Exactly what is this woman doing at Blackburn Rovers?

As the head of Venky's, Anuradha Desai knows a lot about chickens but little about football – proved by her stewardship of Blackburn's rapid decline

She is presiding over the interminable demise of Blackburn Rovers, but don't let it be said that Anuradha Desai is a pillager with no thoughts for Lancashire. She brought up the subject of job losses at the British Aerospace factory at Salmsebury, located on the top road to the Rovers training ground, with one of the few concerned individuals from Blackburn who has made it beyond the security checkpoints to secure an audience at her "Venky Farm" bungalow in Pune, South-west India.

On top of that, after the agent Jerome Anderson had convinced her that owning the club was a very good idea, she had to be reined in from responding to all the hand-out requests which came piling in from North-west England: a £17,000 minibus needed here, hardship support required there. She even had ideas about funding a renovation of Blackburn Cathedral. Visitors to the bungalow, where she conducts her business, are encouraged to call her "madam", but this individual is intelligent and thoughtful, with concerns which are often pastoral.

Desai, her husband, Jitendra, and two brothers, Venkatesh and the more glamorous Balaji, preside over a group of companies, Venkateshwara Hatcheries, which are striding out across to Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cambodia and Brazil and whose performance on the Mumbai Stock Exchange reflects their market dominance in India – all of which you don't achieve without a little emotional, as well as entrepreneurial, intelligence. But that is why, at the end of the week in which Michael Appleton became the third manager in a season to be pushed out the Ewood Park door, the motives which drove this disastrous episode in football-club ownership are so baffling. Why on earth are they here?

Anderson's encouragement had much to do with it. The Jack Walker Trust had let it be known that there would be commission for anyone who found them a buyer, and in the autumn of 2010 an expanding Venky's were looking to move beyond their small-scale local cricket, tennis and football sponsorship which saw only the occasional star, such as the Russian tennis player Elena Dementieva, wear their name.

At the time Venky's, expanding out of the nitty-gritty business of supplying 80 per cent of chicks to farmers and hatcheries in India, were also actively looking to open London outlets for their Venky's Express fast- food outlets (a downmarket KFC). They were cash-rich and had money to burn. They looked at sites in Leicester Square and Covent Garden.

The financial downturn, allied to the dreadful trouble that relegation-threatened Blackburn Rovers brought to their door, seems to have dissuaded them from proceeding with the outlets, though they have never said why. Desai's husband – a very serious financier who has masterminded the company's expansion – is also rumoured to have harboured doubts about buying into Ewood Park from the start, though his wife seems to have been persuaded that Blackburn Rovers would give the firm the global branding hit they sought. A £26 million investment for a group of companies worth billions was hardly a big gamble. If it failed, it failed. The worst the Desai family could experience was a little embarrassment.

The hole in the strategy was the same one which afflicts so many foreign owners of British football clubs: an apparent lack of knowledge about how these businesses are run. The story about no Desai knowing there was relegation from the Premier League may be apocryphal. Managers have certainly been on the receiving end of less intelligence from foreign proprietors than those in the Blackburn hot seat (one took a call a few weeks ago from the owner, who wanted the team to score "more goals from long range").

But an examination of the club's dealings in last summer's transfer market reveals the crippling effects of the civil war which has broken out at the club in the vaccum left by an absent landlord. On one side are two British executives, the managing director, Derek Shaw, and former press officer, Paul Agnew. On the other side is Shebby Singh, an Indian TV personality and now the club's so-called "global adviser", appointed by the Desai family to get a grip.

Singh was driving the transfer business last summer when QPR were convinced they had secured the signing of Danny Murphy from Fulham on the kind of low-wage, short-term, incentivised salary which 35-year-olds must expect. Mark Hughes was expecting Murphy to turn up for a medical, and inquiries were made when he did not. To the surprise of all concerned, he had been offered a remarkable two-year deal by Rovers, with an option to extend for a year, worth up to £45,000 a week.

There was also a sense of money being thrown away when QPR turned up at the tribunal appointed to agree the transfer fee to buy Rovers' Junior Hoilett. Blackburn's lawyers said they would begin negotiations at around £5m. But Singh had already agreed a fee closer to £3m. The first the Rovers contingent heard of that was in the tribunal room. Singh has not responded to phone calls from The Independent on Sunday this week.

The businessman who beat a path past the roadblocks to Desai's door, Ian Battersby, a lifelong Rovers fan, thought he had persuaded her of the need for professional expertise. She spent three-and-a-half hours listening to him, he says. "The meeting finished with photographs on the bungalow steps and a promise that she wanted to meet again in precisely 15 days. I never heard from them again."

Those trying to engage with Desai, such as the Rovers Trust, do so with diplomacy and try to prevent the situation becoming attritional. All have hit a wall of silence.

The family are losing millions in Lancashire – Battersby estimates that £7.5m has gone on players who have never kicked a ball – but that is chickenfeed for a company with 150 subsidiaries, of which the club are only one. Getting out now would be an admission of failure and bring a loss of pride.

So Desai staggers on, still spending, with some vague hope that the wind will begin blowing the other way. Meanwhile, Blackburn Rovers sit just four points off relegation from the Championship.

Poor old Rovers have been out of cluck

November 2010

Venky's agree deal with the Jack Walker Trust to buy Blackburn Rovers for £23 million.

December 2010

Blackburn sack Sam Allardyce with club a comfortable 13th in Premier League. Steve Kean given manager's role until the end of the season.

January 2011

After just one month's work Kean is handed a three-year contract.

May 2011

Blackburn beat Wolves 3-2 away to narrowly avoid relegation.

September 2011

Blackburn fans protest against Kean and the board before 4-3 win over Arsenal.

November 2011

"Week of Mourning" – fans protest by laying wreaths at the ground.

February 2012

Kean hires bodyguard as Christopher Samba is sold to Russian club.

May 2012

Blackburn succumb to relegation after 11 years in the top flight.

September 2012

Kean's position becomes "untenable" and the Scot resigns with a win ratio of just 28 per cent.

November 2012

Henning Berg is hired as manager, but sacked after just 57 days.

January 2013

Venky's hire their third manager of the season but Michael Appleton lasts just 67 days, despite an FA Cup win over Arsenal.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map