venky’s time in charge of Blackburn, which includes what has to be the worst advert starring footballers ever made.
I’m convinced that Venky’s have seriously under-estimated the difficulties of running a football-club. I think that they believed that if they dangled a load of money and the chance to play in the Premier League in front of some big-name players, it would be enough to attract them and were bemused by their failure to land any of the big names they were hoping to attract. Making public their wishes to sign players of the calibre of Raul, David Beckham and Ronaldinho was foolish, and all that happened was that Venky’s made a lot of promises that they couldn’t keep and ended up looking stupid.
Looking at Blackburn’s squad at present, it’s hard to see just what more could be expected of the team this season, as it looks to be a squad that won’t do any better than a fight against relegation. Blackburn do have some good players, but the supporting cast is generally not good enough for the Premier League.
There isn’t much creativity in the team at all. Junior Hoilett’s a dangerous player and Mauro Formica looks like a good player, but is still adjusting to the increased physicality of the Premier League. The only other creative players are David Dunn, who is an excellent player, but has a terrible record with injuries and Morten Gamst Pedersen, who isn’t as good as he was a few seasons ago. Other than that, Blackburn’s squad is more workmanlike than creative. You have to wonder where the goals are coming from, apart from if Hoilett creates something for himself. Blackburn don’t have much in the way of striking options. Jason Roberts is usually only good for one or two goals a season, Yakubu’s overweight and under-motivated, David Goodwillie is totally unproven and Ruben Rochina is still trying to adapt to the English game.
One place where Blackburn have struggled this season is defensively. Blackburn have an excellent keeper in Paul Robinson and good centre-backs in Chris Samba, Ryan Nelsen and Scott Dann, but they don’t have particularly good full-backs and don’t really have an effective defensive midfield player to help the back 4 out, since Jermaine Jones’ departure over the summer. So Blackburn struggle to break up attacks and this leads to the defence regularly getting overwhelmed and they lose all shape, which is why they concede so many goals.
There have been many occasions this season where Blackburn have contrived to throw away points that they had deserved. Earlier this season, Blackburn totally dominated Everton from start to finish, but missed two penalties and then gave one away deep into injury time, managing to lose a game they should’ve easily won. Similarly, against Spurs, Blackburn managed to lose a game in which they were the better team and the draw against Norwich which probably felt like a defeat. If Blackburn had managed to win those games, they’d currently be 8th in the league and the newspapers would be full of stories about how well he is doing.
Kean does seem to have the backing of the owners. Kean’s assistant John Jensen was fired by Blackburn at a time it looked certain that Kean would be the one to go. Venky’s have described Kean as ‘a brilliant manager’ and are looking to extend his contract. This may be due to Allardyce’s firing and the subsequent hiring of Kean being Venky’s first major decision as owners, and they want to give Kean every opportunity they can to succeed. Steve Kean cannot be blamed for taking the Blackburn job (which some Blackburn fans do blame him for), any coach with a modicum of ambition would have jumped at the chance to manage a Premier League team. Kean has handled himself in a very dignified manner despite all of the pressure he is under. From the way the team is fighting hard in every game, Kean still seems to have the support of the players, which is vital if Blackburn are going to turn their season around.
It won’t be a surprise to anybody if, despite the support of his owners and the apparent support of the players, Kean does get fired. He does look out of his depth and he looks as though he’s one of those coaches that just is not cut out to be a manager. Venky’s will eventually have to listen to the protests of the fans, Blackburn don’t have a large fanbase, Blackburn is a relatively small town compared to other towns and cities with Premier League teams, so they cannot afford for those fans to vote with their feet and stay away, which they may well do, such is Kean’s unpopularity.
Steve Kean was promoted to a position that he just wasn’t ready for. He was expected to replace a well-established, experienced manager, change the style of football and instantly get the same results. He was promised a squad of superstars by the owners, but instead has a cheaply-assembled squad largely made up of unproven players and cast-offs, that he may not have had any real say in the acquisition of. He has suffered some appalling luck and been on the receiving end of some horrendous refereeing decisions that have cost Blackburn wins. Kean is the manager of a club that is owned and run by people who don’t know or understand how to run a football club, and haven’t employed the people that could do it for them. He is the manager of a club with no Chairman or Chief Executive that can provide some leadership and direction.
Steve Kean seems to be a decent man who was put in a position where it would’ve been extremely difficult for anyone to succeed, and he is getting criticism, a lot of it personal, from fans because he isn’t succeeding. For that, I genuinely feel sorry for him.