Historically it’s been said, in football, getting to the top of the league is one thing but staying there is a whole different ball game. More often than not teams fail to defend the league title that they had worked so hard to gain in the first place. Over the past 20 years in some of Europe’s biggest leagues, only a handful of sides have managed to successfully defend their league titles. The question remains what, if any trends, exist between the sides that have managed to win back to back titles and whether there are lessons to be learned by new-be champions from their predecessors who had failed to defend their titles.
What we will do here is to analyze seven cases of clubs that failed to defend their famous league title victory the next season. The study will analyze the period since the 1992/93 season in the Premier League (Blackburn Rovers winners in 94/95 and Manchester City winners in 2011/12), Ligue 1 (Lille winners in 2010/11 and Montpellier winners in 2011/12), Serie A (Roma winners in 2000/01), Bundesliga (Dortmund winners in 2001/2) and La Liga (Deportivo winners in 1999/00). It is worth stating that there had been a number of other sides within the respective leagues that had failed to defend their titles including Stuttgart, Arsenal, Marseille and Wolfsburg among others, however, it was decided that the above formed an interesting platform for analysis. When it came to analyzing sides that had managed to win back-to-back titles, the selection pool was considerably smaller. A small condition was also put in for the sake of the integrity of the study and that was for a team to have been considered for selection for this aspect, there must have been at least an 8 season gap between their back-to-back successes and their previous league triumph. This was done so to isolate a side that could lay claim to be considered part of a larger successful era over a longer period (take Bayern Munich and Manchester United for instance). With that in mind, Dortmund (2010-12), Chelsea (2004-6) and Juventus (2011-13) were chosen to examine. Whilst Juventus have not clinched the Serie A title yet, they are 11 points ahead of Napoli with 6 games to go and barring a calamitous breakdown they are set to defend the title they masterfully had won the previous season.
A number of criteria will be compared and contrasted within the study and this includes the club’s transfer spending vis a vis the second season both against itself and against that of the new champion (if there had been one), the sale of key players, changes in performances of key player/s, managerial changes, performances in the Champions League and whether it posed a distraction to the squad, and the squad’s ability to cope with more games, as well as the historical size of the club in its league among other things. We hope by doing the aforementioned, some light may be shed onto common themes.
Blackburn Rovers (Premier League Champions in 1994/95)
In the early 1990s, Jack Walker had begun bank-rolling the town-club towards success. Rovers arguably formed the prototype of rich owner done-good in modern football. However, just when things were supposed to be starting, the club failed to build on its success and was eventually relegated to the Championship within 5 years of having lifted the Premier League title. One of the first startling discoveries from the side that attempted to defend its 1994/95 title was the fact that the club barely spent in the summer leading to the new season. Only £2.7m was spent and even by amounts being thrown away back at the time this was meager, especially considering that Walker had given Kenny Dalglish over 3 times that figure the previous season. This led to Dalglish deciding to step upstairs in a director of football capacity. Rovers also sold one of the key members of the title-winning side in Mark Atkins and that coupled with injuries and poor form to Chris Sutton and Jason Wilcox hampered the side to a point of finishing outside the European places.
Deportivo La Coruña (La Liga Champions in 1999/00)
Little-known Deportivo capped off the most successful era of its history with a title during a period when it was a force to be reckoned with domestically and a giant banana skin in European football. An undeniable factor was their transfer expenditure, pushing Barcelona and Real Madrid to the limits at the time. One of the mistakes the title-defending champions made was selling 3 key members of the first team, most notably Flavio Conceicao. Interestingly, Deportivo may be the only club in our research that actually improved its league performances in the second season. Unfortunately, it was going head-to-head with the Galacticos of Real Madrid. The side from the capital had a net spending of almost 10 times what Deportivo spent that season.
AS Roma (Serie A Champions in 2000/01)
Francesco Totti’s Roma were a force to be reckoned with at the turn of the new century, highlighted by extravagant spending which led to the signing of players such as Gabriel Batistuta, Vincenzo Montella and later Antonio Cassano. All this happened under the stewardship of Fabio Capello. One of the first things that becomes apparent is that Roma significantly reduced transfer spending after winning the title and this happened at a time when Juventus increased spending to £156m in the summer transfer window. Roma only had a net spending of £23m that summer. Whilst Roma did sign Cassano and Capello’s favorite son Christian Panucci, they let go one of the cornerstones of the title-winning side in Cristiano Zanetti. A lack of goals also hit the side at the wrong time of the season and this is illustrated by the fact that Totti, Batistuta and Montella scored 20 less goals between them throughout the campaign compared to the previous season.
Borussia Dortmund (Bundesliga Champions in 2001/2)
German champions, Dortmund, were experiencing a golden era in their history. This included back to back titles in the previous decade and their one and only Champions League triumph too. Little did they know that they were at the climax of their success and were about to face grave financial difficulties which almost led to their extinction. Again, just like the sides we examined before them, they decided to significantly cut down on spending after winning the title, whilst Bayern Munich spent 3 times their outlay. Two highlights of the new season was the departure of key players Evanilson and Jurgen Kohler, as well as the drop in performances of Bundesliga top-scorer Marcio Amoroso who only contributed 6 goals in the new campaign.
Lille (Ligue 1 Champions in 2010/11)
The French League is an interesting one. Over the last 20 seasons only 1 side has managed to defend its title and that has been Lyon. In fact, they defended it successfully 6 times. Less money is spent in the French league compared to many of the other top leagues in Europe and more time is spent on developing players and this could be one of the reasons that there has been such a close and level playing field over the past 20 years, only rivaled by the Bundesliga in this respect. The only time that this trend was broken was with Lyon who began competing on a European level. Lille had not spent any money the season they won the league and went on to spend £7.5m net when they had to defend their title. However, they did lose 3 key members of that title winning campaign in Adil Rami, Emerson and Yohann Cabaye. Interestingly, the new champions, Montpellier, spent virtually nothing when they won the title away from Lille.
Montpellier (Ligue 1 Champions in 2011/12)
Montpellier made the grave error of selling their key player after they won the league title. Olivier Giroud left to join Arsenal and was replaced by 2 or 3 lessor known strikers who have failed to get on the scoring-sheet regularly this season. Nevertheless, Louis Nicollin did allow some money to be spent this past summer. However, after a poor start to the campaign and an early exit from the Champions League, Rene Girard also lost his captain, Yanga-Mbiwa in a mid-season transfer to Newcastle United. The majority of the key members of the squad continue to perform admirably but in a league where the margins are minimal losing players of the caliber of those Montpellier have lost is an insurmountable obstacle.
Manchester City (Premier League Champions in 2011/12)
The Abu Dhabi Sheikhs bought Manchester City with the vision of turning them into the biggest club in England and later Europe. Whilst City wrestled the title away from city-rivals Manchester United they have failed to put up a successful defence of their title and formed the inspiration behind this article. The first highlight of their failed defence is a 40% reduction in transfer spending. Secondly, Manchester United out-spent them this season. None of the sides we have examined in the study have managed to defend their title having spent less the following campaign unless it was still a higher amount than their closest rivals. Next, Roberto Mancini sold 3 key members of the title-winning side in Nigel de Jong, Adam Johnson and Mario Balotelli. The club’s best performers also failed to hit the heights of the previous campaign and this is mostly highlighted in the goals contribution of their top-scorers. An early exit in the Champions League forms another stereotypical characteristic of failure to defend the league title. In short, Manchester City form the text-book study of how not to defend your title.
Those Who Succeeded in Defending their Title
Chelsea (Defended their Premier League Title in 2005/6)
Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea had just set a Premier League record-high number of points in 2004/5 and lifted the double. The following campaign saw them successfully defend their title. One of the highlights of the success was the fact that they strengthened the starting line-up with the signing of Lyon’s Michael Essien. They also added Asier Del Horno and Shaun Wright-Phillips, with the former making the left back position his own. It also helped that Chelsea out-spent runners-up Manchester United and the performances of their key players somewhat improved (Drogba and Lampard both improved their goal contributions).
Dortmund (Defended their Bundesliga Title in 2011/12)
German champions Dortmund not only defended their title but also completed the double having trounced rivals Bayern Munich 5-2 in the Pokal final. Dortmund did increase its own spending even if Bayern Munich managed to out-spend them. Their transfer activity saw one Turkish-origin star replaced by another with Nuri Sahin departing to Spain and Ilkay Gundogan replacing him. On paper it seemed like Jurgen Klopp’s side did not get the better end of that deal but time has shown that to be false. Dortmund’s players continued to excel with Robert Lewandowski improving his finishing and other players contributing more goals than previously. Dortmund finished 6 points better off than the previous campaign.
