Farewell then, Michael Appleton. After sixty-seven days and fifteen matches, the former Portsmouth and Blackpool manager – and that’s just this season- became the third manager to leave Blackburn Rovers as the itchy trigger finger of the club’s owners, Venkys, got the better of them yet again. There was a time, roughly a year ago, when it seemed as if the owners of the club were almost swivel-eyed in their devotion to its then-manager, Steve Kean, but those days must seem like a long time ago for the supporters of a club that might yet be sliding towards a second successive relegation, this time from the Championship. Since Kean departed from the club at the end of September, Blackburn’s owners have been acting like lovers on the rebound. After a brief dalliance with Eric Black, former player Henning Berg lasted for just ten matches – winning just one of them – before, after another temporary manager in the form of Gary Bowyer, Appleton was appointed in January.
Things might have been so different for Appleton. After bedding in at the club, we had a little run of three successive wins in the league and even took his team to The Emirates Stadium to beat Arsenal in the Fifth Round of the FA Cup. This result, however, turned out to be the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end of his time in charge at the club. Since winning against Arsenal in February, Blackburn have failed to win any of their eight matches and were knocked out of the FA Cup in the next round after a replay by Millwall. Perhaps another FA Cup win might have been enough to prolong his spell in the job, but losing this match might have focused attention back upon the team’s shortcomings in the league. Appleton’s last match in charge of the club was a one-all draw against local rivals Burnley, a result which left the club in eighteenth place in the Championship table, four points above the relegation places but, perhaps significantly, are not winning matches at a time when several other clubs near the foot of the table are. The club’s recent form has meant that Appleton has hardly become endeared to the club’s support of late, but the Blackburn Rovers Supporters Trust issued a statement which hinted at the broader issues that the club has faced over the last couple of years:
News of Michael Appleton’s sacking ought to come as a surprise, but sadly it does not. This is just the latest in a long line of incomprehensible and ill-thought out decisions that go back to the very start of the Venky’s ownership of Blackburn Rovers. It is obvious to any experienced fan or football professional that to keep changing managers – we are now looking for our sixth this season – will only lead to yet more instability and uncertainty. It is also a costly exercise to keep paying off staff.
The owners have to face up to the fact they are entirely responsible for the situation we find ourselves in with a second successive relegation a distinct possibility. Rovers Trust is the officially recognised supporters trust for Blackburn Rovers and we are concerned with the damage being done to the reputation of our club. Who is making these decisions? The Rao family in India, Shebby Singh or the local board of directors at Ewood Park?
We have repeatedly requested a dialogue with the owners and we will continue to offer to help them in any way we can to exit Ewood Park. Rovers fans need to stand up and be counted, join the Rovers Trust and demand change. We demand a say in the ownership and the running of our football club now and in the future.
This, of course, is the reality of the situation in which Venkys find themselves today. While Michel Appleton might not necessarily have been the right man for the managerial position at Ewood Park, sixty-seven days seems like an absurdly short amount of time to give any manager to prove himself right for the position and this, of course, is a comment that we could make with regard to Henning Berg’s short period in charge of the club as well. The appointment of any new manager carries an element of gamble about it, but in order to understand whether the gamble will work out successfully it is necessary to allow a little time for a new manager to settle. It hardly seems likely that Blackburn Rovers will ever have the stability that we might have expected everybody at the club to want if they change their manager every time they go through a short run without a win, and while there may be cause for a degree of concern at the club’s current position in the Championship table it is worth pointing out that this particular division is extremely tight, with just ten points separating bottom of the table Bristol City and Burnley, who are in eleventh place in the Championship table at present. The common theme in this division has been that, broadly speaking, everybody has been beating everybody else and Blackburn Rovers have not been immune from this phenomenon.
In such a position, though, the question of whether a football club stick or twist in its choice of manager is not necessarily an easy one to answer. whilst change can work – the frequently apparently insane owners of Nottingham Forest struck apparent gold in rehiring Billy Davies, for example – but it’s difficult to imagine that overall, the calibre of manager that those running Blackburn Rovers Football Club would presumably wish to have would be encouraged to join the club by what he might have seen at the club over the last six months. And maybe a new manger will enjoy some sort of bounce upon being awarded the job, but on the other hand he may not and, whilst Michael Appleton’s record at the club was mixed and his team’s recent form had been poor, it surely remains valid to believe that two months and one week is no time-span in which any manager’s abilities in a position can reasonably be assessed.
Perhaps Venky’s will make an astute decision this time around and stick with it, in order to build a solid platform from which their club can flourish again. Few Blackburn supporters, however, seem to believe that they can and it’s difficult to believe that the club’s owners have learned any lessons from the frustrations of the last six months. The Venky’s scatter-gun approaching to running a football club continues apace, and meanwhile the decline of Blackburn Rovers Football Club and the torment of the club’s supporters continues unchecked. In a just world, perhaps, it might have been they that were getting the push this morning. Perhaps it’s time for a managerial transfer window during which a manager cannot be fired or, perhaps, transfer windows for the enduringly erratic owners of some of Britain’s football clubs.
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