Football: Kidd gloves required to handle Rovers' return

FAN'S EYE VIEW: Blackburn Rovers
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The Independent Online
THERE ARE at least two consolations for Blackburn Rovers fans among the serial calamities that have made up the 1998/9 season to date. One is that, when Roy Hodgson departed, he did not quite close the door behind him. We were able to peer through and see something of the mess that he left, and get some understanding of what went wrong. The other consolation is that the capture of Brian Kidd has upset Manchester United.

The beginning of the decline in our fortunes is easy to date: the summer of 1995, straight after we had won the championship for the first time in 81 years. Blackburn is a town that teaches most of its children to keep their expectations low. But when Jack Walker brought in Kenny Dalglish, who brought in Alan Shearer, Ewood Park became a theatre of dreams in a more profound sense than Old Trafford ever was. The impossible really did happen there, in 1995.

Then, just as the people of Blackburn started to raise their expectations, and regard the Arsenals, the Manchester Uniteds, the Liverpools, as rivals and equals, Kenny Dalglish did a still unexplained disappearing act, and the European campaign into which he had seemed so well suited to lead them, petered out unglamorously.

Since then, Blackburn fans have tried to keep looking at the stars, but the down-to-earth town has kept tugging at their scarves, forcing them to look at their feet, planted on very plain ground indeed. The refusal of Dion Dublin to move to Ewood showed the "unfashionable" tag that Dalglish was supposed to have eradicated had returned with a cruel vengeance.

The appalling string of results under Hodgson - seven wins, five draws and 19 defeats in 1998 - suggested, at first, not the incompetence of the manager but simply that Blackburn was about to return to the place we all knew, in our secret heart of hearts, it really belonged.

Thankfully, we now know there is nothing inevitable about this process. We know because we found out that Hodgson, and not the town, is to blame. We know this because we can read between the lines of what players have said, and what has been leaked to local reporters. The Lancashire Evening Telegraph's Bramwell wrote last week: "On the training ground Hodgson, a former schoolteacher, could be something of a bully. He would pick on the most vulnerable while seeming to treat the senior and more influential players with kid gloves. Kevin Davies was one particular target of his hectoring and ruthless approach." If this is true, it is hardly surprising that the record pounds 7m signing has been playing without confidence.

Add to this that the supreme local hero Colin Hendry - who had seemed as closely wedded to Blackburn as any player could be to any club - suddenly departed for Rangers, and that the supremely committed Tim Sherwood wanted away, and light starts to fall on what was always a very dark dressing- room. The dropping of Sherwood for the game at Tottenham - with the implication that Sherwood could not be relied on to give 100 per cent against a club wishing to sign him - was an unforgivable slight on the captain's professionalism.

Hodgson, it seems, did not know how to get the most out of his squad. He did not extract every last ounce of effort from every individual and he could not keep morale high. So performance suffered, and matches that could have brought one or three points brought none. He talked a good game, but he was not a good manager.

Which brings us to Brian Kidd. The squad he inherits retains some terrific talent and harbours some exciting young players who have yet to realise their potential. He also has licence to spend. Whether he can blend this together into a winning team again, no one yet knows. But the fact that he has chosen to come to Blackburn from Manchester United, and that they are dismayed at Old Trafford, will do no end of good to the confidence of both the team and the town.