It has been quite a week at Blackburn Rovers, and not exactly ideal preparation for a pair of Championship relegation six pointers that begin with the visit of Stoke City this weekend.
The sophomore Premier League champions back in 1995, the club are no strangers to controversy during the 14-year ownership tenure of Indian billionaires Venky’s.
But this week came the culmination of months of building tension at Ewood Park and the expected exit of head coach Jon Dahl Tomasson, who had criticised the club’s owners for savagely cutting the transfer budget in the summer after changes to tax law in India made it more difficult for them to provide funds.
Tomasson had been blocked from giving a pre-match press conference a week ago and then smiled his way through an acerbic post-match press call in which he accused the club’s hierarchy of tossing a “hand grenade” his way in the summer, also revealing that he had offered to resign for free.
He is set to be replaced by John Eustace, harshly sacked by Birmingham City earlier this season, as the club look to arrest a desperate eight-game run in the league without a win and halt a slide towards the third tier.
i understands that there is increasing uncertainty over the future of the highly-rated Gregg Broughton, who was appointed as director of football two years ago to oversee a culture change at the club.
“It’s a critical week coming up – but it’s just the latest critical week for the club,” Ian Herbert, of Rovers fan site BRFCS.com and The 4,000 Holes podcast, told i.
The catalyst for the latest issues was a registration issue with the proposed deadline day signing of Duncan McGuire, a 22-year-old United States international the club wanted to sign from Orlando City.
A £3.1m permanent deal had been agreed for the forward but was then cancelled as McGuire flew to Lancashire from Orlando’s Mexican training camp. The transfer was resurrected as a loan deal with an obligation to buy but a registration error – Blackburn officials not sending over paperwork in time to complete the switch – left the EFL refusing to ratify the move. Blackburn’s appeal was rejected on Thursday night, meaning the deal is off.
It is the third time an administrative error has impacted their transfer business. A year ago deals for Lewis O’Brien and Ethan Brierley were sunk as the club failed to submit paperwork in time.
The club had earlier sold star midfielder Adam Wharton to Crystal Palace for £22m, adding to the sense of farce around the on-off McGuire deal.
Fan anger resulted in the club calling prominent supporters and the club’s supporters trust, We are the Rovers, to meetings this week. At a second summit on Tuesday they were surprised by a request from five senior players – Sam Gallagher, Dominic Hyam, Aynsley Pears, Ryan Hedges and Sammie Szmodics – to meet them. It was, says one of the people present, a robust exchange of views, with Rovers chief executive Steve Waggott also present.
“I have met with the CEO every other week for the last three months,” We Are the Rovers’ spokesperson Duncan Miller told i.
“The communication coming from the CEO recently has been good. Unfortunately the issue at the moment is some of the wider fanbase don’t necessarily believe what is being said.
“He asked us to come to a meeting on Monday and then to a meeting the following day to meet the players. The player meeting was pretty positive. Some of those in attendance got across their frustrations, telling them the issues are above them, not necessarily about performances but 14 years of ownership with questions over it.
“We relayed to them our frustrations. The togetherness gives you a bit of hope.”
One of the players also put the CEO on the spot about high ticket prices and the McGuire fiasco.
In truth, controversy has never been far from the surface despite the best efforts of the Venky’s Group, the huge Indian conglomerate best known for running chicken hatcheries. They have pumped almost £200m into a club that were a Premier League fixture when they bought them, but tumbled into League One as recently as 2017.
The general consensus is that it is bad judgement rather than bad intentions that are the root cause of the issues, but they seem unwilling to countenance a sale, even if there would be takers for the club if it was reasonably priced.
Herbert says there’s a sense that this is a critical period for the club.
“I was paradoxically pleased that Tomasson said what he did on Saturday because it brought things to a head,” he said.
“There’s a medical analogy in there: you keep treating the symptoms but the underlying issue is something everyone in the room is ignoring and you need to get to the cause of.
“The underlying cause is Venky’s. Until the ownership either sort out the court cases in India and free up the funds or say ‘It’s too much trouble’ and look to sell the club these things will continue to happen. You can’t be managed from halfway across the world by people for whom the club is such a small part of their empire.
“We need somebody who is interested in the day to day running of the club, somebody who feels they want to make those connections with the town and the fans and say ‘We’re all in this together’.
“Steve Waggott is their local lynchpin but he has no autonomy, no power, he’s just a bulletproof vest for them.”