BLACKBURN Rovers slipped deeper into the abyss with their manager, Steve Kean, still in his job last night because the Ewood Park board was yet to persuade Indian matriarch owner Anuradha Desai to put the club out of its misery and sack him.
The beleaguered manager may find himself at the helm over Christmas, with prospective replacements, including Mark Hughes and Dave Jones, requiring assurances that they would not be walking into a disaster zone. The former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez has not been approached but he would not want the job. As of yesterday, Hughes had not been contacted by Rovers either, and though the emotional appeal of a club he took from near-relegation to Uefa Cup qualification five years ago is unmistakable, he would want absolute transparency from the board and assurances that Rovers would be a buying club, not one seeking to sell, next month. Desai appears to have a lot of work to do if he is to be talked into taking on such a precarious task.
Though Graeme Souness and Avram Grant have also been linked to Kean's job, with agent Pini Zahavi now engaged to supervise the search for a new manager, neither is understood to be a likely successor. Adding to the uncomfortable climate for any incoming manager is a Rovers Christmas fixture list which looks highly unfavourable - a visit to Anfield on Boxing Day, with Manchester United at Ewood Park five days later. Since neither of those fixtures looks winnable, Kean may at least see the year out.
At Ewood, there was unanimity after Rovers' defeat to West Bromwich Albion at the weekend that Kean's position had become untenable, before Tuesday's 2-1 home defeat by Bolton. All members of the senior executive team - the deputy chief executive Paul Hunt, sporting director Simon Hunt and the Indian contingent of Vineeth Rao, Mahesh Gupta and Gandhi Babu - now appear to feel that a new manager is the only solution.
Though no direct contact has been made through Hughes' representatives, it is possible that the club's former manager was approached informally several months ago by one of the contacts he retains at Ewood. The prospect of a short-term, five-month role for Hughes might have been raised, with a GBP1m ($AU1.6m) fee plus a bonus if the club avoids the drop to the Championship. The climate has changed radically since then and statistically Rovers' hopes of avoiding the drop are now remote in the extreme: only one club in 19 years of Premier League football has avoided relegation having gone into Christmas at rock bottom.
Though everything points to the need for change, the disconnect between Blackburn and Desai, who must sanction all the decisions from her position in the owners' Indian home city of Pune, is causing the current stasis. Desai, head of the Rao family who control Rovers' owners Venky's, was said to be "in a meeting" in India yesterday but it is unclear whether that related to the club. Blackburn's Evening Telegraph, which on Monday called for Kean and the Indian owners to go, said yesterday that the manager's reign was "expected to end" having achieved three points from the last four games after being set a seven-point target. But once again, it was impossible to predict with absolute certainty that Kean would go.
The Rao family are understood to have watched Tuesday's miserable defeat to Bolton, though it does seem that from Desai's position in India, where the ownership of Venky's has created virtually no additional media interest, a sense of the plight Rovers are in is missing.
Kean, to whom it was suggested after a night of supporters' vitriol on Tuesday that his wife would surely hope he did not stay to face more, was defended yesterday by the Tottenham Hotspur manager, Harry Redknapp. "I have never seen it like that," he said of the fans' abuse. "That is horrific to stand and take that. I just felt sorry for him, it was sad to see. He has loads of injuries [in the squad]. I heard people saying that the players weren't trying or weren't making the effort for him. That's absolute nonsense, a load of rubbish. They tried for their lives."
But the former Blackburn striker Kevin Gallacher said Kean's position was "becoming untenable". Gallacher said: "At this moment in time the club is going into the abyss. There's a fear factor about what's going to happen to the club. If a manager comes in, he's going to be working under the same circumstances as Steve, and I can't see that changing. The big question if they get someone else in is, 'What's the next stage?' When there's nobody running the football club from internally, it makes it twice as hard."