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Blackburn’s baffling owners: Strange behaviour at Ewood Park

As Blackburn embark on their Championship campaign, the club’s fans will take some heart from the fact that the squad has been bolstered this summer. However, looking at owners’ Venky’s treatment of manager Steve Kean and approach in the transfer market raises some huge question marks, and further proves that the Indian conglomerate have no idea how to run a football club.

Despite some plucky performances and results at times last season, Rovers looked like a relegation contender for the majority of the campaign, and in the end were demoted to the second-tier of English football. The dramatic downturn in the team’s fortunes since the harsh sacking of Sam Allardyce back in December 2010 has been startling, with the club’s fans pinning the blame on the owners and Steve Kean.

The Scottish coach was a surprise selection to replace Allardyce given his inexperience, and has had to face a brunt of abuse from the Ewood Park faithful. Protests to have Kean sacked and constant dissatisfaction from the fans throughout 2011-12 saw the coach as a favourite to be axed, but Venky’s stood by their man, even after relegation.

A bit of loyalty in football can be admired, but after their continued backing of Kean, Venky’s have completely changed their approach. New director of football Shebby Singh has come out and stated that Kean will be sacked if Rovers lose three games in a row this term. Why stand by an inexperienced and under-fire manager for an entire campaign, which results in relegation, and then sack him three games later?

In the transfer market Venky’s actions again have been strange. Rovers were in big trouble at the turn of the year, and needed investment in new players in the January transfer market to stand a chance of avoiding the drop. However, the owners parted less than £2 million to bring little-known Anthony Modeste, Bradley Orr and Marcus Olsson to Ewood. Now that the side have been demoted the owners have invested to bring the likes of Danny Murphy, Nuno Gomes, Dickson Etuhu and Leon Best to Lancashire. Although the Rovers fans will welcome the investment, it is six months too late as the club are stuck in the quagmire of the Championship.

Blackburn have a great chance of bouncing straight back to the top flight at the first time of asking due to the quality in their squad comparative to other sides in the Championship, but it is clear that the club are being mismanaged. No wonder the protests and frustration continue, however Rovers fans should aim their anger at inept owners rather than an inexperienced trainer.

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Race for Premier League survival: Who will stay and who will go?

A scramble for survival at the bottom of the Premier League table is keeping five clubs on their toes and pushing them to the peak of their ability: Who will stay and who will go?

Wolves – 20th – 22 Points

Probably the only certainty for relegation at this stage; Terry Connor’s side have lost eight of their last ten Premier League games, and with a six-point gap separating them and Blackburn, survival seems a million miles away. Along with their position at the bottom of the table, Wolverhampton Wanderers have a particularly difficult run-in, with Sunderland, Manchester City, and an in-form Everton still to face. Given that the Molineux outfit are in terrible form, it looks like Wolves have no chance.

Blackburn – 19th – 28 points

A hard year for Steve Kean has been reflected in Blackburn’s shaky season, but hope can be found in the Rovers’ star men, Yakubu and Junior Hoilett. Although sitting in precarious 19th place, Blackburn will be facing much easier opposition in the next few weeks compared to other relegation candidates. The Lancashire club will come up against a vulnerable Swansea and Tottenham, and will also hope to grab some points against Norwich and Wigan at home. Despite this, Blackburn need to pick up some momentum and get the best out of their danger-man upfront if they are to stave the drop.

Bolton – 18th – 29 points

Although being awarded March’s Premier League Manager of the month award, Owen Coyle has not brought his side out of the drop zone yet; however with a game in-hand Bolton are on the path to survival. Bolton’s starting XI is not the strongest of the bottom five and with a weak attacking force and no prolific goal machine, they need to grit their teeth and play to the best of their ability. With upcoming matches against teams such as Swansea and Aston Villa, the Reebok Stadium side must be optimistic and maybe, just maybe, they could survive another season of top-flight football.

