This week, Bruce Halling ponders on the importance of getting the right man in at Blackburn – and even throws in a unorthodox suggestion of his own for the hot-seat.
On 28th September, after one of the most ill-fated eighteen month reigns in managerial history, Steve Kean’s time at Blackburn Rovers finally came to an end. During his time at the club, he had seen consistently poor performances and the club slowly fall backwards, becoming less and less competitive in the top flight than at any time under several of his predecessors. Several of his key players had left, and the inevitable relegation last season was eventually confirmed in a game which was interrupted by a chicken invasion– something which in itself spoke volumes about the farcical nature in which the club has been run ever since the Venky’s took over.
Never have I seen a club where the fans have turned on the owners and management to such an extent that fans were staying away in their thousands in protest. Perhaps the most worrying thing of all was that many fans have very little faith in their club’s ability to produce a genuine attempt to bounce back and win promotion at the first attempt. This despite the club enjoying a decent start and being consistently towards the top end of the table. It is not a particularly good situation for any club to be in, and it only further emphasises the need for the Venky’s to ensure that when Kean’s successor is announced, that they get this appointment right.
Whenever the topic of management is raised, the term ‘right man for the job’ is always used, in some cases fairly arbitrarily. In this case, however, just who would be the right man for this job? There has been a lot of talk about having someone in charge from the title winning side of 1995 in an attempt to win the fans over, but with Tim Sherwood – the captain of the 1995 side – having already been ruled out of the running, I struggle to see anyone else who would fit this criteria. Of the other players that were a key part of that side, Alan Shearer, Colin Hendry and Chris Sutton have all tried their hand at management in this country, but with very limited success, while Henning Berg has managed out in his native Norway but again hasn’t particularly impressed. Of the fringe players from that side, only Mike Newell has had any notable success, but his reputation was somewhat tarnished by the events that saw the end of his time at Luton, while promoting Bobby Mimms from goalkeeper coach to manager seems an unlikely move.
It therefore stands to reason that Blackburn will be searching beyond the realms of former title-winning players. They will undoubtedly be looking for a manager with a certain set of attributes, and with particular achievements on his CV – one of which will undoubtedly be a proven track record of having taken clubs into the Premiership. The new manager will also have to be a popular appointment with the fans, too, if the Venky’s are to stand any chance of rebuilding their relationship with the fans. It is this fact alone which means that Owen Coyle, recently sacked by Bolton Wanderers, may be amongst the managers on the shortlist for the job, as he would surely be deemed as a good choice for the role. On the other hand, managers like Phil Brown and Gary Megson – both of whom have won promotions in the past but who lost their most recent jobs because of a combination of poor results and a poor relationship with the supporters – are unlikely to be considered because of that exact reason.
The Venky’s have said that they will be not be rushing the process, and will take their time to ensure they get the right man for the job. Although this seems like a typical PR-savvy statement to make in order to try and appease the fans, it is also a lot more than that. It buys the board some time to explore all of the potential options available to them, which includes talking to other chairmen to sound out whether they would be willing to allow them to hold talks with managers who are currently in another job, such as Barnsley manager Keith Hill, whose name has been mentioned around this job persistently over the past couple of weeks. It also means that, should they not make an appointment within a week or two, that there will be no great sense of panic or urgency as the board have already stated that an appointment may not necessarily be immediately forthcoming unless they have total confidence in a particular candidate to do the job at hand.
I do think that ultimately, Blackburn will opt to appoint someone who is currently out of work. There is a lot of speculation linking the clubs with names like Mick McCarthy, Bernd Schuster and Harry Redknapp – who seems to be linked to every job in management, whether it is actually available or not – and while there is definitely some merit to suggest that each of these could very well be in the running, they are not the man that I would personally appoint.
If I were the Venky’s, I would be looking to appoint a manager who satisfies the criteria of having won promotion to the Premiership and who has been able to take a club into the top flight and make them immediately competitive. I would be looking to appoint a manager who has had previous experience working at clubs where the owners have not had a particularly good relationship with the fans and who will not be afraid to take the lead and make certain demands about particular things being put in place. The Venky’s crave managerial stability, but lack the experience to know what they will need to do to start to put things right, and by appointing a man who will be able to show them how to put a well-run football club together that can achieve things beyond anybody’s expectations, they will need to put absolute faith and trust in that manager’s hands, and the man I have in mind will demand this if he is to take the job. The manager I would appoint would also have a point to prove, having had his reputation knocked somewhat by perceived failures at clubs where his departure came about as the result of events off the pitch, rather than on it.
The man I would put forward for the job – although far from a bookies favourite, and perhaps not the most popular appointment possible amongst Blackburn fans – would be George Burley. He has taken Ipswich into the Premiership in the past and led them to a fifth place finish in their first season up. Since then, he has suffered the experience of dealing with a number of difficult characters, most notably Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov, who inexplicably forced Burley into resigning despite the club being top of the Scottish Premier League after disagreements over transfer policy and Romanov’s insistence on being involved in team selection – something which has continued to be a difficulty for many of Burley’s successors. He will have a point to prove after more recent spells with Crystal Palace and Apollon Limassol both ended on a sour note, and the brand of football he likes to have his team play will get the most out of the club’s players, most notably record signing Jordan Rhodes, who is expected to score the goals that will fire Rovers back into the Premiership.
It would certainly be a brave appointment, but perhaps now is the time for the Venky’s to start being brave and trying to rebuild their relationship with the club’s fans. A successful new manager and promotion back to the Premiership wouldn’t be a bad start to that process.