x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

The writing is on the wall for Blackburn Rovers

The manager Steve Kean and owners Venky's must share the responsibility for the English Premier League club's plight, writes Richard Jolly.

Football is not a business. There is no contract with the customer. Instead, for him or her, it is a declaration of faith, a statement of identity, a sense of belonging with family and friends and an undying loyalty to a beloved player or manager.

Football is not a democracy either, but the supporters can be disenfranchised. That is what has happened at Blackburn Rovers.

The fans have been in revolt for months, protesting against the ownership of Venky's and the management of Steve Kean. Opposing managers and players-turned-pundits have deemed the critical fans unhelpful, but they are in the right.

Unlike the power brokers at Ewood Park, they have recognised the reality of Blackburn's predicament. The warning lights had been flashing for months but Kean and Venky's have ignored them. They are, as the Scot belatedly conceded on Saturday, "staring relegation in the face", but their plight was predictable. The crisis has been a year in the making and is one where fault lies with both the board and the coach.

In an arrogant belief they could excel in jobs for which they were neither experienced nor equipped, they have been oblivious to the damage they have done.

A proud Lancashire club have been brought to perhaps their lowest ebb, not because their directors reside in Pune, India, but because they, and their appointment, have spent much time in cloud cuckoo land.

During the previous decade, under Graeme Souness, Mark Hughes and Sam Allardyce, Rovers were a byword for quiet overachievement. Not always popular with outsiders, they were invariably effective.

For much of that time, under the stewardship of chairman John Williams, they were the model of a well-run football club: well aware of their limitations and capable of outperforming the more glamorous sides in the English top flight.

The last 12 months have transformed their image. Implausible words have alienated their followers, amused supporters of other sides and suggested the club is being run by the delusional.

There were the mocked attempts to sign Ronaldinho, Raul and David Beckham and the risible assertion that they were aiming for the Champions League when it was obvious the Championship was a likelier destination. Above all, there was Kean's nonsensical statement, three months ago, that 99 per cent of Rovers fans were behind him.

Already antagonised by frequent suggestions that poor performances were actually good, it was probably the moment Kean's relationship with the supporters crossed the point of no return.

Abraham Lincoln famously said "you can't fool all of the people all of the time", but that has seemed to be Kean's approach during a run of four wins in 30 league games during his first year in charge.

Venky's compounded the problem by branding Kean "unsackable" and awarding him a new contract during a campaign when evidence of decline is easily evident. (After 16 games last year, they had 21 points; this year it is 10.)

Now, belatedly, things have come to a head. Even Kean cannot deny that Rovers are deep in trouble. Even Venky's can no longer ignore the league table.

Their policy of sticking with a manager who lacked a track record has merely enabled him to dig a deeper hole. Extricating Blackburn already seems all but impossible. Even if Kean goes, finding a successor who wants to work with Venky's will be a problem.

The responsibility for Rovers' slump must be shared. Decision-making by Venky's has been disastrous, from choosing Kean to allowing respected football administrators like Williams to leave the club.

Their interference in transfer dealings has been unhelpful and unsuccessful. Rovers' summer recruitment, the prolific Yakubu apart, was calamitous.

And so theirs is a strangely compiled squad, lacking solidity in the centre of midfield and pace in the full-back areas and, partly because of injuries, cover everywhere.

Yet, until Kean replaced Allardyce, Ewood Park was a fortress. Not any longer. After a mere six home league defeats in two years under Allardyce, they have lost six of eight this season. After keeping clean sheets regularly in the past, they have not had one for eight months.

All are damning indications of the job Kean has done. Now his charges may have one game to save his job.

Tonight’s match against Bolton, the one side beneath Blackburn, is a must-win for both teams. With trips to Anfield and Old Trafford following it, it is arguably even more important for Rovers.

Triumph – and Bolton’s losing habit means that, dire as Blackburn have been, it is a possibility – and Kean may get a stay of execution.

But it would be applying a sticking plaster to a gaping wound, one that manager and owners have carved out in a year of startling incompetence.