Roy Hodgson may not have been the obvious man to call when Michael Appleton wanted advice on becoming the fifth man this season to manage Blackburn Rovers. When he was fired in the boardroom immediately after a defeat to Southampton, he had driven away from Ewood Park in tears.
However, having worked as Hodgson’s assistant at West Bromwich Albion and verbally accepted the offer to leave Blackpool, Appleton felt he should discuss it with the England manager.
“He spoke very highly of the football club,” said Appleton, sitting in the players lounge at Ewood, with a photograph of Kenny Dalglish’s title-winning side behind him. “He had an indifferent time there but said he had enjoyed it and thought the challenge was right for me. He said it was doable.”
Hodgson was more positive than Appleton’s chairman at Blackpool, Karl Oyston, who spluttered his disbelief that the 37-year-old should be joining what he described as a “disaster shipwreck”.
Since Blackburn’s old regime, funded by the Jack Walker Trust and run by John Williams, one of football’s most competent chief executives, sold out to the Indian chicken producers, Venky’s, the club has been portrayed as a footballing banana republic, relegated, ridiculed and with nobody outside India capable of making a decision.
The Ancient Romans called one of their most disastrous civil wars, “The Year of the Four Emperors”. This has been the season of the five managers – three permanent appointments and two caretakers.
And yet Appleton, who succeeded Henning Berg who lasted 10 games and 54 days in the home dugout, was probably right when he said that most managers would have taken his decision to exchange Blackpool for Blackburn. It still feels like a Premier League club.
And for Appleton, that would be a novelty. When he managed Portsmouth it was a club in administration, whose former owner, Vladimir Antonov, had been arrested on money-laundering charges. “We had players who couldn’t pay their mortgages and the training ground was padlocked,” he said. “When we were on a pre-season tour, I was told the club would be liquidated the next day.”
Even West Brom, where he played until a knee injury wrecked his career at 25 before becoming an assistant to first Roberto di Matteo and then Hodgson, was not the streamlined club it is now. “On my first night working at the school of excellence there, I had fireworks thrown on to the pitch by local kids – and the first team didn’t have a training ground.”
Appleton seems ideally equipped to cope with what he described as the “circus” at Blackburn. Nevertheless, the fact he was rumoured to be a client of the agent Jerome Anderson, who was given a substantial and highly controversial role under the former manager Steve Kean – who was a client - caused some disquiet among supporters.
For the record, he has never met Anderson and does not employ an agent. “It is cheaper that way,” he said. He has also yet to meet Blackburn’s ‘global advisor’ Shebby Singh, who may be on the way out of his £500,000-a-year contract to improve Blackburn’s image.
“From Venky’s point of view, they are perhaps a little confused about the perception there is towards them because they have pumped money into Blackburn and found themselves slagged off for it,” said Appleton.
“To improve the image of the football club is not going to be easy but I certainly feel it is part of the remit.” To that end, Venky’s have employed Caroline McAteer, who used to handle David Beckham’s PR. She may find promoting Blackburn Rovers harder than keeping Rebecca Loos at bay.
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