Outspoken Blackburn chief Singh vows to tackle the 'world's most impossible job'
21:54 GMT, 17 August 2012
It hasn't taken taken long for the outspoken opinions that made Shebby Singh a household name across Asia to ruffle a few feathers in English football.
Singh, the man charged with guiding Blackburn Rovers back into the Premier League, global advisor to Indian owners Venky’s, and a popular television pundit, might have won himself some new friends by announcing at a fans’ forum on the eve of the Championship season that manager Steve Kean will be sacked if he loses three games in a row, but his unguarded comments about Kean and midfielder Morten Gamst Pedersen have not gone down so well inside Ewood Park.
Shebby Singh: a man on a mission
Singh has apologised publicly and personally to both men but the 51-year-old former Malaysia international and Asia’s answer to Alan Hansen is not about to change despite the controversy building around him.
‘I call a spade a spade,’ says Singh. ‘There is a job to do, a responsibility on my shoulders. It’s a fresh challenge and it’s time for me to put my money where my mouth is.
‘As a football pundit we are most loved if we say nice things but we are most hated if we don’t. So be it.
‘ESPN Star Sports was televised across 21 countries, all of them football crazy. Man United v Liverpool can draw 250million viewers.
Under fire: Steve Kean (right) has seen his preparations hit
‘It will take a long time for some
people at the club to accept they have got an in-house pundit as a
global advisor who has been sent here to oversee the present and future
of the club.
‘I’ve never been too popular and I don’t think anything will change. But I will get the job done.
‘I saw them (Kean and Pedersen) personally first and apologised, and
then it was only right that I apologised in public. I’m wrong, I’m
‘Whether they accepted the apology or not, that’s not something I can determine.’
Singh was quite happy living in Singapore and delivering his opinions on
world football alongside his old ‘sparring partner’ Steve McMahon to
viewers every Monday night when Blackburn’s owners Venky’s asked him to
become their head of football development for Asia last summer.
Straight talking: Singh will not change his outspoken style
After the club were relegated in May, Singh was given the title of
global advisor and parachuted into Ewood to work alongside Kean barely a
month after writing a newspaper column in Singapore calling for the
Scot to be sacked.
Before leaving a 15-year career in television to move to Lancashire’s
Ribble Valley, however, he asked his son Sonuljit, 22, for his opinion.
‘He’s my go-to man,’ says Singh. ‘We were having a chat about this and
he said, “do you know what you’ve done You’ve walked into the most
impossible job in the world!”.
‘That’s my son’s opinion of it. Yes, it’s a big challenge but the bigger
the better. It’s better to have tried and failed than never have tried
at all, that’s always been the way I approach life.
‘Please call me a student of the game. I’m not an expert or a guru, I’m
still learning the game. Football is my passion, my vocation, my hobby,
Singh’s honesty might attract controversy but it’s a breath of fresh air
to the fans who have been desperate for better communication with their
club since the Jack Walker Trust handed over control to India nearly
two years ago.
He is well aware of the criticism of the Rao family and their
matriarchal head Mrs Anuradha Desai – or ‘Madam’ who stood against her
brothers and spared Kean the sack at the end of last season – but he
insists the owners have learned from their painful introduction to
Target: Blackburn Rovers' Norwegian midfielder Morten Gamst Pedersen
Money has been made available for eight new signings so far this summer,
meaning Blackburn are among the favourites to go back up at the first
‘I’ve come into this with my eyes wide open,’ says Singh. ‘We’re all
aware of the situation but we don’t like to bring it up. That’s the
promise I made to my bosses. It’s history. You can’t change history but
you can influence the future.
‘Madam has watched me on TV, she knows what I was saying and thinking. I
said things that had to be said, the same as what a lot of fans here
think. Coming here is a progression, not a new start for me.
‘I’ve been sent by the family to get promotion. When I met with them
this summer, Madam said, “Shebby, do what you have to do – I want
promotion”. I recall the moment because that’s the motivation.’
Singh holds up his mobile phone to reveal the motto on his Blackberry Messenger. It reads: ‘Promotion or die trying’.
‘It’s as simple as that for me,’ adds the man who had an 18-year playing
career for club and country in Malaysia. ‘Along the way if people get
upset, if people think that’s the train they don’t want to be on then
Fresh start: Blackburn's new signing Dickson Etuhu (centre) during training
Singh insists that Venky’s have no intention of walking away from their investment.
‘A lot of people have underestimated the family,’ he says. ‘They are
here to stay. There is a way forward – it’s not the end of everything.
‘Yes, there’s a lot of a hurt which everybody feels and financially the
club has been hit. It’s been painful and detrimental to their name and
reputation, but there’s a stronger resolve now.
‘My bosses run a conglomerate, an empire. With their other business
entities, they trust people they put in place to get results.
‘Right until the end last season I think the owners were possibly
fearful of what might happen but they depended on the manager to have
told them that.
‘I have shouldered a lot of the pressure but certain things only time
will heal. Things like putting the squad together for Steve. I don’t
think we could have done any better.
‘The club has come down, Steve was the man in charge and still is. We
need to go back up. Now it’s time to step back because this is where the
football begins. Team selection and tactics entirely belong to the
manager, and we can only hope we get the right results.’
Blackburn might be out of the Premier League but, with Singh at the
helm, it’s unlikely they will be out of the spotlight for long.