Juventus (On Course to Defend Serie A Title in 2012/13)
Italian champions Juventus are back on top of the football pyramid domestically after a tumultuous few seasons, which included relegation due to match-fixing. Juve have virtually been alone in lavishly spending in recent seasons. This has helped them re-build their side. Whilst they decreased their transfer expenditure this season, it was still significantly higher than closest rivals Napoli. Antonio Conte also retained his key players and built on it by adding 3 key members to the squad in Giovinco, Asamoah and Isla. His side is on course to better its points haul of last season when it had gone unbeaten.
Looking at the above analysis, it is difficult to find a wholesome irrefutable rule of thumb in analyzing successes and failures when it comes to defending titles. Before attempting to do so, it is interesting to note that over the past 20 years the Premier League has seen 7 back to back champions (6 Manchester United, 1 Chelsea), the Bundesliga has seen 5 (3 Bayern Munich, 2 Dortmund), Ligue 1 has seen 6 but it all involved Lyon, La Liga has had 7 back to back champions (6 Barcelona, 1 Real Madrid), and Serie A is on course for its 9th this season (4 Inter, Juventus soon to be 3, with 2 for Milan). It must be added that Milan and Barcelona won their 1992/93 titles on the back of having won the previous season. What this suggests is that money plays a huge role in defining the legacy of the sides. Less dominance is found in the leagues where less money is spent.
One of the common characteristics of Chelsea, Dortmund and Juventus’ successful retention of titles is the fact that none weakened their sides during the summer after becoming champions. At the same time, Juventus and Chelsea both continued to invest in their squad and out-spent their rivals. Dortmund may have spent less than Bayern Munich but it must be noted that the figures being spent by either side would be dwarfed by some of the money being thrown around by lessor sides in some of Europe’s other leagues. So one could argue Bayern Munich’s expenditure in 2011/12 may have been higher than Dortmund’s but it was not at a level which could help shift the title back to Bavaria.
Another factor that must be highlighted is that all the sides that failed to defend their titles saw their top-scorer of the previous campaign fail to repeat his feats. Dortmund had Lewandowski score more goals than Lucas Barrios had the previous campaign. Juventus have three players 1 to 2 goals short of improving on last season’s top scorer with 6 games to go, whilst Chelsea saw both Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba improve on their tallies.
Amazingly, only Deportivo and Juventus made it into the Quarter Finals of the Champions League from the 10 cases studied. Lille and Montpellier were the only sides that increased spending after winning the title but failed to retain their crown. It must be added that Montpellier had a negative net expenditure though. Also, only one side improved its point tally and failed to retain the title and that was Deportivo.
Finally, it is clear from the analysis that only a few sides attempted to continue towards building a legacy after winning the title. Most of the clubs were happy to taste one-time glory and cash in on their success. This includes Blackburn and Montpellier. Others such as Dortmund, at the turn of the century, and Roma decided to keep the status quo whilst rivals continued to spend to make up for lost ground. Only a few sides attempted to create a legacy and these were the 3 sides that managed to defend their league titles and arguably Deportivo who just fell short. Lyon, who were not addressed in the analysis, also fit the bill. Therefore the motivation of the club owners is quite central to what happens next for the clubs in question.
The study above was undertaken with the goal of shedding light onto why retaining a league title proves to be difficult for most sides in Europe’s top leagues. Whilst there are certain intangible and unquantifiable elements at play such as the motivation and ambition levels of the players at hand, it is clear that lessons can be learned for sides that are in a process of winning a title after a long and dry spell. Certainly, the grounds exist for more conclusions to be drawn by those studying the data under the microscope.
Football is a game of two halves. This truism is one of the oldest cliches associated with the beautiful game. Some experts suggest how teams start every match sets the tempo for the rest of the game. Whilst that may be true, it may be interesting to look at how teams finish matches. When one thinks back of how important the final 10 minutes of any given match can be, then the most startling advert for the fact is undoubtedly the 1999 Champions League Final, when Manchester United scored twice in second half injury time to beat the Germans.
During analysis of the final few minutes of matches over a season, it’s fair to ask yourself whether you think results would mirror the strength of the teams without setting new patterns other than that which has been created over the previous 80 minutes of the match. What will it tell us about the mentality and personality of the sides involved? Is the destiny of games determined by the previous 80 minutes? These are some of the questions which we hope to answer by putting the magnifying glass over a few of Europe’s tightest leagues during the current 2012/13 season.
Firstly, the English Premier League will be analyzed, considering the tight race for Champions League spots as well as the scrap for relegation. Secondly, Serie A will be put under the eye of observation. Finally, the nPower Chanmpionship, the second tier of English football, traditionally seen as one of the most challenging leagues in all of European football will be analyzed largely due to its extremely tight proceedings this season. Currently, the team in 8th spot, Derby County, is still not safe from relegation, as its 5 points clear from 22nd spot, the final relegation spot, occupied by Huddersfield (only on goal difference being the worst of a set of 4 sides going up to 19th place Blackburn Rovers). On a side note, 54 points separate the top and bottom sides in the Premier League, with 47 separating those in Serie A and only 38 points keeping the respective sides in the nPower Championship apart.
The 2012/13 Premier League season has seen Manchester United wrestle back the title from city rivals Manchester City in what looks like a relatively early triumph. Critics argue that Roberto Mancini’s side failed to show the motivation and drive required to repeat their achievement of the previous season. This could also be the season which could see Premier League ever-presents Aston Villa suffer relegation. Continuing its seasonal pattern, Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal is fighting to win its own Champions League, the coveted 4th position.
How much would the league table change if the full-time whistle was blown in the 80th minute? Some of the findings are riveting to say the least. First of all, a total of 56 results have changed during the final 10 minutes of games (plus stoppage time) this season. That means 18.3% of games have been decided during those minutes. Other startling facts include West Brom being the only side to twice throw away victories and accept defeats during this period, Everton have turned defeat into victory and vice versa on one occasion each, Newcastle has seen results change in 10 of their 31 matches during the final 10 minutes, an astonishing 32% of their games, with Reading experiencing a similar turnaround. Man City have recovered the most points (12) during this period, whilst West Brom have lost the most (9). Also, Swansea are the only side that has not surrendered a single point during the final 10 minutes of matches and QPR the only side that has not recovered any point during the same period.
Considering that Man City has won 12 points (4 draws to wins, 1 loss to a win, 1 loss to a draw) how does the claim that Mancini’s side haven’t shown the same urgency they had last season fare? Clearly, they have exhibited a never say die attitude and good levels of concentration as they have only once lost points during the final stretch this season. Reading and Norwich are two other sides that had 180 degree turns on results gained, by converting lost games into victories once each. Spurs has lost a game that it had been winning after 80 minutes. If you’re looking to switch off your TV after 80 minutes without wanting to worry about missing anything then its likely that you can do so during a Sunderland – QPR game or a West Ham – QPR match-up. Only a total of 7 points has moved around during those between the sides involved throughout the whole season.
The table above shows if the final whistle was blown early, the biggest loser in the Premier League would be Manchester City. This may suggest that they have started slowly and sluggishly and a sense of urgency crept into their game as the match went on, especially in the second half of games. Ultimately, they would have found themselves in 5th place, fighting to get into the Champions League. At the other end of the table, Newcastle would have found themselves firmly in the relegation zone had it not been for their late game heroics. How long could they sustain such late surges before it catches up with them though? Their overall performances may yet prove to be costly at the end of the season. Other highlights are Spurs being in 2nd place, Arsenal being in 7th spot and unlikely to get into the Champions League whilst QPR only being 2 points off safety.
Juventus have not been as dominant as they were during their unbeaten title victory in the 2011/12 season. Some analysts have said that this was Napoli’s season to win but they have thrown it away having failed to capitalize on the leader’s blunders. In terms of the overall scope of the league, a total of 51 results changed during the final 10 minutes of matches. That translates to 17% of matches being decided during the said period, a slightly lesser ratio than in the Premier League, and probably indicative of the nature of Serie A.
Some of the findings from Serie A include the fact that Juventus have not surrendered a single point during the final stretch of matches and have won back the most points (12). Napoli have seen 9 results change during the final 10 minutes, the most in the whole league, and this includes converting a defeat into victory as well as seeing a win turn into a loss. Only two other sides have experienced such ecstasy (Bologna) and despair (Torino) this season and both in games against Napoli. The biggest losers of the final few minutes of games have been Palermo. They have surrendered 12 points and have only taken 1 point off their opponents during the closing stages of games.
If you’re looking to switch off your TV after 80 minutes then you’d be safest doing so during a Sampdoria – Siena match-up. Compared to the Premier League, only two matches saw 180 degree result turns during the final 10 minutes, whereas in the Premier League four matches saw similar turnarounds.
