How do you manage when hundreds of fans are calling for your dismissal every week and the bookmakers insist you will be the first Premier League manager to lose your job this season? If you're Steve Kean, it's simple. "You block it out," says the 44-year-old, who tells The Independent that those Blackburn Rovers supporters demanding his removal should be backing the club through "thick and thin".
Kean certainly has some predicament on his hands at Ewood Park – Rovers are bottom of the Premier League, they face Newcastle United in a Carling Cup tie tonight and he is the 10-11 favourite to be the first top-flight manager to lose his job. A sizeable portion of Rovers fans believe he was not the right man to succeed Sam Allardyce and feel his appointment by Venky's, the club's new Indian owners, was bizarre and have not been shy in letting Kean hear their anger.
"I'm old enough, and wise enough, and thick-skinned enough to know that not everybody in the ground is going to be supportive," Kean says when we catch up at Blackburn's training ground, Brockhall. "Maybe they think I shouldn't be the manager, maybe there are other frustrations aimed at me because I'm the public figure, I'm the one that does the press conferences and I'm the one who stands on the touchline every week. So if they are frustrated at any other aspect of the club then I get it, but I'd rather they gave it to me than my players. Of course, I wish every fan was like those we had [away] at Queen's Park Rangers. We had a thousand of them, and every one of them got behind the team. Those fans were amazing.
"I think supporters get frustrated like anyone else and I suppose they want to air their frustrations. I'm a firm believer that a supporter is a supporter of a club through and through. Thick and thin. And we need the supporters at the moment.
"We need them to be backing us and getting behind the lads, getting behind me, getting behind the owners, because I believe we all want the same thing. The owners have been quite strong in the direction they want to take the club. They've backed me and the plan we've put in place so we just need everybody to be supportive of what we're trying to do and let's get us back up the table where we want to be."
In truth, Kean has been up against it in terms of the supporters from the beginning. Handed the job by owners who had ungraciously dispensed with the services of Allardyce, Kean set about getting Blackburn to play in a style vastly different from his predecessor. He did all this amid a background of talk of stellar signings (Ronaldinho, David Beckham and Kaka were all linked with Rovers) and predictions of European football from the owners that did little to calm expectations.
"Those marquee names were always quoted in the press," Kean says. "The owners have always said that if there's a big name, and we feel he's still got some good football left in his legs – not just for PR or for the name, but someone who could come in and contribute to the team – then they would fund it. If the right player is there and I give the owners the opinion that he has a role to play in the team progressing then I'm sure that will happen. If people can come through the turnstiles and see a big name, providing they are here for the right reasons, then I've no problem with that."
Kean believes Rovers are bottom of the league partly because they have not had the rub of the green this season. "We feel as though we should have at least four more points," he says. "When you look at the balance of chances and what we got out of Villa, Wolves and Everton – you don't normally have a game with two penalties and not get anything from them."
On Sunday, Rovers were beaten at home by Tottenham Hotspur but put up a good performance that was praised by Harry Redknapp, the Spurs manager. "We were hanging on," Redknapp said. "I don't know what the crowd are demonstrating about. If the players had [given up] after going 1-0 down then you could say that the manager had lost the dressing room, but they've not stopped working for him. Sometimes you just need a little bit of luck and their luck will turn if they keep working as hard as that."
In truth, the group of protesters has been dwindling. On Sunday they barely mustered 500, where they once talked of a couple of thousand. The banners may have got bigger, but the numbers are falling as signs of improvement grow.
But Kean still has regrets. "At Newcastle we allowed their two midfielders to boss the game and you can't allow that to happen," he says. "You can get a bit deflated. When you've done well for 55 minutes and you concede a goal, you think 'oh no', and then there's another quick goal. You then start to quickly forget all the successful things you were doing in the first 55 minutes and you've got lads thinking, 'Oh I've got to score in the next five minutes'. It's a learning process. You take them through the game and you say we'll stay tight for the next 20 minutes and play ourselves back into the game. You certainly don't throw the plan out the window and start chasing the game."
If there was a match where Kean felt the full pressure of the job, it was the one at home against Manchester City when his side lost 4-0. It was then that the first "Kean Out" banner was unfurled as some fans began to chant the name of the previous owner, Jack Walker. Kean is seen as representing the new owners – and the jury is still out on them. It didn't help that that day he had to share the touchline with Roberto Mancini, who was directing his band of millionaire superstars.
Kean admits to feeling short-changed by football but he's not talking about the wages City players command, rather the career-ending injury which ushered the Scotsman, then a 27-year-old, into the world of coaching.
"You're a player, and then suddenly you have to think about what you're going to do with your life, because all you know is football," says Kean. He found the answer in coaching. He confesses he poured himself into it, hoping to fill the void. "There's always something when you finish playing earlier than expected. You feel as though you've been a little hard done by. I certainly feel that."
The plight of Rovers, and Kean, could have been very different this season had the club secured the services of the German midfielder Jermaine Jones this season. On loan from Schalke last season, he was a key player in Rovers' survival. "It was a very, very expensive deal," says Kean of what was thought to be a £10m fee, "and it was at a point when Schalke didn't actually want to sell him. They'd changed sporting director and manager and they wanted him back but I know he wanted to stay and he was fantastic for us. If we could ever bring him back then that's something we'd explore."
Kean did, though, hold on to the services of his central defender Chris Samba, who he says "is like a massive signing for the club". But rather than who he has kept, it is who he has lost to injury this term that has been significant for Kean. "Ryan Nelsen and David Dunn are big players for us, and when you've got those two out it makes a big difference. We've now lost Michel Salgado, and Vince Grella has been out for a while. These are guys with vast experience and they are important when you have such a young team. That's not an excuse, that's just a fact. The young players are just learning their way. For someone like Jason Lowe to get a bit of information from a Nelsen or a Salgado playing beside him is so valuable and we've missed that. So if we can get those players back then the mix of players in the team will be really good.
"The position we are in, you can look at the table and get a little bit depressed, when you are actually only four or five points off where you predicted yourself to be. It shows you that football is a game of fine margins and it highlights that the big games for us are not against the Manchester Uniteds and the Citys. They are those against teams who will be in and around us, and I believe we can accrue 20 points from them."
David Fearnhead is the author of 'Bailey of the Saints'. Available from Great Northern Books, price £8.99
The season so far: Blackburn's league results
13 Aug Wolves (h) Lost 1-2
20 Aug Aston Villa (a) Lost 3-1
27 Aug verton (h) Lost 0-1
11 Sep Fulham (a) Drew 1-1
17 Sep Arsenal (h) Won 4-3
24 Sep Newcastle (a) Lost 3-1
1 Oct Man City (h) Lost 0-4
15 Oct QPR (a) Drew 1-1
23 Oct Tottenham (a) Lost 1-2
Kean life and times
30 Sept 1967 Born in Glasgow.
1985 Joins Celtic. Minor playing career includes spell in Portugal.
2003 Named assistant to Chris Coleman at Fulham; follows Welsh-man to Real Sociedad and Coventry.
2009 Made coach at Blackburn.
Dec 2010 Takes over at Ewood Park following sacking of Sam Allardyce.Reuse content