International Soccer
Kean has Blackburn headed in the right direction

By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It was only one month ago that Blackburn was mired in some serious turmoil following the dismissal of popular manager Sam Allardyce.

Allardyce was let go a month after Indian poultry giant Venky's completed a takeover of the club, and with Steve Kean taking charge of Rovers on an interim basis, things looked to be on the verge of coming unraveled for the bottom-half club.

Central defenders Ryan Nelsen and Chris Samba both voiced their displeasure with the move by announcing that they would seek to be transferred in January, with Samba entering into talks with Aston Villa about a switch.

Blackburn had suffered a heavy 7-1 defeat at Manchester United a few weeks before the move, and the general feeling around Ewood Park was that things were only going to get worse.

Under Steve Kean's watch, Blackburn now has an outside shot at a place in Europe.
But what a difference a month makes.

Since the end of 2010, Kean has signed a new contract with the club that will keep him in charge until June 2013, with Nelsen also inking an extension and Samba reportedly close behind.

In the span of just one month, Kean has turned around what looked to be a season destined to be spent fighting relegation into one that now holds the promise of an outside shot at a place in Europe.

So how did he do it?

First, Kean got both Nelsen and Samba to buy into the direction that the club was heading in, and now with both vocal leaders on board, Blackburn is enjoying a much greater level of stability.

"I think when the change came there was a bit of confusion and shock for everybody, and they [Nelsen and Samba] were both quite vocal in their understanding of how that happened," Kean told Sky Sports News.

"Since then we have tried to stabilize it. I went out to India a few times to get some information on what the owners want to do with the club and I fed that back to the senior players."

When Venky's completed its takeover in November the owners promised a small sum of money to be spent in the January transfer window, and so far the club has been able to bring back striker Roque Santa Cruz on loan from Manchester City while also acquiring midfielder Jermaine Jones.

There were even reports of interest from Blackburn in signing Brazilian Ronaldinho before he eventually returned home to Brazil to sign for Flamengo.

Even though Blackburn missed out on the Brazilian star, it still showed some initiative on the part of the club to improve, which it did with the captures of both Santa Cruz and Jones.

Prior to his departure from Blackburn in 2009, Santa Cruz tallied 23 goals in 54 games for Rovers, and his addition will spice up an often bland attack that lacks a true predatory threat up top.

Jones signed with Blackburn from Schalke, and he made a positive impact in his debut in Sunday's 2-0 win over West Bromwich, earning praise from his new manager.

Sunday's win also vaulted Blackburn into seventh place, the highest position in the standings for the club in over two years.

You have to go back to the 2005-06 season to find the last time that Blackburn qualified for a spot in Europe, and while that might be a bit ambitious for this season, Kean can take steps to ensure that the team is in a position to compete for a spot next campaign.

In addition to extensions for Nelsen and Samba, Kean has acknowledged that he is now working on new deals for both goalkeeper Paul Robinson and defender M?chel Salgado in the coming weeks, which would be more welcome news for Blackburn fans, who have become accustomed to seeing talented players leave Ewood Park.

David Bentley, Brad Friedel, Stephen Warnock and Santa Cruz are just a few of the players who have left in favor of other clubs in recent years, with cheaper, inferior talent taking their place.

But by identifying key players in the team and locking them up with new contracts, Kean is slowly developing a nice core of players to build around in addition to a new positive outlook on the season.

The club's new ownership group said it would like to see the team finish between 10th and 12th in the league standings this season, which is a reasonable goal.

However, they may need to revise that expectation in the coming seasons if Kean continues to guide the club down a promising road.

Comments? Criticism? Applause?
Contact Tim Keeble at tkeeble@sportsnetwork.com.

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