What we learn from the above table is that Napoli would currently be leading the Serie A title race despite having a mixed record during the final 10 minutes of games. This is largely because their rivals Juventus have amassed 5 wins (converted from draws) during the final few minutes of games. Milan and Chievo are two other sides that have not relinquished any points during the final few minutes of games. Palermo, whose fortunes would be much the richer if officials blew the whistle at the end of 80 minutes, would have been 5 points above the relegation zone, virtually safe by now, instead of being firm candidates to go down to Serie B. Milan and Fiorentina would be having a much closer race for the final Champions League spot too, and Catania would be another “winner” as they would be on the verge of a European spot.
The Championship might prove to be the most exciting league in Europe if it comes down to how matches finish. A total of 99 results changed during the final 10 minutes of games. That is just over a staggering 25% of all games till date. Blackpool have been the undoubted kings of finishing off games strongly. They have “won” 15 points whilst only giving up 3 points during the final few minutes of matches. Cardiff City is another side that finishes games strongly, winning 4 games from drawing positions and drawing 2 games from losing positions. They have not given up points during the same period. Charlton’S games have the quietest finish when it comes to impacting the result. Only twice have they seen results change and both times it has been to their detriment. Leeds United have been one of the undoubted big losers when it comes to the analysis. Ten of their games have changed results during the final 10 minutes and only once has it been to their benefit. Crystal Palace, Blackpool, Ipswich and Bolton have seen 12 results each change during the period in question. That is just under 1 in 3 matches. At the same time, a total of 5 matches have seen 180 degree turnarounds for the sides involved (losses to wins).
What quickly transpires from looking at the table is that if the final few minutes of matches were not factored in, the whole complexion of the league would change. Firstly, four points would separate the top 4 with Watford benefiting most as they would sit at the top of the pile. Gianfranco Zola’s side have seen 18 points thrown around during the final few minutes of games and that is a league high. They would gain 5 points through the process. Leeds may have been the big losers when it comes to closing out games but that translates to benefiting from the projected league table as they would break into the play-off positions. Crystal Palace have lost the most points during the final few minutes, and despite having won quite a few themselves, they would jump into the 2nd automatic promotion spot.
What is even more interesting is the bottom of the table shake-up. Blackpool nosedive into 23rd position and would likely be relegated had it not been for their closing out of matches. Interestingly, Ian Holloway has had a stake in two of the most “active” sides in the division during the analysis period as the Tangerines are his former side, and Palace his current one. Make of that what you will. Peterbrough would be another beneficiary of the projection as they would jump to 9 points above the relegation zone. Blackburn, Ipswich and Wolves would also look to be quite safe.
Whilst the above analysis proves interesting reading, what conclusions can we draw? Firstly, its clear that the Championship is the most exciting league between the 3 in question when it comes to how important the final 10 minutes of games are. Secondly, there is no clear pattern in terms of the final 10 minutes of games correlating with the previous 80 minutes of the respective games. Whilst teams like Manchester City, Manchester United, Juventus and Cardiff close out games strongly especially when they need a result, other sides near the top of the table have mixed results. Spurs, Chelsea and Everton are 3 of the top 6 in the Premier League but they have lost more points than gained during the period in question. However, in Italy, the current positions of the side have a greater influence in how they finish games with Fiorentina being the only side, which has lost more points than won, in the top 7 of Serie A. In the Championship, perhaps due to the openness and end-to-end nature of the British game, there is a mixed bag again with 2 of the top 4 having lost more points than won.
Then there are a few anomalies to look at. This includes Newcastle, Blackpool and Palermo. The Geordies are currently surviving due to their last few minute heroics having won 6 extra points (net). Blackpool are currently 3 points off the relegation zone in the Championship but this is only because of the extraordinary 15 points that they have won during that period. They have only lost 3 points too. Effectively their numbers along with those of Juventus are the best in our study. What does that tell us about Blackpool? Whilst it needs further analysis of the games, one possible scenario sees teams sitting back deeper against what they perceive to be a bottom of the table side whilst the gung-ho nature of the Tangerines, born out of Ian Holloway’s image creates enough chances to convert. Teams like Crystal Palace, Leeds and Watford do not seem to have the tactical aptitude to close out games. Palace and Watford are both known to play expansive football and the high-tempo could prove to be costly towards the end of games. On the other side of the coin, Italian Serie A strugglers Palermo need to close up shop much better and working on the players fitness could be an aspect that may require further attention. The fruits of this research lay the groundwork which could be instrumental for the sides involved in gaining extra points in the future, either by working at closing out games better or taking advantage of their opponents inability to do the same.
Since Indian poultry-farmers Venkys bought Blackburn Rovers in November 2010, the club and its supporters have been through a roller-coaster ride. Its landscape is almost unrecognizable from that of which was inherited by the owners. This does not ring any truer than towards the playing squad. Venkys have received heavy criticism for the way they’ve managed or more accurately mis-managed the running of the club including their almost eternal backing of then-manager Steve Kean. They have also been criticized for the caliber of players brought into the club as well as the huge turn-over of players moving out during the same period.
This was then… (Playing Squad on day Venkys purchased the club)
You might have forgotten some of the players who were associated with the club at the time Venkys purchased it. It does seem a lifetime ago. Only 7 players from the first team playing squad from November 2010 are still with the club today. However, only Martin Olsson and Grant Hanley can consider themselves regular starters in the current set-up. The squad at that time was short on players in the wide areas whilst it seemed well stocked in most other positions especially at center back. It was also arguably lacking a quality finisher who could regularly score goals at any level as well as a fit midfield enforcer who could provide a good foil for Steven N’Zonzi. The squad considered Christopher Samba, Phil Jones, Martin Olsson, N’Zonzi, Junior Hoilett, and Niko Kalinic as among its sell-able assets.
This is now… (Playing Squad on February 8, 2013)
The current squad is much thinner at center back and still lacks a strong central midfield partnership. However, what it has gained is a top quality finisher in Jordan Rhodes. The make-up of the squad can be described as hard-working, robust and solid at best. Whilst players in the initial squad moved on for 8 digit fees in a couple of the cases, it is hard to see anyone being sold for anything near that fee, with the exception of Jordan Rhodes who, at the very least, should fetch the same fee he joined the club under. Other than Rhodes, and possibly Scott Dann, largely due to him being English, it is difficult to see anyone fetching more than £5 million from the current squad. Martin Olsson, who was once rated in the £6m-£7m bracket could now cost buyers a more realistic £4m fee at the end of the season.
Who They Bought
By December 2011, Rovers were at the crossroads where the upcoming transfer window, at the time, would have played a crucial role in the club staying up or getting relegated. Most of the transfers under Venkys had not panned out well until that period and the pressure was on to get it right that time around. However, as history is testament, Venkys took the cautious route and did not undertake the sort of spending that they would commission in the next transfer window. They would also let go of both Christopher Samba and a fully fit Ryan Nelsen.
In the overall scheme of things, the owners have overseen the acquisition of 25 players up till and including the January 2013 transfer window. They have “spent” over £34 million on those transfers, and this does not include an exorbitant amount on agent fees, namely during the first two transfer windows of their tenure. In some cases, the agent fees dwarfed the transfer fee in question. Dann and Rhodes were the most expensive signings on the list with nine of the signings being made on free transfers.
Looking at the list above, it is difficult to judge how many of those transfers have turned out to be a success. If the assessment had to be done today then other than Yakubu and Rhodes, it is difficult to call any other transfer a success. Ruben Rochina may prove to be a success down the line or at the very least may be sold for more money than he joined the club under the owners, which would make it a first for Venkys. Scott Dann has improved this season but Rovers are mid-table in the Championship and its difficult to suggest that his performances will ever attract the sort of interest that he had been allegedly receiving for a period of his career at Birmingham. Back to back relegation campaigns do not read well on the center back’s CV.
Interestingly, 10 of the players that they had brought into the club are no longer with with it today. That is a staggering 40% of the transfers.
Almost the same number of players have left the club under Venkys reign as had joined them. If one had to form two starting line-ups out of the two lists and pit them against each other it would see the likes of Bunn, Salgado, Samba, Nelsen, Emerton – Diouf, Jones, N’Zonzi, Hoilett – Yakubu, Kalinic representing the players who were sold, take on a team including Bruno Ribeiro, Dann, Nuno Henrique, Orr – Formica, Murphy, Etuhu, Markus Olsson – Rochina, and Rhodes. Venkys have yet to sign a goalkeeper on a permanent contract, with Pole Sandomiercki having joined the club on loan in the summer of 2012.
Needless to say the quality present in the list of exodus is clear for all to see. A number of the players formed the backbones of Rovers sides over the previous 4-5 seasons prior to Venkys ownership.
