x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Time is running out for Steve Kean at Blackburn Rovers

The Scot is under mounting pressure after fans turn against him following a poor run of results

Steve Kean appears to be in denial about Blackburn’s poor start to the season.
Steve Kean appears to be in denial about Blackburn’s poor start to the season.

This afternoon at Ewood Park is a meeting of managers on the ropes. In the red corner, the man at the helm when his club conceded eight goals in a game for the first time in 115 years. In the blue, the one who presided over his club's worst start to a season for 60 years.

There, however, the similarities between Arsenal's Arsene Wenger and Blackburn's Steve Kean end. The Frenchman has credit in the bank, literally and metaphorically, after 15 years of fiscal responsibility and fluent football. He has trophies and memories to support his cause. Kean has no such advantages.

With no track record to speak of, his sole source of validation is results. Sadly, for the Scot, they have been awful. He averages under a point a game since replacing Sam Allardyce in December, and has just one from four games this season.

Before today's game, around 1,000 Blackburn fans plan to stage a march, demanding his sacking. Kean continues to insist that it is only a minority who want him out - although, according to one newspaper poll last week, 81 per cent of supporters do - which is part of his problem. Too often his rhetoric does not stand up to analysis.

Asserting, for instance, that Blackburn dominated in the second half of their 3-1 defeat at Aston Villa, when the consensus is that Rovers were utterly abject, merely adds to the impression that he is management's version of an ostrich, head buried in the sand and oblivious to what others see.

"I don't think we're far away from being in the top half [of the league]," he said.

To those who fear Rovers' 11-season stay in the Premier League is endangered, they are a world away. A manager who, like owners Venky's, has spoken of taking the club into the Champions League appears more likely to oversee their demotion to the Championship.

With no prior managerial experience, Kean has no personal mandate. It hardly helps that he is seen as the frontman for a regime that lacks credibility. Last week, an open letter was sent by season-ticket holders to Venky's, urging them to dismiss Kean and communicate better with fans.

The response came in the form of a statement that, surprisingly, did not mention the manager.

"At times like this, when the team is going through a bad patch, they need all the support and encouragement they can get from the fans to boost their morale and enable them to perform at their best," the Indians said.

In one sense, it is transparently true. In another, supporters feel disenfranchised. A club that was a model of quiet overachievement is now being mocked, while mixed messages emanate from the club's high command.

Their quest for a galactico was an embarrassing failure - Ronaldinho, Raul and David Beckham proving somehow able to resist the entreaties from East Lancashire - and the closest they have come to finding a big name is Yakubu, the striker who was utterly unwanted at Everton. For all the promises of investment, Rovers made a transfer-market profit in the summer.

While seven players arrived, two of the departures may be more significant. When Blackburn took seven points from the final three games to stay up last season, two of the catalysts were Phil Jones, now turning in similarly important performances for Manchester United, and Brett Emerton, who has returned to his native Australia with Sydney FC. The third, Christopher Samba, eyed the exit and appears disenchanted.

Wenger was among his suitors before instead plumping for Per Mertesacker to add height to his defence. Samba's task is to form a partnership with Scott Dann, whose signing was the closest to a coup Kean has managed in the transfer market.

His recruitment of three players at the end of the transfer window suggested he retains the support of Venky's; indeed, the impression last season was that Kean would have kept his job even if Blackburn went down. He said: "It's never crossed my mind to quit. I can take this on the chin, no problem."

It was not the message many Blackburn fans wanted to hear. They have called for the reappointment of Mark Hughes, who made them fixtures in the top 10 during his four-year reign.

They could also be forgiven for wanting John Williams, the former chairman who now works at Manchester City, to return and give the club a sense of direction.

Arsenal may be similarly keen to turn the clock back a few years but for all their traumas, their future seems more secure than Blackburn's.

sports@thenational.ae

3.45pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 3 & 5