That Blackburn Rovers felt obliged to deny a report indicating Diego Maradona was heading to Ewood Park to replace sacked manager Sam Allarydce tells you a lot about modern soccer.
There was a time when such a suggestion would have been deemed unworthy of any comment except a few raised eyebrows. Now hardly anyone bats an eyelid.
After all, nothing is too outlandish for the Premier League or indeed a global game where Qatar, a country with hardly any track record in soccer, will stage the 2022 World Cup.
Allardyce, in charge for nearly two years, was fired on Monday despite Rovers being relatively well placed at 13th in the table, five points above the relegation zone.
His departure came less than a month after Venky’s, an India-based poultry firm, purchased Blackburn for ￡23 million (US$30 million).
There was a time where the only link between a soccer team and poultry came in the shape of a local meat supplier such as Bob Lord, a Burnley butcher who was chairman of his hometown club for 26 years.
Lord was by no means always a popular figure, but it was inconceivable to imagine him anywhere else.
Blackburn, local northwest rivals of Burnley, have known what it is to have great wealth compared to other clubs. -Bankrolled by the millions of late former owner Jack Walker, a lifelong Rovers fan, they won the Premier League in 1995.
However Venky’s ambitions for Rovers appear to be beyond even that of the club’s most ardent supporters, with chairman Anuradha Desai saying: “We want good football and Blackburn to be fourth or fifth in the league or even better.”
For former Blackburn captain Tim Sherwood, who skippered Blackburn to the league title 15 years ago, present-day soccer economics have put another championship and most likely the top four beyond Rovers’ reach.
“They will never win the league again — that would take [the wealth of] Roman Abramovich [Chelsea’s owner] and Sheikh Mansour [Manchester City’s owner] combined. They are good enough to get safety every year and knock on the door of six, seven and eight in the Premier League,” he said.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson — whose 26-year reign and counting at Old Trafford makes him the last top-flight boss to have a real “grip” on his club — detects another problem with the set-up at Blackburn.
There have been reports that Venky’s are using Kentaro, a Swiss sports agency linked to leading British agent Jerome Anderson, to advise them on transfers.
Ferguson, who labeled the sacking of his friend Allardyce as “absolutely ridiculous,” told American radio station Sirius XM: “It’s incredible. The game has gone mad.”
“Apparently they [Blackburn’s owners] have taken on an agent to advise them how to run the club, which players to use and pick. It’s unbelievable, very odd, and it tells you everything about the modern game,” he said.
And nor is it simply a matter of foreigners who don’t “understand” English soccer that are making decisions that put them in the firing line.
NOT JUST FOREIGNERS
Newcastle owner Mike Ashley — whose southern English roots mean he is often accused by disaffected fans of having installed a “Cockney Mafia” at St James’ Park — appears to be the latest homegrown businessmen whose sure touch in making money in the commercial world disappears when becoming involved with a soccer club.