The January transfer window slammed shut last week once again leaving Blackburn Rovers fans disappointed at the lack of inbound activity, as well as at the volume of players leaving the club, even if some are only on loan.
The north-west club have come/gone a long way since the Venky’s first transfer window back in 2011 when rumours were abound that the likes of Ronaldinho were on the way to Ewood – at least this time he really is on his way, albeit only for a friendly at Wembley. That same window the Venky’s brought Roque Santa Cruz back to the club on loan, along with Jermaine Jones, and Mauro Formica and Ruben Rochina signing permanent deals. Fast forward two years and the latter two have left the club, on loan at least. That is better than the fate of Simon Vuckevic who has had his contract terminated after making just 16 appearances in the 16 months he was at the club – ask the majority of Rovers and they will admit they never saw the best of him, only glimpses of the potential.
The common denominator in the players leaving the club this January (Ruben Rochina, Mauro Formica, Simon Vuckevic, Diogo Rosado, Micah Evans and Jordan Slew) is that they are all attacking in nature – the others leaving the club from a defensive point of view are not seen experienced or first team players. More specifically of those who have played in the first team consistently, all of them were traditional ‘number 10’s’ – providing the link and the spark between midfield and attack. I myself believe that in the Championship, two up front is a must, making many of you think that the lack of any recognised number 10’s would not bother me and may even welcome the idea – incorrect. Number 10’s are a special bread. They are neither midfielder, winger or striker. Yet at Blackburn, as with most other English clubs of the past ten-twenty years, we have fit them in were seen best, either on the wing, or up top – neither of which is were they have been most beneficial. A look at Rochina, Formica, Vuckevic and Rosado shows us this – they have all at some point (more the norm than the exception) been farmed out on the wing or put too far forward, or, worse still, been played in the ‘hole behind the striker’ in a team which has been set up too defensively – as a 4-5-1 as opposed to a 4-4-1-1 or a 4-2-3-1 – rendering them relatively ineffective, and more than likely invoking fan frustration at lack of an output.
That was, however, until this year. This season, despite a managerial merry go round any circus master would be proud of, we have played a number 10, in a number 10’s position, and not as part of a defensive team. The output – we have seen the best of Ruben Rochina – arguably the most talented and creative player in a blue and white shirt since Tugay. Given a run of games in the team in this position this season has seen his contributions expand massively, as well as his goal and assist return – with his number of goals being more than double what he returned in the whole season 2011-12 in one game less in the league. However, the introduction of Michael Appleton had seen him demoted once again to the bench, however this time, in favour of a traditional 4-4-2, which has seen a certain Jordan Rhodes flourish.
So why am I not 100% convinced removing the play making number 10’s is a wise decision given my campaign for 4-4-2? A plan B. As with any team, once a formation and playing style is recognised, teams can defend adequately against it, particularly the better teams who are going to be challenging for the same goal: promotion. By having options on the bench in the form of a number 10, it gives the potential to bring on a player who can change a game, a player who can pick a pass, and a player who can unlock the door. Countless times this season, Ruben Rochina has come off the bench to provide that magic key. The number 10 gives a different option with regards to formations – switching from a 4-4-2 or a 4-5-1 to a 4-3-1-2 or a 4-4-3 with a play maker with a free role. By removing these options I think it leaves us open to a tactical stalement which for most teams will consist of ‘stop Jordan Rhodes at all costs’.
With reference specifically to Ruben Rochina, I don’t blame him for wanting away on loan for first team football, at his age he needs it to develop his game, and without it he will continue to make the same inexperienced mistakes such as holding on to the ball too long; trying to beat that last man – but at the end of the day, by attempting these things, when they come off, this is what makes the crowd cheer and get to their feet. As a Blackburn fan I only hope that he gets that consistent game time at Zaragoza and comes back a wiser, more educated and well rounded player.
Back to the subject of deadline deals – although many Rovers fans are frustrated at the lack of new faces through the door and are tearing their hair out at the fact the DJ Campbell and Jerome Thomas deals fell at the last hurdle – one forgotten fact remains: a man who has 112 career goals at the age of just 23 has not been stolen from us.
Without Jordan Rhodes and his goals Blackburn would most likely be in the same situation as Bolton and Wolves, and that is also taking in to account the number of managers who have come and gone since his arrival (5 including caretakers). The boy is a breath of fresh air – no ego; no hot-head; no petulance – at 23 it looks as though he is an experience man of the game, with the strength and finishing skills to match. The goals against Bristol City at the weekend showing he only needs a sniff of goal to get on the scoresheet, and that he also has the strength and composure to slot the ball away after wrestling to the box and completing a one on one with the keeper. In my eyes, keeping hold of him, when goals are at a premium in the Premier League is a massive success. It is also worth remember, with Leon Best on the road to recovery, he will be like having a new signing. The true question will come in the summer: if Rovers don’t get promoted, will a top division club come in for him? And will the offer prove too healthy for Venky’s to turn down? If that is indeed the case – expect resurrected fan fury towards the poultry farmers.
To finish, let’s take a quick look at the men Steve Kean (or as he’ll have you believe) brought in to the club: Mauro Formica; Ruben Rochina; Bradley Orr; Marcus Olsson; Jordan Slew; Radosav Petrovic; Scott Dann; David Goodwillie; Simon Vuckevic; Yakubu; Myles Anderson; Bruno Ribeiro; Jordan Rhodes; Diogo Rosado; Nuno Henrique; Edinho Junior; Dickson Etuhu; Danny Murphy; Paulo Jorge; Fabio Nunes; Nuno Gomes; Leon Best;. Of those 22 – 10 have been sold or allowed to leave on loan; 1 has been long term injured; 5 were unheard of Portuguese youngsters; 4 have never made a first team league appearance; and only 8/9 could be said to be first team regulars. Of a reported spend of £34.6m over a period which included a relegation – less than ten players have gone on to become first team regulars. If you look back to the days of Hughes and even Souness when the market was highly inflated, in a similar 2 year period, would they have wasted such investment? A true testament of the manager that Steve Kean was, despite the negative press which Blackburn fans continuously got for the protesting against his poor management and the support Kean got in the media and football world, he has not been linked (seriously anyway) with any vacant job in the English league system, despite 29 vacancies being available. If he truly was a great manager who would have kept the team up if the protests hadn’t happened, would he still be out of a job now?
I think not.