Belfast Telegraph

Venky's deny they will sell Blackburn and claim Hunt axed to cut costs

By Martin Hardy

The owners of Blackburn Rovers finally broke their silence yesterday following relegation, and the message was one of defiance.

Venky's, who paid £23m to take full control at Ewood Park in November 2010, insisted they would not be walking away, despite the tumultuous nature of their 18-month reign. There was also a confirmation, via a one-sentence statement on the Blackburn Rovers website, that deputy chief executive Paul Hunt, whose leaked email calling for the dismissal of Steve Kean, which dated back to December, sent Rovers into meltdown, had gone.

"Blackburn Rovers Football Club can confirm that deputy chief executive Paul Hunt has left the club," it read. However there was a categorical denial from Venkatesh Rao, brother of Anuradha Desai, and part of the triumvirate which own the club, that the sacking, which happened on Tuesday evening, was done because of the appearance of the email (an email Kean said on Wednesday he had never read, or even seen.)

Speaking to the Times of India (an interview that was initially online as a video report), Venkatesh Rao said: "The sacking was not for that as he had to go and we have to cut down on budgets, so it [the email] has got nothing to do with it."

Blackburn must quickly accept the financial implications of relegation from the Premier League. They already have a dangerously high wages to turnover ratio of around 86 per cent.

Kean admits he expects vultures to circle his playing staff in light of relegation but his biggest asset, Junior Hoilett, is out of contract in the summer, and could move abroad for nothing, with clubs in Germany now joining the likes of Spurs, Sunderland and Arsenal competing for his signature.

Rovers will see their Sky television money decimated by relegation (annually worth at least £35m), and the parachute payment of £48m spread over four years, is a fraction by comparison. Venky's are believed to have injected around £25m on top of the figure they paid to buy the club, but have faced huge criticism for their running of the club, for their appointment of Kean and their loyalty to him.

However Venkatesh Rao, in the face of such a public backlash, reiterated Kean's words from Wednesday, that there would be no sale of the club.

"It's our company and these allegations of selling the club are very wrong," he said. "It's how they [the fans] feel and naturally they are going to do that [protest]. We need to come out of this situation and the fans have every right to do what they want.

"The press has got it right," he added. If someone loses or wins they will report but we have to come out of this situation. There is nobody to be blamed."

The departure of Hunt has, however, moved the spotlight onto the remaining executives at the club. Finance director Karen Silk and director of football Simon Hunt are now in extremely difficult positions and Vineeth Rao, the club's main Indian representative in England, flew back to India last night for further talks.

Kean's position is not thought to be in serious danger, despite relegation and posting a win ratio of just 26 per cent since he took over from Sam Allardyce at the end of 2010. The current Blackburn manager has signed 13 players during his period in charge, but major successes, like the transfer of Yakubu, have been few.

"I think there's been challenging times," said Kean. "We've lost a lot of experienced players and there's been a total change within the club as far as what was in place for a number of years with the trust owning the club and lots of directors that have now since gone so it's a changing time.

"But what we've got to do now is look at where we are as a club and say 'we don't belong here'. We make sure from the first new player that comes into the building that it's a player that can move us in the right direction."

Belfast Telegraph


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