ANKARA – FOX Soccer's Barclays Premier League preview continues with one of the four clubs to have raised the league's trophy - Blackburn Rovers.
There's a saying that you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family. Rovers fans might be feeling that way about the family that acquired their beloved club last November in what would become the defining moment of the club's 2010-11 campaign.
In short order, Venky's ineptitude managed to make a mid-table side into a laughing stock. Was it the sacking of "Big" Sam Allardyce as manager, replacing him with the bland and ineffective Steve Kean? Was it the promises of big cash outlays that never materialized? Or was it the frankly ridiculous public statements that claimed the Lancashire club was going to sign Ronaldinho and David Beckham? You pick. Bottom line is that Rovers went into free-fall.
Whereas Allardyce's blunt pragmatism have Rovers within a run of European contention, it may him an each out for an ownership group more fascinated with hype than results. Between January 24 and the end of the season, Blackburn won twice in 14 matches and was a relegation candidate on the last day of the season.
Now comes the start of the 2011-12 season, and Blackburn are still in trouble. Venky's is apparently facing financial pressure to repay some bank loans that were used to acquire the team, pronto. This means that despite claims of £30 million being available to bulk up the roster, Kean probably has only a fraction of that. (In fact, even though the club sold wunderkind Phil Jones to Manchester United for a reported £16 million, that cash is apparently going to pay debts, not to replenish the squad.)
Amongst other exits, Jermaine Jones has also left, leaving a big hole in the back. (The American Jones would have liked to stay but he has been recalled by Schalke, where he faces an uncertain future). Christopher Samba is said to be in advanced negotiations with Aston Villa, meaning his days may well be numbered. Any way you look at it, Blackburn need to find a new way to prevent goals. Given only five clubs allowed more tallies last season, they can't afford to get any worse.
So far, Rovers have been sending more players out the exits than they have been bringing in. They desperately need that defensive cover, could use an attacking midfielder, and badly need a striker, none of which are likely to arrive in Lancashire.
All of which leaves probably Steve Kean to play alchemist with the materials on the shelf. True, Blackburn is trying to pick up another attacker, and Rovers have been reported to be close to signing Argentine Mariano Pavone from Real Betis (Pavone was on loan to recently-relegated River Plate), but a club with goal prevention problems and sparse choices in attack will need more than an unproven Argentine import to be anything but bad.
Paul Robinson will backstop a defense that will lean even harder on their inspirational but aging captain, Ryan Nelsen. He'll partner with Samba (if the Congolese is around). Gael Givet remains out wide with the likes of Michel Salgado and Martin Olsson also in line for time.
Attacking mid Mauro Formica will feed up in the center after he finally joins the side from Newell's Old Boys. Steven N'Zonzi is likely to keep his place as is Morten Gamst Pedersen, one of the team's leading scorers last season. (That's a problem.) David Dunn, Brett Emerton, Keith Andrews and Vince Grella are also options, of a sort. It's not a group that's going to boss many matches.
Up top, Jason Roberts is showing his age and Nikola Kalinic has shown flashes but little consistency. The creaky Benjani finally inked a deal to keep him at the club another year. If it wasn't for David Hoillett, there'd be nothing to recommend Rovers' attack.
Lacking quality at all levels of the pitch, Blackburn could be truly awful. They have a couple intriguing players and have a lot of pride, but don't seem to have the defenders, the midfield linkup or much proven scoring ability. Kean doesn't exactly inspire confidence on the sidelines, either. Given much of the team's recent success could be explained away to Sam Allardyce's methods), Blackburn's a good bet to be the worst team in the league, a distinction that never lasts for more than one season.