The first striking item off the list is the fact that despite statements stating Venkys have spent money and have shown their commitment to the cause in recent times, they have made more money from transfers than they have spent (not including agent fees, wages and compensation agreements to release players). A second striking element is the fact that some of the players that had been present in the list of transfers into the club also feature here. Four players have been bought and sold by Venkys during their tenure and all for a loss (not including Myles Anderson who joined and left on free transfers). Radosav Petrovic, Simon Vukcevic and Yakubu joined the club for a combined fee of at least £5.5m but left the club for a fee thought to be £1.5m in total as well as a compensation package to get one of them off the club’s payroll. Nothing illustrates failure in transfer dealings more than the fact that Rovers, under Venkys, have gotten rid of many of the same players they have brought in. The list does not even include players who have been sent out on loan. This brings us to the next section of the analysis.
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
Throughout the article it has become apparent that Venkys have admitted failure in a number of their transfer dealings through the exit of the same players virtually as soon as they’d joined the club. A total of 12 out of the 25 players that they signed have left the club either on loan or a full transfer. Let’s not forget that two of the 25 players only joined the club during the last two weeks, and this effectively means that more than half of the players brought into the club have gone on to leave the club in the period in question.
The list below provides some riveting realities.
The players at the top of the table have survived – till date – the revolving doors at Ewood Park. From the rest, Ruben Rochina’s stay was the longest. He completed exactly 2 years as a Rovers player before being shipped out, surprisingly, to Real Zaragoza. Argentine Mauro Formica was 8 days short of his two year anniversary as well. Diogo Rosado only remained for 153 days before being given away on loan to Benfica’s B side for the rest of the season. He appeared twice in Rovers colors in the Championship. That’s twice as much as Jordan Slew or Paulo Jorge have ever put on the shirt. Myles Anderson remained at the club for 411 consecutive days without making a single appearance before being shipped out on loan to Aldershot. Bruno Ribeiro appeared once almost every 100 days before leaving on loan back to Brazil. The numbers prove hard to take for Rovers faithful.
It is difficult for any un-biased person to assess the facts presented above and draw any other conclusion than that Venkys transfer policy has been a complete and utter failure. As owners, you’d be assessed on your general running of club, choice of managers, patience, transfer policy as well as success during your tenure. This article wanted to assess one cornerstone of the above in isolation of the others. Theoretically, what would make for a successful transfer policy?
Firstly, one would assess the quality of the squad at a said time and compare it to the one that exists after a set period. In the case of Venkys, the squad looks weaker, on paper, than it was at the time they took over. The balance of the squad is different with some gaps filled whilst others expanded compared to the squad they inherited. The Jordan Rhodes transfer proves to be the one undoubted masterstroke of their reign, even though he joined for a bloated fee of £8 million. The fact that he is young, and British coupled with the transfer fees being paid for British players in the current era (see Steven Fletcher as an example) mean that barring a horrendous injury or a complete 180 degree turn-around in his fortunes on the pitch, Rhodes will leave Rovers for at least the same fee he joined the club under.
Secondly, one would analyze the assets or potential assets a club brings in on the playing front. Venkys brought in a number of young players with a view towards building a side for the future and selling its components on for a profit, or at least that’s what the owners publicly said at the time in late-2010. However, a number of those same players have already moved on and not after having their careers flourish at Rovers. In fact, one could argue that for many of those young hopefuls their careers stalled at Rovers, either through not performing at an adequate level or by the fact that they were not given enough opportunities or the environment to build upon.
Thirdly, one would assess the value of the squad. Looking at the current squad, it is difficult to see how more than £15m would be raised through the sale of the whole first team squad not including Rhodes. Phil Jones was sold for more than that figure. That puts things into perspective.
In a nutshell, it is difficult to find any case for optimism for the owners overall transfer policy. It is interesting that over the four transfer windows that they have been in charge of, they’ve had a number of different people pulling the strings on the ins and outs at the club but the overall results have all been less than acceptable. If their choice of managers has proven to provide the catalyst for Rovers slide towards mid-table obscurity in the Championship, then their transfer policy has provided the long-term back-drop in devaluing and weakening the squad to the point that it arguably belongs where it currently is.
Many analysts considered Rovers squad to be the best in the Championship before a ball was kicked in the summer of 2012. The players undoubtedly under-performed but it still did not change that fact. However, today, it is difficult to hold that point of view any longer. Rovers current squad does not look like anything more than just another average Championship squad that is being carried by the goals of one exceptional player in Jordan Rhodes. If those goals somehow push Rovers back into the Premier League again by the end of May, then Venkys may get another chance to remedy their transfer policy. But if history is a lesson, then one thing is for sure and that is Venkys do not learn from their mistakes as much or as quickly as it is needed in the business of football.
As the hangover in the aftermath of Steve Kean’s departure as manager of Blackburn Rovers subsides, Venkys and their infamous advisers have begun the search for his successor. Without going into too much detail in reviewing the Scots record, it can easily be stated that he holds the worst ever record of any manager in the club’s history. In the words of journalist Richard Jolly, “he was the most loathed manager I’ve ever seen, and arguably the worst one too”.
As fans began to rejoice in a Kean-free era, they have quickly come to the realization that the decision of who replaces Kean lay solely with Venkys and with their track record, at the helm, it does not bode well. Names such as unknown coach Judan Ali, a British coach with an Indian background, have been linked with the job. Some bookmakers have even listed Shebby Singh, Venkys “Global Football Adviser” as a candidate. The current man at the helm, at least in the interim, Eric Black is also among the supposed candidates.
Whilst, rational analysts of the Rovers situation are suggesting that the more time Venkys take in selecting a manager the better for the long-term future of the club, it may be a double-edged sword considering the history of decision-making that the owners have had. As they potentially move down through their short-list for a variety of reasons, what could begin as a well-planned search, could end up being a situation where crazier propositions are considered. A couple such scenarios were detailed above. Nevertheless, it is crucial to highlight the elements that must be considered in selecting the next permanent manager of Rovers.
Firstly, the supporters must be won over. However, insignificant this may sound under normal circumstances, the Blackburn Rovers/Venkys situation is anything but. This, though, does not mean that a crowd-favorite must necessarily be brought back to take over. Both Alan Shearer and Tim Sherwood have been heavily linked and are considered the front-runners for the job. However, fans have reservations about both, especially Shearer. What this does mean, though, is that the reputation of the new manager must not be open to debate. Secondly, management experience is virtually a must. That would appear to rule out Sherwood, although his track-record with Spurs as well as crowd-pulling ability may just about maintain him as a candidate. He does hold a reputation within the game which most ex-players have which may just about balance out their lack of management experience if they have the right coaching team alongside them. Think more Jurgen Klinsmann than Lothar Matthaus when it comes to how a rookie season could turn out for a novice.
Next, crucially, supporters must not link the new man with Steve Kean in any shape or form. Eric Black, whilst a respected coach within the game, was hired under Steve Kean. That, in itself, should be a red light to Venkys irrespective of results over the next game or two in between appointing a manager. Finally, despite the fact that experience is preferable, the new manager must have the motivation, desire and drive to do well for the club and not see it as a way back into the shop window, in case they have been out of the management merry-go-around for a while. The next Blackburn Rovers manager must tick as much out of the requirements laid out above.
Considering Rovers current squad, it is almost certain that with some organization, especially defensively, the individual ability of players should be enough to push the team to finish in the promotion spots at the end of the season. Any man who comes in would be expected to be automatically promoted if not win the league title. Rovers have not performed well this season but have picked up a good amount of points largely due to match-winning goals by players like Nuno Gomes among others, even when they were second best over ninety minutes.
So whilst there are four considerations to make, only one is a virtual “deal breaker”. At this point, we’ll run through some of the names mentioned and apply the logic illustrated above.
Alan Shearer, Tim Sherwood and Garry Flitcroft
Seen as the early front-runner for the job, it is rumored that Rovers approached Spurs over the weekend for Sherwood and may have been knocked back. Shearer and Sherwood have strong reputations within the country, albeit not as managers. They would command the respect of the playing squad instantly and the fans, despite all reservations, would start off completely behind either of the candidates if they are ultimately chosen as managers, even if neither may have been the automatic first choice for supporters. Their lack of management experience counts against them, but Sherwood has been part of a strong Spurs back-room in recent years. Neither may be the ideal candidate and they are definitely not “safe” choices but the factors highlighted previously mean that they are still viable and rational options for Venkys.
Flitcroft, on the other hand, has had his hand at management over recent seasons. He has formed a team with fan favorite Matt Jansen at Chorley. However, they have not set the world alight at the lower leagues yet. Whilst the potential may exist there, it may be a riskier appointment than either of the former two candidates and patience may be a little thinner than with either of the former two.
