Shipped from abroad, England: Blackburn visited by the ghost of chaos’ past
In a season that will end with a new club winning the title (this has only happen five times in 20 seasons), one of the Premier League’s few previous winners will go down. Not that this hasn’t happened before. None of Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea have sniffed relegation since finishing atop Sky’s league, but Blackburn Rovers? They’ll be making their second trip to the Championship since Jack Walker bought the title in 1995.
(Don’t take offense, Blackburn fans. All titles are bought.)
That fate was confirmed on Monday. Perhaps you heard about it? The match with the chicken? Well, like all matches, it also ended with a final score: 1-0 in favor of visiting Wigan, with Paraguayan international Antolín Alcaraz’s 87th minute winner helping Blackburn fill the Premier League’s quota of sending one chaotic mess back into the Football League.
Three years ago, that mess was Newcastle. The club’s season was sent spinning early when manager Kevin Keegan walked away amidst disagreements with then-maligned owner Mike Ashley. By season’s end, Match of the Day face Alan Shearer (also a wildly prolific scorer with Newcastle) was brought in to keep the Toon up, only he couldn’t guide the club to a final day win at home over Aston Villa, a side whose season had long since been decided.
Two years ago, Portsmouth adopted an involuntary ownership rotation scheme, apparently intent on testing the bounds of fit and proper personhood. By March they were on their fifth owner, had been docked nine points, and were relying on Avram Grant to save them (fact: nothing says chaotic ownership like Avram Grant). Two years later, the club’s been relegated to the third tier, a 10-point deduction dropping them from 18th to 22nd in the Championship. But at least the doors are still open.
Last year, West Ham started the season by looking at Pompey’s problems and demanding “get us the man who orchestrated that.” Grant was brought in and didn’t disappoint. The Hammers finished dead last despite an array of enviable talents (by relegation standards): Scott Parker, Robert Green, Matthew Upson, Mark Noble, Carlton Cole, Victor Obinna, Wayne Bridge, Tomas Hitzlsperger, Demba Ba, Pablo Barrera amongst them. They were no match for the power of Avram, nor the powers of Davids Gold and Sullivan, a duo that had previous guided Birmingham City into the Championship.
Blackburn is the latest club to fall beneath the scythe of ownership chaos. Last year, Venky’s Limited Group (best known for interests in poultry, hence the chicken) bought the team at the behest of agent Jerome Anderson. Quickly, it became known that Swiss sports agency Kentaro (affiliated with Anderson) where the brains behind the Venky’s soccer operation. Manager Sam Allardyce was let go, presumably for stylistic reasons, yet ownership never replaced interim manager Steve Kean, who proved willing to accept the Kentaro-introduced policies. One year later, downtrodden Rovers supporters are releasing live chickens during matches.
Looking to next season, which club could become the Premier League’s annual inane ownership offering? There aren’t any obvious candidates, but you can’t sleep on a club that made the brilliant decision to hire the manager of a recently-relegated arch rival. That’s what Aston Villa did at this season’s onset. Now, two years after a string of three consecutive sixth place finishes, Villa could finish 17th. It’s difficult to see next year being better if Alex McLeish is still in charge.
This season, Blackburn predictably filled the chaos quota. Hopefully next year will see 20 ownership groups appropriately value their club’s place in the first division.
Elsewhere in England
Arsenal 3-3 Norwich City
Newcastle 0-2 Manchester City
Aston Villa 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Bolton Wanderers 2-2 West Bromwich Albion
Fulham 2-1 Sunderland
Queens Park Rangers 1-0 Stoke City
Wolverhampton 0-0 Everton
Manchester United 2-0 Swansea City
Blackburn Rovers 0-1 Wigan Athletic
Champions League: Manchester City (86 points/37 games), Manchester United (86/36), Arsenal (67/37), Tottenham (66/36)*
Europa League: Newcastle (65/37) (Liverpool has already qualified by virtue of winning the League Cup; Chelsea has qualified by virtue of winning the FA Cup)
Survival (relegation): Aston Villa (38/37), Queens Park Rangers (37/37) Bolton (35/37) (Blackburn and Wolverhampton have already had relegation confirmed)
* - if Chelsea wins Champions League, they take Spurs’ spot in the 2012-13 tournament, relegating Tottenham to Europa.
Stuff that stuck out:
- Steve touched on it on Saturday, but with Sunday’s results, Arsenal got a bit of an undeserved reprieve. Tottenham dominated Aston Villa but couldn’t get more than a point, leaving the Gunners in control of their own destiny ahead of a final round visit to The Hawthornes. That match is far from a foregone conclusion. Arsenal’s winless in four, and if they can stumble at home to Norwich, they certainly can be had in Roy Hodgson’s last match with West Brom.
- Robin van Persie scored twice on Saturday, giving him a four-goal lead atop the league’s scoring charts after Wayne Rooney failed to find the net against Swansea.
- Speaking of scoring charts, Clint Dempsey’s goal against Sunderland (a team that checked out when they were eliminated from the FA Cup) leaves him alone in fourth place amongst Premier League goal scorers. He’s the only player amongst the chart’s top nine whose total hasn’t been bolstered by a penalty kick.
- Despite their loss to Manchester City, Newcastle can still qualify for Champions League, though they will have to win at Everton. Should they do so, they finish top four with as little as a +8 goal difference. It’s been seven years since a club finished as high was a worse ratio, Everton remarkably claiming fourth in 2004-05 with a -1.
- It’s the least Djibril could have done. Since arriving from Lazio in the winter window, QPR’s Djibril Cisse has seen red twice. On Sunday, he may have reclaimed the points he’s cost Rangers, his 89th minute winner giving QPR three from Stoke.
- Mark Hughes’ team is still in dire straits. They have to get a point at the Etihad on Sunday, which isn’t going to happen. Bolton go to the Brittania to face a Stoke side that’s last in the league in goals scored. One will do for Owen Coyle’s boys.
- If ownership is a hint as to who will and won’t survive relegation battles, it’s no wonder Wigan keeps pulling off these May escapes. Dave Whelan has kept his small-ish club in that rugby-ish town up for seven straight seasons. The faith he’s shown in Roberto Martíne, has been admirable. There’ve been many times over the last three seasons another owner would have changed course. A steady hand with realistic goals, Whelan has the Latics set for an eighth season of Premier League soccer.
Up next: It’s Survival Sunday, we’re told. Ten matches, all kicking off at the same time (10:00 a.m. Eastern), only a few of which are worth your time:
- Manchester City vs. Queens Park Rangers: City will win and claim the title.
- Sunderland vs. Manchester United: I suppose United could make up their eight-goal disadvantage in difference.
- West Bromwich Albion vs. Arsenal: If Arsenal draws, they can finish no worse than fourth. If they win, they claim third.
- Tottenham vs. Fulham: Spurs win only gives them third if Arsenal stumbles. Anything less opens the door for Newcastle.
- Everton vs. Newcastle:
- Norwich City vs. Aston Villa:
- Stoke City vs. Bolton Wanderers:
The Magpies can only move up with a win. If they get it, they need Arsenal to lose or Fulham to win to climb into (at least) fourth.
Villa would have to lose by at least 16 goals, have QPR get a point from Man City and have Bolton win in order to go down. I don’t know why I bothered to type that out.
The Trotters need a win. If they get it, they should survive (with QPR’s loss at City).