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Venky’s disaster proves ‘fit and proper person test’ must be an ongoing process

Steve Kean in 'we'll come out fighting' shocker. As the most predictable of demises in recent times came sadly into being and Blackburn Rovers' demotion from the English football élite was confirmed, manager Steve Kean stands as defiant as ever outlining before the media his plans to rebuild the squad. Call it optimism if you will but be clear it is the sort of optimism that would bring about a flutter on a dying horse.

Steve Kean's mental toughness and bravery in the face of such vehement criticism has been widely-discussed - too widely-discussed if you ask me, so let's leave the namby-pamby stuff behind for once and deal with the facts. Kean is an assistant manager who was extremely fortunate to be given his first job as number one. He has failed miserably by relegating a mid-table side within 18 months. Any other manager would have been sacked long ago.

The most worrying aspect of it all is that Kean appears unshakably assured of keeping his job, boldly, some would say arrogantly telling the BBC on Wednesday: "The owners are not going anywhere. I'm not going anywhere". Coming just two days after Blackburn's relegation was confirmed in front of near-unanimous personal condemnation from home supporters, he may as well add 'in spite of what the fans want'.

Consider that against Wolves' manager Terry Connor who is about to be replaced by former FC Cologne boss Stale Solbakken. During the club's comparable period of self-destruction, do you think Connor would dare to think 'I'm here for the long-term, they won't sack me'? Just one glance at his ever-present Bambi expression over the last few months would tell you it absolutely would not. Like every other Premier League manager, he has felt the intense boardroom pressure to achieve on the pitch - every other Premier League manager that is except Kean.

Heartless neglect

The absence of Venky's (pictured) during Blackburn's foreseeable decline has been at best bad business, at worst heartless neglect. The owners' part in the downfall is clear, the extent of their relationship with Kean less so, and it is about time that is addressed. If he has any special qualities as a manager or some vital influence to impart, he has frankly had ample time to show it. The very least Venky's owe Blackburn supporters is an explanation as to why Kean is allowed free reign as their club crumbles.

Taking the owners' words at face value, would relegation form constitute the "good football" they claimed to desire at Ewood Park? Objectively, does Kean seem to offer Blackburn a better chance of finishing "fourth or fifth", even to someone with as dubious a knowledge of football as Anuradha Desai?

Desai's decision to stand by a sub-standard novice over an established stalwart blows the ignorance excuse out of the water. Sticking by Kean in the face of the most damning evidence suggests to me that his promotion to manager was either incredibly fortunate for the owners to find their first choice of candidate so conveniently placed, or something far more deliberate than first appeared.

The most recent hint of support for Kean is the treatment of deputy chief-executive Paul Hunt whose December 10-point plan was not only deemed useless but sack-worthy. Venky's ignored what was essentially a plea for urgent assistance from within the club, and when they did react, they did so almost five months after the fact. One of those factors should be enough to alert the FA, but two should bring about intervention, failing that, open dialogue.

Three strikes 

Co-owner Venkatesh Rao has suggested the sacking was due to "some staff hav[ing] to go to bring the budget down" but given that Hunt was serving as a de facto chief executive with Venky's having not replaced the long-serving, well-respected John Williams who has since joined Man City, surely that would make it three strikes and you're out in terms of the FA's ownership criteria as the owners' plans appear to overlook the crucial role of chief-executive.

The current disconnect between common sense and FA procedure is almost as vast as the gulf between the Jack Walker Stand and a Southern Asian poultry farm, but even the Ewood Park chicken could tell you the 'fit and proper person test' has failed here woefully. The FA's assessment process must be more thorough, and its duty of care to the clubs need not end when the contracts are signed.

Investors may be fully capable of completing a takeover of a Premier League club and even sustaining it for a certain period, but that alone is not good enough. The 'fit and proper person test' absolutely must guard against the chronic short-termism of the current system. Investors must offer an extensive contingency plan that will be meticulously and annually audited to ensure it consistently upholds the integrity of the club and the Premier League brand in general.

A small, community football club from Lancashire being controlled both silently and blindly by a few football-illiterate individuals as far away as India is in itself an absurdity. The FA needs to act now to prevent 'the world's best league' becoming a global laughing stock.

By Chris Smith
Follow me on Twitter @cdsmith789 or click here to visit my blog, The Russian Linesman


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