He has plenty of experience at both Championship and Premier League level. The Irishman definitely knows how to get his sides promoted. The problem lies with keeping them there. Is that an element Rovers should be focusing on right now? Probably not. He is definitely his own man and would have the squad and supporters behind him from the get go. Logically he has to be one of the first people interviewed but the key word used is “logic”.
As the days pass, more weight is given to the possibility that the unknown quantity has the sort of profile Venkys have been dreaming of. His Indian roots could be a match made in heaven for them, but neither the supporters, nor the players would be convinced of his appointment being anything but a fantasy choice by the owners. It is unlikely that supporters would get behind his appointment and the pressure would be on the young coach from day one. He does not hold the sort of reputation that would off-set his lack of experience at any level.
Purely for the fact that he has been involved as a member of Kean’s backroom staff, Venkys would be advised to give the supporters a clean break and avoid appointing Black. It is time for a fresh page to be taken out and bringing someone from the outside would be highly recommended. Supporters would certainly remain skeptical of his appointment as it would be seen as more of the same from Venkys.
Another “safe” choice like McCarthy. He would tick most of the boxes for Rovers but question marks remain over his motivation to return to management after 3 years out of the game.
Whilst he is more charismatic than the other two “safe” choices mentioned above, Holloway has a strong reputation in the game especially at Championship level. Question marks exist over his ability to offer a tactically astute side at the highest level but one thing that cannot be disputed is that he likes his teams to play an attractive style of football. Fans would be happy with his appointment and the players would fall in line too.
Whilst he was not a legend at the club, his Rovers past is a crucial part of the overall package that Hill offers. He has lower-league experience and worked wonders at Rochdale. Currently at Barnsley, the gloss on a potential future at Rovers has worn off to a degree as he has a losing record at his current club.
Joined Rovers during Paul Ince’s time at the club but since has moved on to manage MK Dons where he put one past Kean’s Rovers earlier this season, but who hasnt? He is only 32 years old but has extensive experience in management considering his age. He may be an outsider for the job and supporters would probably be hoping for the best with someone like him but he should be in the same sort of boat as an option for Venkys as Shearer and Sherwood.
The Lancashire Telegraph has largely been spot-on with its reporting of on-goings at the club in recent months and if their list of candidates is anything to go by then names like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may also be in the reckoning. He’s currently managing Molde in Norway but has a contract that is winding down in a month. Moving back to the North West of England so close to Manchester United may also appeal to a man who would surely be dreaming of succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson. His reputation is held in high-regard both in England as well as in Europe. However, considering his growing reputation and Manchester United links, would Rovers want to approach a manager who may not want to be at the club after a couple of years if he’s successful?
Henrik Larsson has also been linked but it is difficult to see that being anything other than speculation. One man who has not been linked to the job yet, but should be, is Simon Grayson. His Blackburn Rovers past means that supporters would get behind him from the out-set. Furthermore, he is probably the most successful ex-Rovers player who has tried his hand at management in the current era. He has currently taken a Jordan Rhodes-less Huddersfield side to near the top of the Championship and with his familiarity with Rhodes’ game it could prove doubly beneficial to approach Grayson. He has had a winning record at all 3 of the clubs he has managed winning almost half of the games he has been in-charge. If he is not on the Rovers short-list, he very well should be. Another name who has not been linked with the club is Brighton’s Gustavo Poyet. He got his club promoted and likes to play attractive football. His reputation in world football is up there due to his playing career and a bright future awaits the Uruguayan.
Whilst there is no candidate that stands out as the exceptional one, there are cases for most of the names that have been linked with the job. However, there are well defined reasons that should rule out some of the candidates from the out-set. If it was up to this writer to suggest a five-man shortlist then the names of Grayson, Sherwood, Solskjaer, Poyet and McCarthy would be on it, giving a fair balance in terms of the main factors that should be considered by the owners when it comes to appointing a permanent manager. It’s times like this when Rovers supporters were hoping the decision was being taken by John Williams, the club’s former Chairman.
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With relegation confirmed for Blackburn Rovers after a 11-year spell in the Premier League, their longest ever run in the top flight, in the post-war period, supporters, once again, turned their anger towards the owners, Venkys, and, manager, Steve Kean. As the dust begins to settle on the disastrous season, the mainstream media, for the first time, has taken an active interest in the on-goings at Ewood Park. Some of the “revelations” of the past few days have been well known to most of the supporters for the good part of the past 6 months. Nevertheless, with Steve Kean emphatically stating that “I’m here for the long term” as well as the owners being “100% right for the club” as well as how “these are exciting times for the club”, one has to wonder what happens next and whether Venkys are too out of touch with reality to be able to salvage the situation and stabilize a sinking ship.
If you ask any Rovers supporter whether there is anything Venkys can do to make them want to retain them as owners, the answer would be a resounding and instinctive “no”. However, if one approaches the situation as a realist, considering the fact that the ideal scenario of Venkys wanting to sell the club and potential buyers coming forward to make an acceptable offer to Venkys may not exist, supporters may have to reconsider the “no negotiation” stance that they rightfully hold. At this point, we want to present a “four-point plan” which is likely to “reset” the situation between owners and the supporters. The question, however, remains do the owners actually care what the fans think? And do they really want to make a success of their tenure? If the answers to those are yes, then they need to take a close look at the following, not for inspiration but for application.
1) Sack Steve Kean
Steve Kean undoubtedly has a poor results record in “management”, the primary criteria of judging a football manager. Whichever way he may want to spin the situation, the facts remain facts as highlighted as early as December 2011. Kean is, without a shadow of a doubt, beyond the point of no return with supporters and its not purely down to results on the pitch. His handling of the media, dubious transfers and team selection, the lack of acknowledgement of Rovers plight, and what fans see as a disrespect to their existence and views, combined with the circumstances within which he got the job in the first place, as well the “unsackable” tag which has been given to him have not made Kean a popular man. Whilst Kean survived the first wave of criticism which hit their peak during December 2011, the national media failed to look too closely at the facts, and Rovers supporters decided to “back off” in the interest of supporting the side in the most complete fashion. Instead of acknowledging that, Kean came out with ludicrous statements such as one where he said he receives “500 letters of support from fans everyday”. This time around, on the back of relegation, the national media is no longer as negligent and Rovers are under the microscope and so is Kean. Venkys should have sacked their man by now, but they must not waste another second in doing so and that is the first step towards “salvation”.
2) Acknowledge their Mistakes
Even before replacing the manager, Venkys must come out and finally communicate with the fans in a transparent and honest fashion. The whole footballing world is aware of Rovers plight and it is clear that the decisions that the owners have taken in the last 18 months have resulted in relegation. Yes, the owners are new to football and they have made mistakes, but if “no one is to blame” as Venkatesh Rao states during a telephone interview with Indian media only a few days after relegation, then Venkys are delusional. There is enough blame to go around and the owners need to acknowledge that before they continue promising success and achievement for the future, something which they have been doing, foolishly, from day one.
3) Hire an Experienced and Popular Manager
The title says it all. At this point, Venkys need to think long and hard about the next manager. Not only must he be the right choice from a footballing perspective but he must also be “popular” enough with the fan-base in order to quell the frustration, worries and apathy which Venkys and Kean have instilled onto the fans. Supporters have lost faith and have spoken with their feet. Approximately 3,000 fewer fans were attending home games from just before the end of December, compared to after it. That is a crushing blow to the owners, even though they do not seem to understand its implications yet. More fans are expected to “walk away” by the time the upcoming season begins largely of the post-relegation fiasco including Kean’s unbelievable press conference for the Chelsea game. Names like Avram Grant and Dave Jones, who has an SEM link are simply not going to work. The new manager must bring the fans together and there must be no inkling of controversy around his appointment. Alan Curbishley, a tandem of Graeme Souness with club legend Tugay, as well as Mick McCarthy may all have the experience, personality and character to get supporters “on-side” and would all be available for work. However, it would be a valid question as to who in their right minds would work for Venkys with the way they have been running the club, and that leads us to the next point.
4) Bring in the Professionals to Take Care of Business
This measure is on par with sacking Kean as manager in terms of its revitalizing effect and importance. Venkys must approach to re-hire John Williams and Tom Finn. Whilst it is unclear whether both men would be interested to return to Rovers in the first place, the Indians need to make it clear to them that they will have carte blanche in re-stabilizing the club and will have no interference from Pune. A communication line will be re-established with supporters, the media, and the owners and the club can be run the way any good club is supposed to be run. They will be popular appointments with the fans and bring back a feeling of familiarity as well as stability to Ewood Park. The playing staff will also be relieved and question marks over the “running of the club” would be quashed immediately just with their presence. Venkys will gain a sense of legitimacy in the process too. People can accept mistakes, but to repeat the same mistakes and to be oblivious to your responsibilities would be a fatal error on the part of the owners.
