Last season Avram Grant’s West Ham beat Tottenham and Liverpool in the league, they thrashed Manchester United in the Carling Cup and they got to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup. For those who wished to support the Israeli, there was always something to cling on to, a result that suggested he really was a manager who could lead a side to a Champions League final. West Ham were relegated with one game to spare and finished bottom by six points.
Too good to go down, then? Despite the presence of Robert Green, Matthew Upson and Scott Parker, clearly not. But that still doesn’t mean they should have gone down; the outcome could have been very different if they had changed their manager when they had the chance, which is precisely the situation Blackburn find themselves in now. One of only four teams to win the Premier League are in a perilous position, one point and one place off the bottom of the table. Only Bolton, who have had a shocking set of opening fixtures, are sparing their blushes.
The locals are restless. Unhappy with Venky’s, the owners who incredibly sacked Sam Allardyce last December, the mood at Ewood Park is mutinous. Allardyce’s successor, Steve Kean, is despised and there have been protests before and during games calling for him to be sacked. Indeed during the 4-0 defeat at home to Manchester City last Saturday, the visiting fans were applauded when they suggested Kean would be collecting his P45 the following morning. Still no sign of it yet, however, despite a trip to India during the international break to discuss where it’s all going wrong.
Sacking Allardyce is the short answer. But there’s nothing to be done about that now. Instead, while learning from the mistakes of the past, Blackburn have to look to the immediate future and it appears increasingly obvious that it doesn’t include Kean, who had no managerial record to speak of before being given the job. They have to act before it’s too late.
Just like Grant at West Ham, Kean has hinted at a managerial acumen that’s not really there. The timely win over Arsenal, which came after fans had marched against him, staved off the doubters for a short while, but the parlous state of Arsene Wenger’s side means there are too many caveats attached to that victory. Against City, Blackburn were taken apart, although they’re not the first and won’t be the last side to crumble against their moneyed neighbours.
Even so, that defeat completed a set for Blackburn: they have lost games against relegation rivals, they have been thrashed by title contenders, they have lost games they should have won, they have thrown away leads and they have been meek away from home. All in all, a recipe for relegation.
Yet the feeling remains that Blackburn really are too good to go down, like West Ham in 2003 and Newcastle in 2009. On the surface, their defence appears too solid to have conceded 17 goals in seven games, even if Paul Robinson is generous enough to make the tamest of shots resemble Roberto Carlos’s banana free-kick against France in 1997. In Christopher Samba and Scott Dann, Blackburn have one of the better defensive partnerships in the league, while Michel Salgado and Gael Givet are slow but dependable full-backs. Alternatively the speedy Martin Olsson can play at left-back and offers a daring sense of adventure the other two are not capable of.
Steven Nzonzi is an able destroyer in midfield, while David Dunn is a canny player when not felled by injuries and a lack of fitness. On the wing, Junior Hoilett, all pace and trickery, is one of the brightest young talents in the country, and Ruben Rochina and Mauro Formica have demonstrated a readiness to adapt to English football. Yakubu might not be able to move, but he knows where the goal is; David Goodwillie is a promising acquisition, even if he’s not quite the Scottish version of Wayne Rooney, as Kean suggested. The players are there. Now how about a manager?
Jacob Steinberg writes for The Guardian, and is a regular contributor to The Blizzard. Follow him on Twitter here.