Wigan – 17th – 31 points

A recent run of fantastic form saw Wigan to a 1-0 victory over Premier League champions Manchester United in their last outing, giving the Latics hope. Despite only losing two of their last ten Premier League games, Wigan have one of the hardest run-ins of the bottom five and still have to face opposition such as in-form Arsenal, Fulham, and Newcastle. DW Stadium boss Roberto Martinez will hope his side can keep this run of good form up and will take hope from their “historic” victory over Manchester United. If Wigan can now end their goal drought and keep pushing and striving, they might just avoid demotion.

QPR – 16th – 31 points

A 3-0 win over Swansea City has moved the newly-promoted west London club to 16th. An upturn home form has given Mark Hughes’ side hope after beating Arsenal and Liverpool in consecutive fixtures at Loftus Road. Although having a hard run-in away from home, facing teams such as West Brom, Chelsea and Man City, QPR will hope to claim a scalp or two, and pick up as many points as possible from their home games against Tottenham and Stoke. If they carry on their good-form and keep playing the way they have, QPR could be well on their way to becoming a stable Premier League club.

By Jacob Tucker

Bolton must win against Blackburn for Fabrice Muamba, and their Premier League status

It has been a traumatic week for all concerned with Bolton Wanderers football club. After the horrifying scenes at White Hart Lane last Saturday, the footballing community has held its breath in hope that Fabrice Muamba would overcome what could have been a fatal heart attack, and pull through. The Trotters return to action against Blackburn on Saturday, in a crucial fixture.

Some things are more important than football, and the fact that Muamba is seemingly on the path to recovery after his near-death experience is the most pivotal news for the Reebok Stadium side. After the Trotters’ game against Aston Villa was rightly postponed in midweek, Owen Coyle’s men return to action against Blackburn this weekend.

It is only natural that Muamba will be in the thoughts of the Bolton players when they enter the field of play against Rovers, as it was not easy watching a friend and team-mate struggle for his life at White Hart Lane. The home side should go out and play to win for Muamba when they face Blackburn on Saturday.

However, they also need to play for themselves, as their Premier League status is looking increasingly shaky. With QPR’s unexpected comeback victory over Liverpool on Wednesday night, Bolton find themselves in 18th position ahead of this weekend’s fixture list.

Blackburn, without any malice, will look to catch Bolton cold this weekend as the home side’s players’ thoughts may be elsewhere. Steve Kean’s men have recorded back-to-back victories over Wolves and Sunderland, and are actually on the verge of potential safety, five points ahead of Bolton and the dropzone. An away win would see the Lancashire club move on to 31 points, and may well mean that the relegation battle is between four teams not five.

Owen Coyle has a difficult task in focusing his team for the game at the Reebok Stadium, and will hope that his players will use the ex-England under-21 international’s plight as motivation rather than a source of sorrow and pity. Muamba has shown incredible fighting spirit this week; his football team must do the same this weekend.

Steve Kean take a bow: Your Blackburn U-turn is almost complete

With Blackburn’s 2-0 win over Sunderland on Tuesday night, the Lancashire club have made a massive step towards Premier League safety. Rovers sit six points clear of the relegation zone, a feat that should not be underestimated after their dreadful start to the campaign, and are now in pole position to maintain their top flight status. Steve Kean was a sure thing to get sacked earlier this term, but the Scot has kept his job, and maybe the club in the division.

The abuse and criticism that Kean received over months whilst Blackburn were in the bottom three was unrelenting and merciless; a lesser manager may well have walked away amid the constant slating. Even the Ewood Park fans turned on Kean, and the bookmakers were defied when Kean did not lose his job.

However, the Blackburn side that stepped out against Sunderland in midweek exuded confidence and were good value for their 2-0 win over The Black Cats. Junior Hoilett continues to impress, whilst Yakubu has been a revelation at Ewood Park this term – the pair scored a goal each in the second half to confirm a well-deserved win.

However scoring has not been Blackburn’s issue this term; only the top five clubs in the division have hit the net more than the Lancashire side. Plugging a defence that has conceded 60 goals during the campaign, the second most in the Premier League, has been Kean’s chalenge and would decide the team’s fate.

