A game of chicken

With Blackburn Rovers linking themselves to several high profile players, it seems enhancing the brand may be a little too high up the priorities list for some clubs

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Blackburn’s new owners, Venky’s, share our views on the importance of enhancing your brand. Before they became part of the EPL’s global family a couple of months ago they were just the biggest poultry producers in India. Now they’re making worldwide headlines by bidding to sign Ronaldinho. The impish sprite from the gaucho state is desperate for a new challenge after eight years in Spain and Italy, and is said to be highly impressed by Venky’s ambitions which include finishing fifth in the Premier League while playing sumptuous soccer. You can’t even estimate the value of having a former World Footballer of the Year making regular visits to your chicken hatcheries in a branded hairnet but £130,000 a week seems to be the basis for negotiation.

Many Blackburn fans had failed to warm to the long-ball scientist Sam Allardyce and so were delighted when he was sacked shortly after the new owners took over, even though there was no replacement lined up. Some will also be excited by the interest in Ronaldinho which carries echoes of high-spending days in the 1990s which brought the club a League title. But Venky’s clearly don’t expect to challenge the billionaire-owned clubs at the top of the table.

Indeed a recent Guardian investigation suggested that the company’s wealth has been over-stated and that their annual turn over last year was £100 million rather than the £1 billion reported at the time of the takeover. Venky’s chairwoman, Anuradha Desai, says that “the Blackburn fans have to trust us and give us time”, but such assurances ought to be backed up by a coherent plan. Blowing £20m on a three-year contract for one player, and an erratic, fading star at that, does not seem to fit the bill.

Beyond generating publicity for themselves, Venky’s actions seem to be guided to some degree by the agent Jerome Anderson who advised the company on their purchase of Blackburn. Anderson has made himself useful to several Premier League clubs recently. He represented a number of Arsenal players at a time when Darren Dein, son of the club’s then vice-chairman, worked for him as a consultant and went on to help fulfil Sven-Göran Eriksson’s squad-building requirements at Man City in 2007. In reports of Allardyce’s dismissal it was suggested that he fell out with his new employers over transfer targets – before their dalliance with Ronaldinho, Venky’s had apparently been keen on reviving the careers of Kris Boyd and Geovanni – but it may be that the inexperienced caretaker manager Steve Kean manager would welcome advice on how to strengthen his squad.

Another of Blackburn’s alleged transfer targets, David Beckham, provides a variation on the theme of football clubs being used to promote a brand. In this case the brand is the player himself. At the time of writing, Spurs seems to be favourites to sign Beckham from LA Galaxy on a short-term deal. It’s not hard to see the attraction from the player’s point of view – it’s a final chance to bask in the limelight with a team that has reached the latter stages of Champions League and still has hopes of winning the Premier League.

Notwithstanding Harry Redknapp’s well-known fondness for “freshening up the squad” it’s hard to see how Spurs will benefit on the playing side from signing a 35-year-old who, not surprisingly, is getting slower and more injury-prone every year. In recent times, Beckham’s chief value has been a set-piece specialist but Spurs have a few of those already and they would have to alter the shape of the team, and adjust the pace at which they play, to accommodate him.

But Spurs also know that a tie-in with Brand Beckham, even if only for a few months, will have huge commercial benefits – even if he just comes on to take whatever free-kicks Luka Modric can win in the final 15 minutes. Plus it will be a further boost to the public profile of Spurs’ highly image-conscious manager. Look out for JK Rowling’s exclusive report, Harry Redknapp and the Wave of Hype, in the post-season issue of WSC.

From WSC 288 February 2011