Football: Kendall a candidate for return to Rovers

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Terry Venables and Bruce Rioch quickly emerged as the front runners to become manager of Blackburn Rovers after the resignation yesterday of Ray Harford, although sources close to the Premiership's bottom club do not rule out a return to Ewood Park by Howard Kendall.

The 50-year-old Kendall, currently in charge at Sheffield United after spells with Everton, Athletic Bilbao, Manchester City and Notts County, turned down the chance to return to Maine Road last month. But he has fond memories of his spell as Blackburn's player-manager, between 1979 and '81, and a good relationship with the club's president and multi-millionaire benefactor, Jack Walker.

Most importantly, Kendall has a reputation for being able to revive struggling clubs. Blackburn, champions 17 months ago but the only English club without a League victory this season, certainly fit that category. Harford bowed to the inevitable following Tuesday's 1-0 home defeat by Second Division Stockport County in the Coca-Cola Cup, a result he described as "the final straw".

Walker is understood to believe that Blackburn need a major personality, a charismatic figure to recreate the impact made there by Kenny Dalglish.

Venables would fit the bill, and may not be fully committed to his role as director of football with Portsmouth. However, the former England coach has never worked for a club north of Tottenham, and at 53, seems unlikely to leave his native London.

There may also be interest at boardroom level in Rioch, who as a former manager of neighbouring Bolton would be seen as a more plausible candidate for a lowly side in the North-west. Rioch, dismissed by Arsenal on the eve of the season, is currently assisting his own ex-assistant, Stewart Houston, at Queen's Park Rangers.

Another contender is likely to be Howard Wilkinson, sacked by Leeds last month, while a sentimental appeal to Dalglish cannot be discounted.

Louis van Gaal, who is to leave Ajax next spring, might also attract support, though British clubs may prefer to wait and see how Arsene Wenger fares at Arsenal before appointing a foreign manager.

Harford's demise was widely predicted after the Stockport debacle, when supporters demonstrated against him. It comes two months after that of Dalglish, who brought him to Ewood Park as coach five years ago, although he had offered to step down on three previous occasions.

"The performance the other night was the final straw," Harford admitted. "I've always tried to put the club first, and I hope this decision can do some good." Blackburn was the 51-year-old Yorkshireman's fourth managerial post, following stints at Fulham, Luton and Wimbledon. Among the players, he was a popular choice to succeed Dalglish when the Scot took a back seat as director of football in the wake of their title triumph.

The squad put much of that success down to Harford's tactical acumen and work on the training ground. Graeme Le Saux claimed that his public image as a dour man was sharply at odds with the sympathetic, humorous person he knew.

But not for the first time in his career - and like gifted coaches such as Don Howe, Dave Sexton and Malcolm Allison before him - Harford found that management created pressures he was ill-equipped to handle.

He did not, for example, come across well on television. Which, in turn, may have compounded the impression that after the glamour of the Dalglish era, Blackburn had reverted to being a Lancashire town team rather than players on the European stage.

Where his predecessor's mere name had attracted the likes of Alan Shearer, David Batty and Tim Flowers, Harford struggled to recruit the quality Blackburn needed. He erred badly in not strengthening the side during the summer after their championship success, when the club were approaching a European Cup campaign and their stock was high.

Tony Parkes, the coach who was a Rovers player during Kendall's time, has taken over as caretaker manager for today's visit to West Ham.