The win over Sunderland was Rovers second clean sheet in a row and it appears that Kean has managed to get the best out of his youthful rearguard. Errors that blighted the first-half of the season, although not completely eradicated, seem less frequent and the defence seems to be more confident; an obvious side-effect of Kean’s tutelage.

Blackburn’s mini-turnaround at the back is even more impressive when you consider that a number of leading and experienced defenders have left the club in recent times. With Christopher Samba, Ryan Nelsen and Phil Jones amongst the defenders to exit Ewood Park in recent times, the side are obviously in a transition period, which takes time to fine-tune.

Kean was slated in the press, by pundits and a section of the club’s own fans; now that things are looking better he must receive the praise that he deserves. With Wolves looking doomed, QPR having lost five of their last seven games and Wigan and Bolton still inconsistent, Rovers are on the verge of survival; well done Steve Kean.

Kean In, Venkys out

As Blackburn Rovers languish towards the bottom of the Premier League, manager Steve Kean continues to be backed by the club’s Indian owners: The Venkys Group. Despite the current trend in the game of sacking underperforming managers prematurely, fan protests outside Ewood Park and the total inexperience of Scottish coach Steve Kean at this level, Kean still remains on the Lancashire side’s bench. The 44-year-old’s continued employment comes as more of a surprise given Venkys’ lack of patience and harsh sacking of Sam Allardyce back in December 2010. Big Sam had taken charge at Rovers in 2008/09 with the club facing potential relegation, lifted the side to mid-table security, and led Rovers to a 10th placed finish the following campaign. After the Indian organisation’s buyout of the Premier League side in November 2010, Allardyce was dismissed a month later with the club in 13th place in the standings.

Given the backers’ claims of their desire to break into the top six, the appointment of an untried and virtually unknown manager was a shock, never mind his continued employment given Rovers’ final-day escape from relegation last term, and floundering this term. There is no doubt that discarding Allardyce was a foolish and knee-jerk decision by a board of directors bereft of knowledge or experience in the game. Kean’s continued managerial tenure at the club may well have something to do with the widespread condemnation of Big Sam’s ill-treatment by a number of leading figures in the game.

Given Rovers current plight this term, should Kean still have a job? The natural reaction would be no, as up until a few weeks ago Rovers looked for all money to be a sure thing for relegation. Kean’s lack of experience at this level coupled with the frustration and downright anger of a section of the Ewood Park faithful would lead the neutral to believe it is a matter of when the Glaswegian is sacked, and not if. Take into account the Martin O’Neill effect at Sunderland, and the merits of bringing in a new manager with a track record of success is there for all to see.

However, there have been signs of recovery in Lancashire, and a case to stick with Kean.  Injuries, particularly in defence, have played their part in Rovers’ misfortune, and the 44-year-old has continued to employ an attacking and brave brand of football despite the team’s shortcomings at the back. Positivity by Kean has saw Yakubu Aiyegbeni rediscover his scoring boots and four points out of a possible six from trips to Anfield and Old Trafford have given the side hope. Blackburn may well still be near the bottom of the pile, but despite Rovers’ plight, the players seem to still have faith in the Scot’s methods and back Kean with determination and effort on the pitch, even if quality at times is lacking. 

But this article is in no way a slight against Steve Kean. He has had limited resources to work with in his first managerial role; he has been thrown in at the deep end. The ‘Kean out’ protests are due to the supporters’ understandable fear for the club’s Premier League status, but their frustrations should be angled towards Venkys, not Kean.

Blackburn’s current situation is down to the ignorance and mismanagement of the owners, rather than Kean’s inexperience. Would the club be in such a mess if Allardyce was still at the helm? Probably not. Venkys have shown the two extremes of managerial support; firstly sacking Allardyce inexplicably and then backing Kean equivocally. Kean should most likely have been sacked after 5-10 games of the campaign, but now that he is still in place Venkys must stick with him, and back him financially during this transfer window.

In December 1989, Manchester United sat just above the relegation zone in the English top flight, and calls for one of Kean’s countrymen to be sacked as their coach were deafening. 22 years and 12 league titles later, Sir Alex Ferguson has picked up the Fifa President’s Award for achievement with the Old Trafford club.

