Venky’s could have taken a step towards reconciliation with angry fans by making the decision to sack Steve Kean and by bringing in an experienced manager and chairman to set plans into motion to help Rovers bounce right back from the Championship. Instead, Kean, labeled by Venky’s as ‘unsackable’, is seemingly set for a stay, with Venky’s set to continue running the club themselves.
As the owners march on, making puzzling, baffling and incomprehensible decisions, are they really successful, intelligent business people or simply plain ‘confused’?
The case for astute business people
The finances of Venky’s business conglomerate in India are in good health. Their companies made a combined turnover of £1 billion in 2010, with a group profit of £100 million. That sounds undeniably astute.
Taking note of the changes in India’s sporting landscape to become the first Indian group to own a team playing in the world’s richest sporting league also seems an astute business strategy. Expanding overseas was the next move for Venky’s successful businesses and what better way to do this than purchase a club that was one of only four teams – at the time – to have ever won the world’s most watched football competition, the Premier League.
Upon their takeover, Venky’s also cleared £20 million of debts and then invested another £10 million into the club, to further strengthen their case of being smart business people. So how has it gone so wrong?
The case for confused
Venky’s chairperson Anuradha Desai said she knew little about football. Despite this, Venky’s chose not to listen to a board that had successfully run the club for years and instead forced out respected Chairman of over a decade, John Williams. They wanted to run the club themselves, undeterred by their lack of prior knowledge or experience. This didn’t seem like a smart move.
Venky’s companies in India may be making a massive profit, but the opposite is true at Rovers, who have seen a drop in season ticket sales, an increase in pre-tax loss and a rise in club debt. This is only going to get worse as they prepare to live without a £40 million a season payment of TV revenue they would have received had they still been in the Premier League.
Publicly promising a top four finish, Maradona as manager and big name signings such as Ronaldinho, Raul and Beckham, but instead selling their big name players like Jones, Samba and Nelson and freezing out experienced players like former Real Madrid defender, Salgado, thereby forcing inexperienced players to play out of position, was a quick way to lose football matches. Also, appointing novice Kean, now officially Rovers second worse manager in their history, as caretaker boss after sacking Big Sam who had just guided the club to a 10th place finish didn’t seem to make too much sense.
Giving Kean a pay rise, despite the fact that Rovers were in the relegation zone and that Kean had the worse points per game ratio in the Premier League, is another decision that boggles, bewilders and bamboozles the brain – and had fans up in arms.
And finally, there is the fact that Venky’s took advice from football agent Jerome Anderson on not only their takeover, but also their transfer policy. This saw Anderson’s client, Kean, appointed as manager and the club signing Anderson’s son, Myles, who has yet to make a senior team appearance. Perhaps the argument leans more to the confused side of the proverbial fence?
Clueless, arrogant and cold-hearted
It seems to me that Venky’s, as suggested by Wigan Chairman Dave Whelan, are ‘clueless’ more than confused or astute at the business of football. As in 19 months of their ownership they have failed – and continue to fail – to set out a clear strategy for the club.
By not listening and learning from the board, they have shown an arrogance that has been their downfall; by selling off players, freezing out others so their contracts are not renewed and sacking staff such as Deputy CEO Paul Hunt, they are cold-heartedly cost-cutting and bleeding the club dry; and by failing to listen to and communicate with the club’s biggest asset, the fans, they are driving away business.
The deeper into trouble Venky’s plunge the club, the bigger, better and bolder the action taken by fans is becoming.
56% of fans said they will not be renewing season tickets for the forthcoming season. The Blackburn Rovers Action Group has set up a meeting with the Premier League for later this month to raise their concerns; and the Blackburn Rovers Investment Supporters Trust (BRSIT) continues to rally pledges from fans in an attempt to try to raise money to buy the club back into community ownership – this week they wrote an open invitation to Venky’s, inviting the owners to come and meet with them.
This was Venky’s last chance to reconcile with the fans, to take a step back in the right direction and to begin to turn around the clubs fortunes – they chose not to take it, instead, fobbing off the very people they need to keep the club alive with a pathetic attempt at trying to play the victim.
Leaders are not confused, they are clear of mind, sharp of thought and driven to succeed.