Steve Kean has grown used to the banners billowing from Ewood Park, the blimps soaring into the skies above the Ribble Valley. Still the Blackburn manager has done for his reign what Comical Ali did for the Iraq war: he has obfuscated and optimised, shrouded the truth in spin and statistics. There comes a point, though, where the truth is so blatant, so clear, that it cannot be denied. Bottom of the Premier League, only one win all season, no clean sheets: the tanks are rolling down the road.
Kean, needless to say, remains upbeat. He has all season. He has all year, since he first replaced Sam Allardyce, despite a complete absence of experience, almost 12 months ago. He has guaranteed Blackburn's fans that the club will not be relegated. Little more than a week ago, before drawing with Wigan, he insisted that he had a squad at his disposal capable of finishing in the top half of the Premier League.
"I don't look at this season in terms of trying to salvage something," he said. "I think we have a good enough squad to be in the top 10. If you look at this season and the way we're playing, we deserve more points, and that's coming from speaking to people like Harry [Redknapp]. He told me he felt we deserved a point when we lost to Tottenham.
"Andre Villas-Boas and John Terry also came in to see me after Chelsea beat us. They told us what a tough game we had given them and guys like Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard said the same thing. I don't think they say that week-in, week-out to other managers."
Football management, of course, is an occupation for optimists, but Kean's devout refusal even to acknowledge that all might not be going swimmingly in his first appointment brings to mind Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, the Iraqi Information Minister tasked with broadcasting the official line during the 2003 invasion. His insistence that Saddam Hussein's embattled regime was fending off the American advance, that there were no foreign troops in Baghdad even as a US tank rumbled past made him a cult figure in the west.
Like Comical Ali – or his literary precursor, Dr Pangloss in Voltaire's Candide – Kean is blessed with the ability to ignore the blindingly obvious. It is a fact, for example, that Blackburn have amassed an average of 0.85 points per game under Kean's redoubtable stewardship. It is the lowest of any manager in the division; it is more than comfortably relegation form. "I disagree," said the Scot, when that statistic was put to him after defeat at Stoke on Saturday.
That is the thing with the truth: it is malleable, manipulated. And so, even in defeat, Kean, like all great propagandists, can find a crumb of comfort. "If you look at the stats there are only three other teams in the Premier League that have got more points than ourselves from a losing position," he declared this week. It sounds like an achievement; in a sense, it probably is an achievement. It is, though, an entirely irrelevant one.
Not, though, to Kean's mind. After all, speaking earlier this season, the Scot dismissed the concept of points, league positions, and victories as "just one way of measuring progress". "There are others," he said. "Like the value of the squad." That, of course, will not keep Blackburn up. It may not even keep Kean in a job. The tanks are rolling down the road, and all is absolutely fine.Reuse content