independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

Wacko impression part of the routine for hostages to Venky's

It will be a great shame if the recent misfortune of Henning Berg is added to the bulging file 'When Christmas Parties Go Wrong' rather than to the equally substantial folder 'When Working for Venky's Goes Wrong'.

Let's face it, there is no time of year when you would consider it a shock to hear that the manager of Blackburn Rovers had stormed out in a strop having been summoned on stage, asked to dance, wear a stocking over his head and finally put on a Michael Jackson wig.

The fact that this took place at the club's official Christmas party not at headquarters in Pune in front of the matriarch Mrs Desai shouldn't disguise the fact that this is a Blackburn Rovers problem, not a Christmas party problem.

Under Venky's, Blackburn managers always reach a stage where they begin to look more like hostages than men shaping the destiny of club. Steve Kean became smaller and smaller during his time as manager, finally ending up in that bizarre interview position in which he appeared to be staring up from a hole in the ground and pleading with his interlocutor to do something.

When even hardened football men were asking for Kean to be treated with just the tiniest bit of compassion or at least put out of his misery, it was clear that it had all gone too far.

Last week Berg looked as if he was speaking from within a bunker. He patiently explained that these events had taken place at an official club function not one of those end-of-days Christmas parties where players sit around happily recalling the memorable moments of the year while drinking each other's piss.

Seasoned Blackburn watchers would have remembered the pleading eyes of Kean peering out from that hole in the ground and wondered if this was Berg's cry for help.

Berg has been given the mission of getting Blackburn back into the Premier League by the ever ambitious Venky's. They have vowed to get out of the Championship, with their resolve in no way weakened by their reported ignorance of the fact that they could end up in the Championship when they bought the club.

Berg is beginning to understand that the demands of the people he works for do not necessarily have any relationship with reality. His comments when he pointed out that the events of the night in question took place at a club function could be seen as a way of downplaying the scandal.

They might also have been his coded message, his attempt to say, 'Look at what goes on here. I'm Henning Berg. I'm a serious, maybe overly serious, man. Three nights ago, I was dancing on stage with a club DJ and being encouraged by two hundred employees to put on a Michael Jackson wig.'

To Venky's, this may all seem normal. Maybe they explain away the ridicule as something they have come to expect when experts in processed chicken enter another arena. For some reason being leaders in the processed chicken business doesn't carry the same cachet as being leaders in the oil-for-shares business.

Venky's were happy to back Kean for a long time, happy to allow the warm relationship between Kean and the woman he called the "chairlady, Mrs Desai" to develop.

Perhaps Berg will transform as he begins the long, slow journey up river. Perhaps the wildness of the official club function is another example of what happens to all good people as they comprehend what it means to be working for Venky's.

They will recall the dark days when Steve Kean appeared to be issuing a vote of confidence in Venky's and recall the denials of the story that the only reason he still had a job was because Mrs Desai got on with Mrs Kean. The story probably took off because Mrs Desai had described Kean's greatest quality as "thinking", something very few people had thought was relevant before.

They will remember the Steve Kean court case when he hinted that dark forces were at work or, at the very least, dark forces were spiking his drink.

His claim was dismissed by the court who banned him for drink-driving but the important thing is that Kean believed it to be true.

This may be what the Blackburn Rovers job does to a man. We knew little of Kean before he took the job and now all we remember are his crying eyes.

But we have some idea what kind of man Henning Berg is. The vision of him doesn't involve him cracking wise in a press conference, let alone doing a Michael Jackson impression in front of an audience at a party which, according to one report, was "designed to boost morale".

Berg, right now, seems less inclined to give the dreaded vote of confidence to the board.

These people who have worked at Blackburn may think Henning Berg naive and not just for taking the job.

They will look at Henning Berg "storming out" of a Christmas party and advise caution. They will tell him that if the worst thing that happens to him during his time is a ritual humiliation from an undoubtedly irritating DJ then he will have done quite well.

In his statement explaining the situation, Berg said: "After the dinner I was asked to go to the stage, which I was happy to do, believing I would be asked a few questions or maybe judge a competition. Instead I was asked to do things which were not the right things for me to do as the manager, considering our league position and form."

Berg's position is simply that it was not the right time for him to wear a stocking over his head and put on a Michael Jackson wig. It's an admirable position, but it will be tested at Blackburn Rovers. Under Venky's, there is never a good time to be humiliated.

dfanning@independent.ie

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