Thursday, 12 April 2012

Why I Want Blackburn To Go Down

I want Blackburn Rovers to get relegated.

I think I should make it clear first and foremost that I have nothing in particular against Blackburn as a club; they're perfectly acceptable and haven't really done anything to anger me recently.

Why, then? It's simple: I'm sick of football club owners being daft, to put it bluntly. It spoils my enjoyment of the game when you have honest fans having to suffer through the unjustifiable decisions of their club's owner.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not expecting club owners and higher-ups to be perfect, to never make mistakes. For example, West Ham co-Chairman David Sullivan recently elaborated on the inner workings of the deal that allowed Newcastle's Demba Ba to leave West Ham for nothing, calling it "one of the worst mistakes I have ever made in my life". These things do, unfortunately, happen. The faux pas Everton made with Dan Gosling, which Newcastle also profited from, is another example. It's an honest mistake on the business side of football and while it's not a smart thing to do, you can see how such an error can be made. It's more of an administrative problem.

What is far more of a real issue is insane managerial appointments and sackings, because to me it represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how football works. And it might sound arrogant for me, a simple fan, to be telling the owners of a Premiership club that they "don't get it", but it's kind of hard not to take that attitude when you look at some of the decisions that they have been making recently.

Blackburn removing Sam Allardyce and replacing him with Steve Kean is one of them, but Wolves are just as guilty for sacking Mick McCarthy with no replacement ready to come in and having to resort to, in Terry Connor, an assistant who simply cannot cut it at this level (at the time of writing he has 1 point from a possible 24).

Tranmere Rovers also earned my ire for hiring their physio Les Parry to replace the sacked John Barnes. These appointments are almost always guaranteed to end in disaster, so why on earth do chairmen persist with it? It beggars belief that these people can actually expect somebody with no management experience - in Parry's case, no real playing experience either - to walk in and do a good job.

Steve Kean has been under pressure for
most of his tenure at Blackburn
I understand that some of it is motivated by finance - I imagine Terry Connor is on less  than Mick McCarthy was, and Les Parry was certainly on less than Barnes -  but you have to spend money to make money. You need a good manager to keep your team performing well, which will net you more winnings. It's basic stuff.

The importance of the position of manager is one that cannot be underestimated under any circumstances. You cannot just promote the assistant and say "yeah, he'll do." You cannot sack an experienced Premiership manager, seemingly on a whim, without an equal or superior replacement lined up. You cannot expect players to readily accept this change. There's a reason the manager, more than the players, gets put under pressure when a team is on a bad run (or lauded when they are doing well), and that reason is very simple: it's one of the most important positions at any football club, if not the most important. Even in Spain and other countries, where the manager is more of a "head coach", the position is still of utmost importance.

As a fan, this to me seems incredibly obvious, and should be basic knowledge for anybody who is in the business. It's simply not a position that you can cut corners on. If you're Jez Moxey, Wolves' chairman, you shouldn't sack an experienced Mick McCarthy unless you are absolutely sure Alan Curbishley is going to replace him. And yes, that would involve negotiating with Curbishley while McCarthy was under contract, but so be it. Even that would be better than what they've done - hire Terry Connor, who resembles a rabbit in the headlights.  With that said, if I had my way they wouldn't have sacked McCarthy at all - to this day it still strikes me as a bizarre sacking, even with no replacement ready to come in. Perhaps something happened behind the scenes that I'm not aware of.

Now, would-be tough managerial sackings aren't always terrible. When Newcastle sacked Chris Hughton he deserved plenty of sympathy - I did not feel he deserved that after not only getting them promoted, but into a solid mid-table position during their first season back in the Premiership. But it would appear that Mike Ashley actually had Alan Pardew - a manager with a better record and more experience in the top flight - lined up. So while it was incredibly harsh on Hughton, who I feel had proved himself, you can't say Ashley made the wrong decision there. Especially since Pardew has actually far exceeded what Hughton was doing.  That, I would say, is an example of a tough sacking done right - unlike when Newcastle sacked Sam Allardyce and got relegated (hmm, seem familiar?).

Wolves Chairman Jez Moxey handled the removal of
Mick McCarthy and hiring of Terry Connor horribly
Sunderland's record when they sacked Steve Bruce was not particularly terrible but it would appear Sunderland had a superior replacement in Martin O'Neil ready to come in. That would also be an example of a tough decision done right. It's a decision that some pundits might have disagreed with at the time, but it's clear that forward planning, knowledge of the game and knowledge of the current managerial environment was present. This is in sharp contrast to hiring your physio as manager, or removing former Republic of Ireland boss Mick McCarthy and replacing him with former Wolves assistant manager Terry Connor.

So I want Blackburn to go down not because I have anything against them personally, like I said, but because their relegation would hopefully be a lesson to owners and football higher-ups everywhere to think before they pull the trigger on their managers.

As a side-note, I actually completely understand where Blackburn's fans were coming from in their hounding of Kean earlier in the season. Obviously I don't condone some of the things that were being said (or screamed), but their frustration is understandable. In the current climate, a manager with the record Kean had at the time and his total lack of top-level management experience can reasonably expect to be sacked. The fans could also reasonably expect him to be sacked. When he is not sacked, then, and results do not improve, it was inevitable that the calls for his head would only get louder.

To bring up Steve Bruce again, he was sacked from Sunderland when they were in a better position than Blackburn (on top of Bruce being a more experienced manager than Kean, and thus having earned a little more leeway), so for Blackburn fans to see that and for Steve Kean to still be there would certainly be surprising.

English Football kind of exists in a bizarro world where a bad run of, say, 6 games puts the manager under pressure immediately, and to see your club not conforming to that bizarro world is naturally going to provoke anger and confusion. Especially when the fans didn't want Kean in the first place. So I don't even hold that against Blackburn - my issue is solely with what their owners did and what it means for football.

In the end, Blackburn's relegation would hopefully bring a wider issue to light and that's a net positive, even if it means a decent club has to go down. Wolves going down would maybe do the same thing, thanks to the McCarthy sacking and their subsequent results, but they were in trouble anyway. Meanwhile, I sincerely doubt Blackburn would be in this much trouble if Allardyce was still there. The (almost literal) bottom line is that hiring an assistant with no managerial experience to replace him was foolish and, if nothing else, almost deserves to be punished with relegation.