With a critical summer coming up for Blackburn Rovers, the right decisions need to be taken on who to sell, who to retain and who to buy in order to best position the club for the upcoming campaign. Williams and Finn have the background, experience and know-how to undertake those tasks as smoothly as possible whilst having as blind a support from fans as possible, in the process. With them at the helm there will be no question of vested interests over transfers either.
Blackburn Rovers is currently in the doldrums. Steve Kean and Venkys may not want to acknowledge it and may be promising “exciting times ahead” but delusions such as those do nothing but to infuriate an already tortured fan-base. In an ideal scenario, the owners would decide to sell the club. However, Venkys have been adamant that they would not consider a sale. If they are serious about that and they are serious about getting it right as they have been telling many people in recent months, then the time for change and action is here and now. The four point plan presented here does not guarantee success on the pitch. But it does promise to unify the fan-base and get people to focus on matters on the field instead of distractions, largely caused by mistakes undertaken by Venkys, during the past 18 months. It would also give Venkys as close a clean slate as possible with many fans, even though it may be a case of “forgive but not forget”. Digressing from any of those four points would negate the plan. This is emphatically true in terms of sacking Kean and approaching John Williams and Tom Finn. If one was a betting man, based on Venkys prior history at Rovers, you’d have to think that they would not go through with such a plan, but if they thought long and hard about it and found that their goals match those highlighted initially in this piece, then they’d be foolish not to. As much as they are the actual owners, supporters see Venkys as custodians, because after all, in their eyes, this is the club that Jack Walker built.
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When Jack Walker officially took over Blackburn Rovers in January 1991, even the most day-dreaming of supporters could not have foreshadowed what lay ahead for the club. Threatened with relegation from the old Second Division (equivalent to Championship) at the time, the club would become champions of the English Premier League in fours years. Walker restructured Ewood Park, building the Jack Walker Stand, spending approximately £20 million to do so. Money was no issue, for a period at the club, with some of the best of British talents joining the club, from manager Kenny Dalglish to Alan Shearer, Chris Sutton, David Batty, Graeme Le Saux, and Tim Sherwood among others. Supporters have had to endure taunts of having “bought” the Premier League title, even though the club spent just under £2 million more than second place Manchester United in assembling its squad. In fact, Manchester United spent more money on transfers that season than Rovers had. Uncle Jack, as he is affectionately known, would also invest in the town of Blackburn and is regarded as a hero within the community as much as within the football club.
Walker watched tearfully as his beloved Rovers side confirmed its relegation with a 0-0 draw at Ewood Park against Manchester United near the end of the 1998/99 season. He wouldn’t live to see Rovers gain promotion as he passed away, aged 71, at the start of their promotion campaign of 2000/01. Two of the players that played a key role in getting Rovers back to the Premier League had been David Dunn, still at the club today, having returned from a spell at Birmingham City, and Damien Duff, now at Fulham. Marlon Broomes, Martin Taylor, Damien Johnson, and Jonathan Douglas all played some role during that season. All 6 players were products of the successful Academy. As was Jack Walker’s ultimate goal with Rovers, he wanted to make it a self-financing club in the long-term, mirroring the Manchester United youth development of the early-to-mid nineties. It was in 1996, that an official “youth structure” was put in place at the club, bringing in players such as Dunn and Duff into the system even before the current facilities existed. The class of Dunn and Duff was losing finalists in the FA Youth Cup in 1998. However, it would be a few months after Jack Walker’s passing that his brainchild, the Academy would be inaugurated.
The Brockhall Village Academy, opened in 2001, cost approximately £4.75 million as state of the art facilities on par with top training facilities anywhere in Europe. It includes 6 full-size pitches, indoor training facilities, indoor running track, outdoor running “hill”, a swimming pool, goalkeeper training facilities as well as accommodation for the youth players. In the 2001 FA Youth Cup, Rovers would be losing finalists again. In terms of league activity, the Rovers youth side won the U-17 Premier Academy League in the 1998/1999 and the U-19 Premier Academy League in 2002/3 before the U-19 and U-17 leagues were merged to form the U-18 Academy Premier League in 2004/5, when Rovers won the inaugural edition. In fact, when it comes to a roll of honor in the Premier Academy League, Blackburn Rovers are the second most successful side after Arsenal, winning 3 leagues, compared to Arsenal’s 5. Rovers and Arsenal are the only ever sides to have won Academy Premier Leagues in all 3 age categories. Even West Ham’s heralded Youth Academy, has not tasted any glory, in the aftermath of producing the “Golden Generation” of 1998-2000, boasting the likes of Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and Frank Lampard, when they lifted 1 FA Youth Cup and back-to-back U-19 Academy Premier League titles.
In terms of coaching and managing the set-up, Bobby Downes, formerly involved with youth football at Aston Villa, Port Vale and Watford, where he was Director of Youth Football, under former England manager, Graham Taylor, was recruited in 1997 to a similar role at Rovers, eventually being the man responsible for running the Academy when it was officially set-up. The thinking ahead was important in terms of strategic planning from the club in the mid-1990′s, putting into place the tools necessary to maximize the output from the structure even before it may have physically been there. During his tenure, Downes oversaw numerous players from under his stewardship being promoted to the Rovers first team squad, some more permanently than others. They included Dunn, Duff, Martin Taylor, Jay McEveley, Paul Gallagher, Matt Derbyshire, Junior Hoilett, and Martin Olsson, who was recruited to the Academy at the age of 17 from Sweden in 2006. In some cases, even when certain players were deemed not good enough for the Rovers first team, they were sold off, usually to Championship clubs, and thus raised important revenue for the club. That list included players such as Damien Johnson, Ben Burgess, Neil Danns, Jemal Johnson, and Jonathan Douglas. Under his stewardship, Rovers youth excelled in competitive football as illustrated through their performances in both the Academy Premier League and FA Youth Cup. In the summer of 2009, whilst Sam Allardyce was manager, Bobby Downes left the club by mutual consent. Phil Cannon was recruited to become the new Academy Manager.
Cannon, boasting an impressive background in youth development, was previously Head of Youth Development at Swindon, where he oversaw the early development of Theo Walcott, but more recently was Head of Recruitment at Everton, who are widely regarded as running one of the best youth set-ups in the country, producing an endless array of players including Wayne Rooney, Francis Jeffers, Leon Osman, Jack Rodwell and most recently Ross Barkley among others. Cannon, interviewed at the time of hiring, by the official Rovers website stated, “If that first team was full of local boys, it would be fantastic because they are playing for ‘their’ team. I think the locals can identify more with them and I think the local boys do try a little bit harder”. Since then, Phil Jones, Grant Hanley, Adam Henley, Josh Morris, Jason Lowe, and Nick Blackman have been promoted to the first team squad, with some such as Jones, Hanley and Lowe playing integral roles during the last couple of seasons. Obviously, some of the credit for their development still lay with the previous regime under Downes, nevertheless, the good work that the current staff including Cannon, Alan Miller as Head of Recruitment, David Lowe as Head of Youth Coaching, as well as team coaches for the U-18 and U-16 sides, Terry McPhillips, Simon Ireland and Tony Grant cannot go unnoticed.
The current edition of the Rovers youth set-up has seen the U-18 side make the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup where they will play bitter rivals Burnley in a two-legged affair. Labelled by on-lookers as possibly the best batch of talent to come through Brockhall at once, a number of key players have alternated between Reserves League football and the Academy Premier League this season. Stand-out performers include the cream of the crop Hugo Fernandez, a young Spaniard, who only turned 18 earlier this year and can play anywhere along the middle of the pitch, from defence to an attacking midfield position. He has taken strides in his development this season as he has been given a more advanced role compared to his early times at the club. He has recently been making more regular appearances for the Reserves although still plays a crucial role at Academy level especially in the FA Youth Cup. John O’Sullivan is a young Irish midfielder who is comfortable across midfield and has played a few times for the Reserves this season too. He’s also been capped at U-19 level by Ireland. Jack O’Connell, a left sided defender comfortable at center back or left back was capped by the England U-18 side in March 2012. Robbie Cotton, long hailed as one of the best players that the Academy had produced, judging by the player’s potential, has been promoted to the first team squad this season, although he has yet to make an appearance for them. He is still involved in the FA Youth Cup and scored the winning penalty in a thrilling Quarter Final victory over Newcastle, and features regularly for Gary Bowyer’s Reserve side.