Steve Kean is not the next Sir Alex Ferguson but his determination in the face of overwhelming criticism may well be decisive in Rovers fate this term; the Scot has the herculean task of reaching the all-illusive 40 points mark. If he doesn’t keep Blackburn in the Premier League however, Rovers’ fans exasperation at their relegation should be directed towards inept ownership rather than inexperienced management.

PublishedA Football Report

Is the cost of English players forcing Premier League clubs to look abroad?

With the much publicised transfers of Phil Jones and Jordan Henderson being completed by Manchester United and Liverpool respectively in the last week for a combined total of £36.5 million, most Premier League managers will be looking to the continent and beyond for their summer signings. Both England under 21 players have quality and potential in abundance, with that there is no argument, but such extortionate transfer fees will leave the majority of top flight sides financially out of the equation when looking to sign British players, and bring more foreigners to English shores.

The grievance is not with Sunderland or Blackburn, as neither wanted to lose their prodigious talents, both of which have been cultivated and nurtured through the clubs’ youth ranks. It was obvious that both players wanted to go, so why not get as high a fee as possible? The staggering thing is the amount of money it takes, and the big clubs are willing to pay, to buy young English talent. With FIFA eager to bring quotas into the game surrounding the number of home-grown players, and the Premier League being acknowledged as having a style and pace of play that takes time to adjust to, young British players will continue to cost an arm and a leg.

This piece is not a slight against either of the players personally; as a Spurs fan I would have liked to see them at White Hart Lane, especially Jones. But for £16.5 million? The 19 year old has only made 35 appearances in senior football. Henderson’s £20 million buys you a midfielder who has found the net a mere four times in over 70 games. My argument is not that he should score more goals, it is that for £20 million you would expect a player with a more rounded game.

In Europe there are much cheaper alternatives. Newcastle United have just signed Yohan Cabaye from Lille for a fee believed to be around £5million, a player not dissimilar to Henderson. The 25 year old French midfielder is fresh from helping Lille to a league and cup double, playing the majority of the side’s games. He has featured in almost 200 first class matches, and has represented his country on four occasions; the key point however is that he cost a quarter of what Liverpool just splurged on Henderson.

Personally I believe Jones to be the better prospect of the two, but again the transfer fee seems excessive. £16.5million? If Gary Cahill is to leave Bolton in the next months the fee will be similar, whilst Arsenal target and Jones’ centre-half partner at Ewood Park Christopher Samba is reportedly available for £12 million. Lets put this in perspective, as it is not a new pricing trend. Sir Alex Ferguson paid £7 million for the best defender in the league in the form of Nemanja Vidic, but £30 million for Rio Ferdinand. Manchester rivals City signed bench-warmer Joleon Lescott for £22million but paid only £6 million for the first name on their teamsheet, Vincent Kompany. The cost of going home-grown is there for all to see.

I wish both Phil Jones and Jordan Henderson the very best of luck at their new clubs. I believe that both will excel in their new environments, and have the necessary ability to make the step up.  However the fees paid for their services are detrimental to the English game, and it will be to the cost of the national side and Fabio Capello, who will not have as many players to select for international duty due to the continued influx of cheaper foreign alternatives joining Premier League clubs this summer.

Published – http://afootballreport.com/post/6580583976/is-the-cost-of-english-players-forcing-premier-league

Giving managers time; How Avram Grant can lead West Ham to Glory

Premiership football in the modern day is big business, and with increasing investment from foreign owners there has been an increased impetus put on the club balance sheet rather than the team sheet. This means that there isn’t much longevity in Premiership management if your face doesn’t fit, or you don’t deliver relatively instant success. This article aims to examine the tenure of some current and ex-Premier League managers, address issues surrounding the cut-throat nature of professional football, and highlight how Avram Grant is the man to spearhead West Ham’s search for success.
 
