For the first time since Venky's takeover, the club's owners are acting in a coherent manner to rebuild trust with the supporters
Several minutes into conversation with Shebby Singh, who bears, deadpan, the title "global football adviser" to the Indian owners of Blackburn Rovers, a strange and surprising sensation takes hold. Singh refuses to talk about Steve Kean or the circumstances in which the manager, appointed by Venky's so rapidly after the company bought the club and reviled by much of the Rovers crowd, resigned on Friday. "I would prefer to look forward," Singh says.
Given Rovers' imminent matches at Nottingham Forest on Wednesday then home against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday, Singh insists the caretaker manager, Eric Black, needs support to work with the team. He says that after that, with the helpful delay of an international break, the owners will assess the options, including many candidates who have approached the club. "We have to be very careful about the choice we make," Singh says. "We have been through difficult times and now we must make the right decision."
The unnerving realisation dawns gradually that Singh, the representative of the most hapless owners in English football's rollercoaster period of selling clubs internationally, is actually taking a sensible stance. His message, refusing to be drawn into an autopsy of Kean's period in charge, emphasising the importance of selecting a good manager next, praising supporters "as the lifeblood of the club", is the most coherent since Venky's introduced its peculiar strain of chaos to Ewood Park.
The Indian poultry company, which always seemed so odd a fit for Blackburn Rovers, announced when it took over in November 2010 that it wanted Rovers to be "the Arsenal of the north" and aim for the Champions League. The then manager, Sam Allardyce, was almost immediately sacked, for "not sharing our vision". They mystifyingly found that Kean third in command as first-team coach, did share that vision. Kean's agent, Jerome Anderson, had, of course, introduced Venky's to the club, having been asked to find a buyer by Blackburn's previous owners, the trustees of the Jersey-based tax exile Jack Walker's estate.
Anderson has always denied engineering Kean's elevation, pointing out he had no formal role at Rovers after brokering the takeover, except for acting as the club's agent during the following January transfer window. Singh will not discuss any of it, dismissing the intrigue which enveloped and embittered Ewood Park as "a very tired subject".
The attrition rate has been breathtaking at a football club previously known for shrewd, efficient management through 10 years proudly competing in the Premier League after the death of Walker in 2000 and the trustees' consequent withdrawal of his bounteous financial backing. The executive chairman, John Williams, managing director, Tom Finn, and finance director, Martin Goodman, resigned after protesting to Venky's that they had been sidelined.
After a period of drift during which supporters' bewilderment with Kean mutated into furious protest, Venky's appointed a deputy chief executive, Paul Hunt, a director with no football experience, Vineeth Rao, and a sporting director, Simon Hunt. Paul Hunt, in December, was soon also complaining in writing that at a club plummeting downwards he was being given no authority. He was then swiftly sacked in May when his letter surfaced. Rao and Simon Hunt have now gone, too.
Rovers were relegated in May amid scenes of supporter disenchantment. Yet still the owners expressed their support and loyalty to Kean. The paradox at the heart of the Scot's exit is that, after all the opposition, he finally left after Rovers had made a solid start in the Championship; the 2-1 home defeat by Middlesbrough on 21 September was the first of the season. But there were reports that the owners had resolved to sack him, which Singh will not discuss, and Anuradha Desai, Venky's chair, then changed her mind.
Kean's statement, issued through his lawyers, claimed his position had become "untenable" and he had been "forced to resign". Singh would not comment on suggestions that he had latterly interfered with team selection.
It remains to be seen whether Kean has any legal case for claiming he was undermined, given that he was meteorically promoted then retained despite relegation.
Certainly, with Singh's arrival, the politics at Ewood have shifted. The fans' BRFC Action Group, who say they have 8,000 members signed up and were implacably opposed to Kean, say Singh has talked to them openly.
"Shebby engaged with us, he quickly realised we had major issues and, now Steve Kean has finally gone, we are willing to give Venky's another chance," says Glen Mullan, the group's spokesman. "It has been disastrous but now it is about the rebuilding process and making sure an experienced manager is appointed."
Tiptoeing through the blood on the Ewood Park carpets are Paul Agnew, the former PR consultant recently promoted to operations director, Derek Shaw, the former chairman of Preston North End whom Agnew brought in, and Karen Silk, the finance director. Singh is a former Malaysian international footballer who for the last 11 years was a pundit on ESPN Star Sports, predominantly commenting on Premier League matches. For big games, he says, his TV audience in south-east Asia was 250-300 million people. Venky's saw him talking football, then appointed him to be global football advisor in July 2011, developing the Blackburn "brand" in Asia, before sending him to Blackburn itself this summer. He insists Venky's now understands the responsibilities of football club ownership and will take care over its next, critical moves.
"It is too early to say we have preferred candidates for the manager's job," he says. "Eric Black needs to be given support and we will get down to the nitty-gritty after Saturday's game. Credit to my bosses, they are on the ball."
Blackburn Rovers' and English football's reputations during this fad for foreign ownership rest on Singh's words translating into sense and stability. Fans of a grand old club must hope this episode is just a traumatic acting out of the old saying: that an omelette cannot be made without breaking some eggs.