If Blackburn Rovers overcome Burnley, they would be a step closer to winning the FA Youth Cup for the first time since 1959, something that players such as Duff, Dunn, or Jones failed to do, as well as confirming their promise. Considering the club’s current fortunes on and off the pitch, it would not be beyond the scope of reality if some of the current Academy batch began featuring for the first team squad by next season. At the same time, the Blackburn Rovers Academy has helped fund itself and more-over through the transfer of players. All in all, just under £60m has been raised since 1994 through the transfer of players, an average of £3.3m a year. Some of the players have ended up winning Champions Leagues, Premier Leagues, and have gone on to play at World Cups and European Championships for their countries. Rovers hold 2 of the top 5 most expensive Academy transfers in English football history, with both Damien Duff and Phil Jones, who cost their future clubs a reported £17m each. Only Andy Carroll, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Owen Hargreaves (if you want to include cross-border transfers) have ever gained their respective academies more money. Considering the overall picture, coupled with Blackburn being a town in arguably the most hotly-contested catchment area for recruitment of youth players, with up to 30 clubs, in competing for youngsters in the North West, it becomes clear that the backbone of the Academy factory floor has been key in maintaining Blackburn Rovers position on and off the pitch in the Premier League, in what was Uncle Jack’s parting and, hopefully, eternal, gift to the club.
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November 19, 2010 heralded a new era in the history of one of the founding clubs of the English leagues, Blackburn Rovers. Venkys London Ltd, a newly established subsidiary of Venkys India, a regional poultry giant, completed the purchase of the club from the Walker’s Trust, which had been running the club since the death of Jack Walker. Immediate talk of European football, and bringing in top quality international players followed. You wouldnt begrudge the supporters for beginning to dream. Sam Allardyce was managing the club and having kept Rovers up in his first season, after taking over from Paul Ince, he followed it up with a respectable 10th place finish and a league cup semi-final.
Whilst Allardyce had his detractors in the stands, due to a combination of his history at Bolton, his so-called long-ball football, and presumed negativity and throwing in the towel against the “Big four”, you wouldn’t argue with the relative success Allardyce had at the club with the lack of finances at his disposal and an average looking squad, which continued to see its best players being sold off to help finance the running of the club. This was a strategy that had worked well for the club in the past since the days of Mark Hughes, but it arguably only worked due to stable management off the field as well as entrusting the squad to the hands of a safe manager. What you could be sure with Allardyce was that Rovers rarely ever lost against teams in the bottom half, especially at home.
Cue forward to December 13, 2010 and Sam Allardyce is sacked with the club lying in 13th place and 5 points outside the relegation zone. The owners said it was a decision taken in line with their “wider ambitions and plans for the club”. They also said that they wanted a manager who would instill “good football” and take Rovers to “fourth or fifth in the league”. They hired Steve Kean, one of the coaches in Allardyce’s backroom staff, on temporary basis. Kean had no managerial experience, but was considered to be a respected figure within the coaching community. Whatever people felt about Allardyce, the sacking was a shock at a critical time in the season, which would define whether a club pushes for a top 10 finish or ends the season battling relegation. The owners clearly did not understand what the latter was. Kean took over with a cloud of uncertainty over both his appointment as well as the direction the club were heading. Within a few days Kean was given a contract till the end of the season, after a 1-1 home draw against a poor bottom of the table West Ham, as the owners seemingly continued to search for the man who would take Rovers towards Champions League football.
Kean began to feel more comfortable in his surroundings, especially during press conferences and began talking about attractive football, qualifying for European competition, bringing in young players as well as making the supporters happy, all of which were easy digs at Allardyce. One thing Allardyce had done at the club was making Ewood Park a fortress. Only Chelsea had Arsenal had won during his last half a season in charge. Throughout the previous season Rovers only suffered 3 home defeats to Manchester City, Spurs and Everton. In celebration of a his full-time hiring, Kean led Rovers to their first defeat at home against a bottom half club in almost 18 months when they were blanked 2-0 by Stoke on Boxing Day. On January 4, Rovers Chairwoman, Anuradha Desai spoke of a “2-3 year contract for Kean who is a hard-working man”. This happened on the back of Kean’s infamous monthly trips to Pune for some face-time with the onwers. On January 20, he signed his 2 and a half year deal to end speculation over the management position at the club and seemingly provide stability. His record at the time had been 2 wins, 1 draw and 3 defeats.
Kean took Rovers on a 10-match win-less run from February until the last day of April when Rovers won 1-0 at home to Bolton after finding themselves under massive pressure with the poor league run. Throughout it all, Kean spoke of “more attractive performances”, “positive results”, and bringing in “younger players like Hoilett and Jones”. Granted Rovers rigid style had loosened a little but it would be a hard push to quantify either of those two first claims. The final statement was something that Kean tried to take credit for even though it had been his predecessor who introduced both to the squad. However, it is fair to say that Hoilett’s form took a turn for the better under Kean. Rovers went on to win only one more game until the end of the season, a final day victory at Wolves to seal the club’s fate in the Premier League; however Kean spoke of “nine positive results” which ran towards the end of the season. These included draws against Blackpool and Birmingham at home and West Ham away, and only two wins.
The 2010/11 season was the 11th successive one for Rovers in the Premier League, during a period where they have finished in the top 6 twice, won a domestic trophy and reached a number of semi-finals too. The season began in the worst fashion with a poor home defeat against Wolves and that was followed up with two further losses. Rovers picked up its first win against Arsenal in late-September but did not use it as a platform as the poor season and results continued. Home losses had now become a regular occurrence at Ewood Park. By December 17, 2011, almost one year to the anniversary of Allardyce’s sacking, Rovers found themselves in 19th place with only 10 points picked up from a possible 48. It was the Bolton fixture last season which sealed Allardyce’s fate. It may well be the same fixture but at Ewood Park in a few days that seals the fate of his successor, although Rovers fans wont hold their breaths on that.
Whilst we have tried to remain objective throughout, it may be pertinent now to present a set of facts and statistics on Kean’s reign at Blackburn Rovers by analyzing the facets and elements that are important when judging any manager’s tenure.
When Kean took over one of the first changes he promised was playing attacking football with two strikers. Allardyce had favored one-striker systems with David Dunn usually favored to play behind the lone target-man. Kean proved to be a man of his word in the early days lining up with two natural strikers on a number of occasions including a game at home to West Brom, during which Niko Kalinic and Roque Santa Cruz both started. However, soon enough as “positive results” failed to materialize Kean reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation which he has stuck with throughout his tenure without exception.
One of the major criticisms of Kean has been a lack of flexibility in his tactics. It does not seem that Rovers ever set up based upon how the opponents play. Kean sets his team up in the same fashion regardless of opposition and regardless of in-match events. He does not react to changes during a match. Very rarely do you see any tactical changes from Rovers under Kean. At best, personnel changes will take place.
In early days, Kean’s side was set out to play a more short-passing game, which was pleasing on the eye but not reaping the results. Backers suggested it needed time. Detractors suggested teams in Rovers position do not have the luxury of time nor the quality of players to pull it off. As time has passed, Kean has begun bringing back more and more elements of Allardyce’s side. However, he has not been successful in optimizing the performances which Allardyce got out of his side.
Only, Stoke City have less of the ball than Blackburn this season. Rovers average less than 42% possession per game. Rovers are 18th in the league when one looks at successful passes, where they stand at only 72%. They also have the second lowest amount of shots per game, averaging 12. Even worse is the fact that Rovers have the least amount of possession at home in the whole of the league at 39%. What is more striking is that no home side in all of Europe’s top leagues of Spain, Italy, Germany, France and England has less of the ball at home than Rovers.
Furthermore, only Stoke plays a higher percentage of long balls to short ones in the Premier League than Rovers. It’s also Stoke that is the only side in the league that averages less short passes per game. Rovers only average 270 passes a game, a shockingly low amount. Whilst, Rovers and Stoke have similar sorts of statistics as each other, one striking difference is the fact that Stoke wins the most aerial duels in the league, while Rovers the 14th highest. By trying to play a direct long-ball style, dependent upon set pieces, Rovers would need to be winning far more 50-50s and aerial challenges. For a side that depends so much on playing without the ball, the off-the-ball defending is even worse. Kean has been unable to get the defense organized from day one and Rovers concede schoolboy goals which could be prevented by closing down especially shots from long range, not giving away cheap fouls in dangerous areas as well as better marking on set pieces, all basics in modern football coaching. No clean sheets all season says it all.
Overall, one gets the sense of imbalance between defence and attack in almost every Rovers line-up with far too many light-weight attack-minded players lining up and arguably only one defensive player, if any, in the front 6. That puts a lot of pressure on the defence, and even though Rovers are averaging more goals than usual, they let in far too many easy goals to even reap the benefits of misusing statistics like Kean had recently when he said “we’re 6th in the league when it comes to scoring goals”. In terms of the type of goal scoring, Rovers score almost 40% of their goals from set pieces. Sam Allardyce who?
