Blackburn Rovers unveiled their third manager of the season in low key fashion at Ewood yesterday, allowing Michael Appleton to speak for himself in the absence of members of the Venky's family, the global advisor Shebby Singh, or any comment from the managing director, Derek Shaw. Appleton in turn has just joined his third club of the season, after moving from Portsmouth to Blackpool and spending just 65 days on the Fylde coast, so naturally his first wish is for the merry-go-round to stop spinning.
"What this club needs most is a spell of normality," the 37-year-old former Preston and West Bromwich player said. "Yes, we would like to get back to the Premier League and we might still have a chance to do that this season. We need results quickly, we need to improve the image of the club, and it would be great to get all the supporters back on board, but for any of that to happen we first need stability."
Plenty of people in east Lancashire believe a change of ownership will be necessary first, though like his immediate predecessors Appleton is convinced that Venky's share his ambition for the club, will provide backing, and will allow him full control of football matters. The fact that he has yet to meet any of them, or even hold a conversation with the newly reticent Singh, does not appear to daunt him. While Rovers fans might feel they have heard such platitudes before, Appleton was at least able to allay their fears about the reason he was chosen. He can categorically deny it had anything to do with Jerome Anderson or his Sport Entertainment and Media Group.
"For a start I've never met Jerome in my life, secondly I haven't got an agent," Appleton said. "It's a lot cheaper not to have one and I learned that very quickly as a player. Once I found I was allowed to speak to Blackburn it was just a matter of turning up with a lawyer to make sure the contracts were done properly. That saved me a few quid."
Appleton claims to have left Bloomfield Road on friendly terms, though the Blackpool chairman, Karl Oyston, publicly questioned why anyone would want to work at Blackburn, a club he described as "a disaster, a shipwreck". The new Rovers manager sees it rather differently. "This is a Premier League club with a great history," he said.
"It is still one of only five clubs to have won the Premier League title, so it was a no brainer for me. There's a great challenge ahead with potentially massive rewards. I want to work in the Premier League and this is a club where I can achieve that ambition. I'd be amazed, take away the top six or seven, if there was another manager in the country who would have made a different decision. There are 20 games left, 60 points to play for, and we know roughly how many we need to win to get us into the play-offs."
Rovers fans have questioned the experience of the new appointment, though Appleton points out that he was forced to quit playing through injury at the age of 27, and has spent the last 10 years in excellent company. "I've had a fantastic education in football, starting as a kid at Manchester United, moving to Preston under David Moyes, and then working with Tony Mowbray, Roy Hodgson and Roberto di Matteo at West Brom. I still phone Roy on a regular basis, and when I asked him about Blackburn he spoke very highly of the club.
"People look at West Brom now and say what a well run club it is, but believe me it didn't look like that when we went there in 2001. There was no academy. The pitch was poor because we kept having to train on it. I remember my first night working with 13 and 14 year olds at the so-called School of Excellence and local kids were lobbing fireworks on to the astroturf. West Brom are fantastically run now, but it has been a long process and I was part of it."
Blackburn's fortunes can be turned around quickly, Appleton believes, as long as normality is allowed to return. Not that he has seen much of that this season. "I'd be surprised if there is another manager in the country who can match my experience at Portsmouth," he said. "In the space of 12 months [at Portsmouth] I had to deal with redundancies, wage deferrals, points deduction, losing my best players, being locked out of the training ground, players defaulting on their mortgages and having cars repossessed, and being told we were being liquidated in the morning on the way to a game on a pre-season tour. That's pressure, and though a lot has been said about the circus that revolves around Blackburn, I hardly think it's going to be same here."