Michael Appleton was sacked by letter on the orders of the Blackburn Rovers "global adviser" whom he had never met, as Rovers continued their steep descent to becoming the most ridiculous club in British football.
Appleton, the third Rovers manager to be moved on this season, became the pawn in a power struggle between managing director Derek Shaw, who hired him, and global adviser Shebby Singh, whom Appleton believes wanted him out because Singh has an eye on a semi-managerial role with the first team. Singh, who had been absent from the club since Shaw successfully lobbied the club's Indian owners, Venky's, to hire Appleton, has recently returned, having taken legal advice which reinforces his authority at Ewood Park, according to several sources. He appears to have declared Appleton's appointment by Shaw to be legally invalid. Singh did not respond to The Independent's inquiries.
Singh and Shaw have not spoken to each other since December and Shaw only seems to have been aware of Singh's decision to dismiss Appleton – under whose reign Rovers have slipped to 18th place in the Championship, four points above the bottom three – shortly before the 37-year-old manager arrived for a meeting with academy staff at around 10am on Tuesday morning.
Appleton, who took charge after spending two months at Blackpool, had anticipated presiding over a clear-out at the club this summer, having inherited a squad whose composition baffled him. He did not believe that Danny Murphy, signed from Fulham on wages of around £30,000 a week, was delivering enough to command the package of loyalty and bonus payments which had seen him choose Rovers rather than Queen's Park Rangers.
The collection of Portuguese players – signed under Singh's direction during last summer's transfer window – also particularly baffled Appleton. Diogo Rosado, 23, joined from Sporting Lisbon on a three-year deal, with Nuno Henrique, 26, arriving from Academica de Coimbra also on a three-year deal. Neither of the two recruits, part of six who arrived from Portugal, have played for Appleton. Steve Kean, Venky's first Rovers manager, admitted he had never heard of some, shortly before his own dismissal.
Singh has reinstated reserve-team coach Gary Bowyer – whom he had installed in temporary charge before Shaw and Rovers chief executive Paul Agnew flew to India to persuade matriarch Anuradha Desai to appoint Appleton – as manager until the end of the season. Bowyer, son of the Nottingham Forest European Cup winner Ian Bowyer, had felt that his Blackburn career was over when Shaw seemed to have wrested control from Singh. But Shaw's own position is the one in doubt, now that the power struggle has swung the other way.
Though a victim of the club's internecine strife, Appleton did not provide the upswing the Indians had hoped for and was sacked after a run of eight winless games, including last Wednesday's FA Cup quarter-final exit to Millwall and a desperately poor display in Sunday's 1-1 derby draw against Burnley. Bowyer's record as caretaker – won three, drawn one – suggested he deserved a longer run.
With attendances dwindling, the Rovers Trust last week renewed its offer to help the Desai family with expertise, in return for a say in the running of the club. They have received no reply. "It is obvious to any experienced fan or football professional that to keep changing managers – we are now looking for our sixth this season – will only lead to yet more instability and uncertainty," the Trust said. "The owners have to face up to the fact they are entirely responsible for the situation we find ourselves in with a second successive relegation a distinct possibility."