Under Steve Kean there has been a huge turnover of players, both in and out of Ewood Park. One of the first things that Kean did when he took over was to gain the support of senior players. That was achieved by signing them all onto longer, more lucrative deals. During his first season, Ruben Rochina and Mauro Formica joined on undisclosed amounts, although Rochina cost one-third what the agent brokering the deal made out of the deal. Little detail is available on Formica’s transfer. Kean also signed Roque Santa Cruz and Jermaine Jones on loan deals. The latter was one of the key performers that helped keep Rovers up in the Premier League. More should have been done to sign him this season on a permanent deal as his performances had been priceless. He made a lesser team get better results than it even should have.
This summer, Kean signed Myles Anderson, son of an agent close to Steve Kean, Serbian international midfielder Radosav Petrovic, David Goodwillie, Brazilian journeyman Bruno Ribeiro, Simon Vukcevic, Yakubu, Scott Dann and Jordan Slew. Anderson was signed “for the future” whilst Ribeiro, 28, and a right back, a problem area for Rovers this season “has not adapted”, according to Kean. Goodwillie, signed from Dundee United, was highly rated in Scotland but after starting a couple of games early in the season has been sitting on the bench for most of it and looks short of the pace or skill to succeed in the league. Dann has had mixed performances this season at center back, whilst Vukcevic has only recently started after an injury to Junior Hoilett. Petrovic has not caught up with the pace of the Premier League and seems too similar to Nzonzi, who is already at the club. Jordan Slew has been more a case of Jordan who? On a brighter note, Rochina and Formica have both played regularly for the club this season. Only Yakubu can be judged a success as of this point.
Looking at the current make-up of the starting line-up, having signed a right back in Ribeiro, Jason Lowe has been playing there in Michel Salgado’s absence. Most recently at home to West Brom, Salgado was said to be injured by Kean, even though he had traveled to Hamburg to play a charity match a few days earlier. Morten Gamst Pedersen has featured in central midfield even though Petrovic was signed for that area. Kean has spoken about signing a goal-scoring striker in January even though he signed 3 strikers in the summer window.
Overall, there has been a poor handling of transfers in and out of the club. Who has signed these players is a valid question. If it has been the manager, then that’s another nail in his performance as manager. If it has not been the manager who has signed them, then that creates a whole array of different questions.
At the end of the day, managers are judged on results. Whether the supporters like him or not, if they win, everyone is happy, unless you are Brazil and then winning isn’t everything. Steve Kean’s league record as Blackburn Rovers manager reads played 37, won 7, drawn 11 and lost 19 matches. He is one short of a 38 game Premier Leaague season, but currently stands at 32 points during those 37 matches and has 0.86 points per game. Even if he picks up a win in his next game, 35 points is a very low total that would result in relegation during most seasons. His record this season is even worse, as a stand-alone one. He has picked up only 0.62 points per game, winning only 19.6% of points available.
Kean’s 2011/12 record is even more striking when put across some of the worst managers to lead teams in the Premier League, including a man who many considered the worst manager they had ever seen at Rovers, Paul Ince. Ince was in charge for 17 matches, ironically, and led his side to 3 wins, 4 draws, 10 defeats with a total of 13 points, giving him 25.5% of points on offer.
The worst managerial record, in terms of percentage of points won against matches managed, in Premier League history falls to Portsmouth’s Tony Adams who had 15 games in charge. He won twice, drew 4 times and lost 9 times, giving him 22.2% of the points on offer, still a higher than Kean has managed this season. Even Avram Grant, relegated twice, with Portsmouth and West Ham, has a better record. He has managed a Premier League side 63 times, won 12 times, drawn 18 and lost 33 times, giving him 28.6% of the points on offer. Those facts ultimately mean that Steve Kean’s stewardship this season makes him the worst manager in Premier League history. Overall, even when coupled with his poor record last season, he is still among the worst managers that have ever led a team at this level.
The half-time team talk is one of the cornerstones of a manager’s role. Endless games are won from losing positions. Endless games are lost from winning ones and a lot hinges on those 15 minutes which a manager has with his players. During Steve Kean’s 37 Premier League ties, the following holds true. In the 2010/11 season, if matches ended at the end of the first half, Rovers would have had 5 wins, 12 draws and only 3 defeats under Kean. They would’ve had 27 points instead of only 22. However, what is more striking is if one only looks at the second half scores, Rovers would’ve had 1 win, 6 draws and 11 losses. Overall, Rovers won only 2 points from losing positions and lost 9 points from winning ones.
In the current campaign, if only first half scores were taken into account, Rovers would’ve had 3 wins, 8 draws and only 3 losses giving them 17 points. If second half scores only stood, then Rovers would’ve had 3 wins, 3 draws and 10 defeats, giving them 12 points. In either scenario, Rovers would have been better off than now. The side has won 5 points from losing positions and lost 10 from winning positions.
What does this all mean? Effectively, when it comes to pitting wits against other managers, Kean almost always comes out the loser. A lot also goes back to his inflexible tactics and the lack of changing things as a reaction to what the other side does. Maybe he simply does not know what to do. At the same time, a key element of Rovers season has been dropping back deeper and deeper in second halves especially if in a non-losing position. As that happens, Kean stands motionless on the sideline, seemingly giving his blessing to a suicidal move, which has cost Rovers at least 10 points (statistically).
Press Conferences & Attitude
Some of the press has recently picked up on the fact that Bolton’s Owen Coyle is currently going through form which is even worse than Steve Kean’s Rovers. They’ve begun to wonder why Kean has been getting the bulk of the criticism lately whilst Coyle has been safe, at least in the papers. Coyle hasnt talked a big game during his time at Bolton. He has been humble, kept his head low and taken the criticism on the chin. In fact, he recently said that fans have the right to boo their performances and took responsibility for their predicament, as any manager would and should.
Steve Kean, on the other hand, has only tried to keep one friend during his time as Rovers manager, and that is the Chairwoman, Mrs. Desai. It has kept Kean his job for this long, but its a losing battle for him. He has not tried to be diplomatic with the fans at any time. He has never tried to be realistic with his targets, promising Champions League football within a couple of seasons, European football in the near future, and top 10 football when at the bottom of the table. These assertions infuriate supporters who are watching the side on a weekly basis and can see what the side is capable of and what it is not.
The general media does not follow events at Rovers too closely and is mostly arm-chair followers who comment from time to time, hence some criticism of the fans for being fickle as well as a “good manager does not become a bad one overnight”, famously quipped by Rovers legend, Alan Shearer. The stats disagree with the ludicrous assertion that Kean was ever a good manager.
A manager manages the resources at his disposal and that includes creating a harmonious atmosphere at the stadium, bringing in the right players and ultimately getting the right results. Kean most recently in the aftermath of the West Brom defeat said that “the table will look better if we beat Bolton”. In reality, it will not. Rovers will still be in the relegation zone even if they are closer to getting out, they will be no closer to moving towards the “top 10″ fantasy which Kean has been selling to the owners for a long time. His infamous “only 1% of fans are against me” comment also served to add tension to an already heated situation.
Had Kean taken an approach like Owen Coyle has done off the pitch, chances are Rovers fans would have received him better, although the circumstances over his hiring would have always had a dark cloud over him and this marriage may have been doomed from the start. Nevertheless, if Kean had gotten the results, none of the other things would have mattered and ultimately putting all subjectivity aside, results are what matters and Kean has failed miserably.
What Happens Next?
A majority of Rovers fans have prepared themselves for relegation and financial meltdown as a consequence. The running of the club in terms of the financial side currently has major questions marks over it and that is worrying. But as long as Rovers are in the top flight, then supporters would be able to hope for better days on the financial and management fronts.
Blackburn Rovers end the calendar year with two tough away matches at Liverpool and Manchester United. Money will be on the home sides during those games. That leaves a do or die match at home to struggling Bolton. Anything less than a win would make it impossible for anyone to save the club, considering that Rovers would have to play 6 matches against the “Big 6″ during their last 19 games. That would leave 13 matches of which Rovers would need to win at least 9 of them to survive. That is Champions League form. Win against Bolton and things do not change that much but at least there is more realism to the scenario.
At either rate, Steve Kean should have been already sacked. No logical reason points towards his long stay at the club. There is nothing that supports anything that he is doing is leading the club towards any light. Win, lose or draw against Bolton and Kean has to go. Venkys already take the blame for hiring such an incompetent manager in the first place, but they may somehow buy some reprieve if they choose the right man to succeed him. They must look at facts and not hire a man without the right experience, or winning track record. Football is a simple game. Stats and facts usually don’t lie. Upturn in fortune does not happen baselessly. Kean’s delusion may lead him to actually believe that he feels that “we will go on a long unbeaten run any game now” but there is nothing to even suggest that Rovers will win back to back games let alone go unbeaten.
Note: Only managers with at least 15 matches managed at Premier League levels throughout their career were considered for the statistics provided above