Blackburn wants its Rovers back, but are their owners, Venky's, set on destroying the club?
Whether Blackburn Rovers will be in the Premier League or the Championship next season evidently doesn’t matter to their Indian owners, Venky’s. As the protests against their ownership continue with the launch of a supporters trust, intent on bringing the club back into community ownership, Andrew Howells examines just why Venky’s seem so set on ruining Rovers.
The obvious questions around Allardyce’s sacking, Kean’s appointment and false promises of investment aside; the one thing that surely nobody in the footballing world can comprehend is why the owners – as Rovers plunge, potentially Championship-bound, into more and more misery – are set on destroying the club faster than Mario Balotelli can light up a bathroom full of fireworks.
One theory I’d like to examine is that the chicken farmers have bought the club to use as a short-term marketing tool to grow their business. With this in mind, is it suddenly slightly easier to see why Venky’s are cost-cutting at Rovers at every opportunity, investing instead in their poultry business?
Evidence of ‘fowl’ play
“We want good football and Blackburn to be fourth or fifth in the league or even better. The fans should trust us because this is in the best interests of the club”, said Mrs Anuradha Desai, Venky’s chief in December 2010. This statement happened to coincide with not only the sacking of Sam Allardyce, but also the launch of Venky’s Exprs, a ready to eat chicken outlet, in Bihar, India.
Former manager Allardyce was on a reported £1.25 million a year when Venky’s took over. As his replacement they appointed Steve Kean, a man with no prior experience of managing a football club, on a reported £350,000 a year. That’s a £900,000 a year saving.
One troubled year later, in December 2011, and Kean, who appears to be the Venky’s ‘yes man’, was reportedly instructed to no longer play experienced defender Michel Salgado. This is because if he plays one more game it will activate a clause in his contract, giving him an extra year at the club.
This incident occurred around the same time as the owners posted an annual pre-tax loss of £18.6m (compared to £1.9 million the previous year), and it was not a one-off. As local Lancashire Telegraph journalist Andy Cryer points out: “Chris Samba, Keith Andrews, El-Hadji Diouf, Jason Roberts, Michel Salgado and now Gael Givet have seen ‘issues’ stop them from playing at the football club when they were needed most.” Are these all finance related as well?
Perhaps the most interesting evidence to support my theory however, is Venky’s decision to not appoint a chairman. Instead they are content to ‘run’ the club from India. Surely you need a chairman; someone who understand’s the game, the business and who can be based at the club full-time to run things?
Rovers’ all-time top scorer Simon Garner, who has recently joined the Blackburn Rovers Supporters Investment Trust (BRSIT) campaign to bring the club back into community ownership, thinks so: “The way to stop the mess is by appointing a chairman to run the club the right way. The last 12 months have shown you can’t run an English club from India.”
Despite how plausible it seems, I cannot believe that anyone would intentionally destroy a football club, and Wigan chairman and former Blackburn player Dave Whelan has offered a slightly more realistic theory: he claims Venky’s simply ‘don’t understand football’. I would say they don’t understand football as a game, a business or a community.
The Venky’s completed their takeover with the guidance of football agent Jerome Anderson, who continues to be involved in the running of the club and who interestingly counts then first team coach, Steve Kean, as a client. Are the owners, blind to the ways of our beautiful game, simply receiving bad advise then?
Commenting on Anderson’s involvement in running Rovers, Sir Alex Ferguson, said: “‘Jerome Anderson? He couldn’t pick his nose. It’s baffling, and it’s a serious threat to how clubs are run and how they conduct themselves.”
The urgent need for change
Whatever the reasons for Venky’s actions to date, they must begin to listen to the fans – who pay their money week in, week out, season after season – and urgently communicate their intentions, vision and strategy for the club.
If Venky’s have bought the club to expand and make a success of their poultry business, they must understand that to do so they have to also make a success of Blackburn Rovers. British football is a family and if they ruin Rovers, surely nobody will buy their products.
If they simply don’t understand football, then they need to be big enough to hold their hands up and say so, bring sensible people into key roles who do understand the game (such as a chairman) and admit they do not wish to invest much money. You don’t need money to be successful – look at Swansea, Fulham and Norwich – but as owners, you must demonstrate you care about the club, its fan base and its local community.
So, 17 seasons on from lifting a Premier League title, a cloud of concern, uncertainty and despair looms over Ewood Park. One thing is clear though: change is needed.
Venky’s need to finally listen to the protests, take note of what the fans have to say, and start to act in the best interests of the club – not just their poultry business. Blackburn fans will not stand by and watch their club destroyed; they will fight to save it; and they will take drastic action if needs be. Venky’s be warned: Blackburn wants its Rovers back.