Tuesday 24 April 2018

Grand tradition comes under the influence of sinister forces

Dion Fanning

It is dangerous to make too many judgements this early in the season, but it can safely be said that Blackburn Rovers are going places.

They have failed to sign Raul and Robbie Keane but the Venky's are making things happen.

Owners who summarily dispatched Sam Allardyce merely on a hunch know what they are about. Last week we could see why their voices quivered with awe when they appointed Steve Kean to succeed Allardyce.

Kean didn't have a good week after he was found guilty of drink-driving and banned for 18 months.

Yet he hinted in court last week that dark forces were at work when he failed a breathalyser test following Blackburn's game with Manchester United at the end of last season.

The court's swift dismissal of this suggestion in no way lessens the realisation that we are dealing with a man of substance who, given time, will bring joy to the Premier League like few have since Phil Brown.

Kean clearly learned much from Allardyce, even if to Allardyce all he represents is betrayal.

The suggestion that his drink was spiked brought his management of Blackburn Rovers into a new realm. Luckily, he has supportive owners in Venky's -- with their distressing apostrophe -- but there could have been dire consequences for his career following his conviction.

In fact, the Indian owners were said to have taken a "dim view" of his offence.

Anuradha Desai, the chairwoman, had described Kean as man who "thinks well. He has a vision. Mark my words, he thinks well. He's a good thinker. That's his biggest strength".

So he had mulled over what had happened in those fateful hours and concluded that his drink was spiked.

Like all conspiracy theorists, Kean will have asked 'Cui bono?' using the Latin too, undoubtedly, to illustrate the seriousness of this threat to his personal freedom. Habeas Corpus, he might have added, just to show that he thinks well or knows some more Latin.

Even in the cock-up version of history, somebody usually benefits from the downfall of another, but in Kean's case, he will know that he has acquired enemies during his meteoric -- if not completely baffling -- rise to the top.

Keane told the court he had drunk in only two places -- a hotel bar with friends where he enjoyed a bottle of beer which he drank from a small glass and which he left unattended several times (as a good thinker, he will wryly recall Flann O' Brien's line about a man's pint and his wife and how he will take little notice of either unless one or both of them is knocked over in his presence).

Before that beer, Kean had enjoyed a couple of glasses of red wine with Alex Ferguson and ten of the United staff following the game. Kean said his drink was unattended here too.

Only the ridiculous would have come to the conclusion that Kean was insinuating that Alex Ferguson could have somehow been involved in the alleged spiking of his drink.

Ferguson may have condemned the dismissal of Allardyce and he may also have joined Big Sam in an orchestrated attack on Rafael Benitez which was irrational and bizarre, but it is an illogical and wholly unjustified leap to think that he would go to such lengths for a friend.

Kean is still baffled. He has no other explanation for being over the limit. He said if somebody had laced his drinks with whisky, vodka or gin, he wouldn't have known as he doesn't drink spirits.

I, for one, believe him. Kean looks like the kind of man who enjoys a bottle of beer but at the right time. Maybe after one or two, he unbuttons the top button of his shirt and makes whatever point he has to make quite forcefully. He is in possession (I imagine, I've never met the man) of a firm handshake. A no-nonsense handshake of bone-crushing intensity that signifies he means business or at least signifies that he wants to signify that he means business.

By standing up in court and blowing the whole damn thing wide open, he may also have inadvertently attacked one of the great traditions of English football.

The good bottle of red like the big number 9, 4-4-2 and the drink at the right time is under attack from modernisers, geeks, churls and people who have never played a game of football or drank a good bottle of red in their life.

Kean was not among this subversive group as he was enjoying a good bottle of red with Sir Alex before moving on and enjoying a glass of lager with friends at the hotel.

At some point, if Kean is to be believed (and there is absolutely no evidence that he should be), he was nobbled.

"There is no evidence of lacing of drinks," district judge Nicholas Sanders told what I imagine was a packed court. The prosecution pointed out: "No one has come forward and said: 'Yes, I put 17 vodkas into his beer'. There is another explanation -- and that is Mr Kean had more to drink than he has admitted."

You only need to recall the Warren Commission to know that the legal system doesn't tend to look favourably on conspiracies, no matter how compelling or in this case not compelling they may be. Courts are not minded to wonder who would benefit from Steve Kean being brought down -- or at least find his downfall funny.

Kean will also have to repair his bond with Venky's who are outsiders too. Their business appears to have left them open to ridicule. They are providing affordable chicken to the housewife and this has been treated with scorn.

They may not be Bernard Matthews who, in Alan Partridge's words, was "either responsible for the biggest ornithological genocide of recent times or he's the greatest farmyard-to-table strategist of the last one hundred years".

However neither are they, say, Roman Abramovich who made his money through seizing the natural resources of his country and the controversial loans-for-shares programme. Yet nobody laughs at him.

Venky's are ridiculed because they deal in chicken. Kean has risked even more ridicule. His bosses need to back him now and remember what they first saw in him.

dfanning@independent.ie

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