How do you manage when hundreds of fans are calling for your dismissal every week and the bookmakers insist you will be the first Premier League manager to lose your job this season? If you're Steve Kean, it's simple. "You block it out," says the 44-year-old, who tells i that those Blackburn Rovers supporters demanding his removal should be backing the club through "thick and thin".
Kean certainly has some predicament on his hands at Ewood Park. Rovers are bottom of the Premier League, they face Newcastle United in a Carling Cup tie tonight and he is the 10-11 favourite to be the first top-flight manager to lose his job. A sizeable portion of Rovers fans believe he was not the right man to succeed Sam Allardyce and feel his appointment by Venky's, the club's new Indian owners, was bizarre – and have let Kean hear their anger.
"I'm old enough, and wise enough, and thick-skinned enough to know that not everybody in the ground is going to be supportive," Kean says when we catch up at Blackburn's training ground, Brockhall. "Maybe they think I shouldn't be the manager, maybe there are other frustrations aimed at me because I'm the public figure. So if they are frustrated at any other aspect of the club then I get it, but I'd rather they gave it to me than my players. Of course, I wish every fan was like those we had [away] at Queen's Park Rangers. We had a thousand of them, and every one of them got behind the team. Those fans were amazing.
"I think supporters get frustrated like anyone else and I suppose they want to air their frustrations. I'm a firm believer that a supporter is a supporter of a club through and through. Thick and thin. And we need the supporters at the moment.
"We need them to be backing us and getting behind the lads, getting behind me, getting behind the owners, because I believe we all want the same thing. The owners have been quite strong in the direction they want to take the club. They've backed me and the plan we've put in place so we just need everybody to be supportive of what we're trying to do."
In truth, Kean has been up against it from the beginning. Handed the job by owners who had ungraciously dispensed with the services of Allardyce, Kean set about getting Blackburn to play in a style vastly different from his predecessor. He did all this amid a background of talk of stellar signings (Ronaldinho, David Beckham and Kaka were all linked with Rovers) and predictions of European football from the owners that did little to calm expectations.
Kean believes Rovers are bottom of the league partly because they have not had the rub of the green this season. "We feel as though we should have at least four more points," he says. "When you look at the balance of chances and what we got out of Villa, Wolves and Everton – you don't normally have a game with two penalties and not get anything from them."
On Sunday, Rovers were beaten at home by Tottenham Hotspur but put up a good performance that was praised by Harry Redknapp, the Spurs manager. "We were hanging on," Redknapp said. "I don't know what the crowd are demonstrating about [at Blackburn]."
In truth, the group of protesters has been dwindling. On Sunday they barely mustered 500. The banners may have got bigger, but the numbers are falling as signs of improvement grow.
But Kean still has regrets. "At Newcastle we allowed their two midfielders to boss the game and you can't allow that to happen," he says. "You can get a bit deflated. When you've done well for 55 minutes and you concede a goal, you think 'oh no', and then there's another quick goal. You then start to quickly forget all the successful things you were doing in the first 55 minutes and you've got lads thinking, 'Oh I've got to score in the next five minutes'. It's a learning process."
If there was a match where Kean felt the full pressure of the job, it was the one at home against Manchester City when his side lost 4-0. It was then that the first "Kean Out" banner was unfurled as some fans began to chant the name of the previous owner, Jack Walker. Kean is seen as representing the new owners – and the jury is still out on them.
Kean admits to feeling short-changed by football but he's not talking about the wages City players command, rather the career-ending injury which ushered the Scotsman, then a 27-year-old, into the world of coaching. "You're a player, and then suddenly you have to think about what you're going to do with your life, because all you know is football," says Kean. He found the answer in coaching. He confesses he poured himself into it, hoping to fill the void. "There's always something when you finish playing earlier than expected. You feel as though you've been a little hard done by. I certainly feel that."
Now all his energies are focused on getting Blackburn up the table. "The position we are in, you can look at the table and get a little bit depressed, when you are actually only four or five points off where you predicted yourself to be. It shows you that football is a game of fine margins."
David Fearnhead is the author of Bailey of the Saints. Available from Great Northern Books, price £8.99Reuse content