Football’s popularity has never been greater and the English Premier League never stronger, with the league heralded as one of the best on the planet and our teams doing exceeding well in Europe. This success attracts investors and financial moguls who are keen to play fantasy football in real life by pumping multi-millions into clubs in the search for success and to play their part in the global game. However the investors and owners in the current day are becoming increasingly non-British, non-football men who do not understand the hardships necessary on the pitch, and training field, to achieve glory. Subsequently, managers will bear the brunt of owner’s unrealistic expectations, and a couple of bad results can turn a manager’s job from secure to non-existent. However, success and a u-turn in a team’s form and results is not an overnight process; it takes time for players to gel, tinkering of formation, positioning and tactics, and a bit of luck along the way for a good team to form. Too often however, the owners of clubs don’t give the men picking the team enough time to do their job.
 
A blueprint for success? Look at Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson. Fergie is one of the most successful managers of all time, with his team feared across England and Europe; Ferguson has won eleven league titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups and two Champions League titles in his 24 year reign at United. Despite this, United have not always been world beaters; when Ferguson was appointed in 1986 his United team finished 11th in his first season. The next year they finished as runners up to Liverpool, but the following season (1988-89) they again finished 11th. In the 1989-90 campaign United went on a terrible run of six defeats from eight games before the turn of the year, and the media called for Ferguson’s head. The Scot managed to turn the club’s fortunes around however, and the rest is history; but one must ask if in today’s cut-throat Premier League whether a manager in the same position would be given the time to turn his club into the class act Manchester United have become.
 
Let’s look at other budding Manchester United’s of the future – what of teams like Newcastle and Blackburn? According to the club shareholders and investors, the managerial services of Chris Hughton and Sam Allardyce were not necessary in the search for success. Newcastle found themselves in The Championship when Hughton took firstly caretaker, then full time command of the club and the young English manager led The Geordies back to the Premier League, and despite a couple of poor results prior to his dismissal, the newly promoted Newcastle were sitting in the security of mid table when Hughton’s performance was judged not to be good enough for him to remain in the job. The case of Sam Allardyce and Blackburn is similar, but even more staggering. When Big Sam was appointed, the club was languishing in the bottom three and in real danger of becoming a Championship side. Allardyce gave the team a solidarity and in a nine game unbeaten run steered Rovers to safety; the next year Blackburn finished 10th. However Blackburn received new owners in the form of Indian company Venkateshwara Hatcheries Group in November of last year, who brought with them ambitions of breaking into the top four, an achievement that even the most ardent Blackburn fan would find unrealistic. Was Allardyce the man to get them there? Maybe, maybe not, but we will never find out as he was sacked a month after the takeover despite Blackburn sitting in mid table, and Blackburn are now are a million miles from the Champions League. My point is that both Hughton and Allardyce were building a team that could adapt and improve and worked with the limited resources they had; both teams would today be in a better position if the sacked managers were still there.
 
So to Avram Grant and West Ham, who over the Christmas period was undermined by the media and looked sure to be axed from the Upton Park hotseat. However, the West Ham board Sullivan, Gold et al, to their credit have stuck with the Israeli (whether Martin O’Neill was approached is irrelevant and unproved) and results have improved, they are off the bottom, through to the fifth round of the FA Cup and have the Olympic Stadium to look forward to moving to in the near future. Despite still not being out of the relegation woods, things are looking up for West Ham. The players now have had time to adjust to Grant’s managerial style, tactics and approach and don’t have to start from scratch again as they would had he been replaced. The fact that the uncertainty has been lifted also means the players can stop speculating whether the gaffer will be at training in the morning, and can get on with what they are paid to do, with a firm idea of how Grant wants them to do it. This continuity will be the reason that West Ham will avoid relegation, whereas had they replaced Grant, they surely would be playing in The Championship next season.
 
If, and when West Ham avoid the drop, if the board back Avram Grant to bring in the players he wants in the summer, an exciting new era could be in the offing for West Ham, with Avram Grant at the helm. Give managers a chance to build a team; Manchester wasn’t built in a day.

Published – http://www.caughtoffside.com/2011/02/28/how-avram-grant-can-lead-west-ham-to-glory/

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