Away from the mainland, away from the action

Whilst the troublesome two-some of Wayne Rooney and Luis Suarez occupy the back pages of the press in the UK, Manchester City have been quietly (for a change) going about their business, bringing in no less than four signings, that could potentially be any other clubs “star signing” – yet there has been little attention for this in the press, as they see the actions and quotes (or non-actions and a lack of quotes from Rooney) of the troubled two, as the topic that will sell the papers.

City have brought in Negredo, Jesus Navas, Stefan Jovetic and Fernandinho for a total of around £95m and seem to be the ones in the league spending the money. The likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool have yet to get going – even Spurs have been more active, and perhaps most surprisingly, that hasn’t been due to Bale heading for the exit.

Manchester City have definitely stolen a march on the rest of the Premier League when it comes to star/big signings, but the more interesting question is: have the rest of Europe stolen a march on the English clubs?
From the look of things, the answer has to be yes. PSG have swept Edinson Cavani from under the noses of United, City and Chelsea; Neymar has snubbed Chelsea for Barcelona; the Germans seem to prefer Munich to Manchester; and other players such as Higuain and Villa can’t commit to joining the English clubs.

Looking back 5-10 years ago, England where the big spenders in the transfer market, splashing the cash to bring the likes of Robinho, Crespo, Drogba, Tevez, Aguero, Jo (remember him!), Torres et al – now only City look content to splash the cash away from the mainland. Back on the continent, Europe has caught up. English clubs are no longer given the luxury of paying the top dollar and being guaranteed to get their man. Now people are challenging them, and it is making the Champions League look a whole lot more exciting – and the Premier League potentially less explosive.

The forward lines across Europe could look something like: Messi/Neymar at Barcelona, Ronaldo/Benzema at Real Madrid, Ibrahimovic/Cavani at PSG, Mandzukic/Muller at Bayern, and Balotelli/El Sharaawy. Whereas here in England the following front lines don’t look as terrifying as they once did: Van Persie/Hernandez, Torres/Ba, Giroud/Podolski, Suarez/Sturridge (come season opener, neither may be starting!), and Negredo/Jovetic. Out of the list, I’d say only United and City look comparable to some of those across Europe.

What does this mean for the Premier League? It has levelled the playing field. The days of seeing 3 of the 4 clubs in the Champions League heralding from England are long gone, and the teams across Europe have the potential and power to prevent it happening for some years. The money is more evenly distributed across Europe now – no longer is England the only place for a rich owner, each country now has their own, some even two, cash rich clubs – France has PSG, Germany has Bayern, Spain has Barcelona and Real Madrid – and with the money that has been spent, a lot of the clubs who arguably play second fiddle, now find themselves with money to play with. This combined with the fact that the top of the Premier League will be battled out by three managers new to their club (including Mourinho in his second stint), only adds to the potential European disappointment. The one club in England who should be seeing this season as an opportunity for success are Arsenal – same manager, money to spend, a decent mix of youth and experience, but yet again Mr Wenger seems unwilling to splash the cash and go for it. It says a lot that the likes of Higuain have been linked with them, yet there has still to be any movement.

It could also be a good thing though. If players aren’t jumping at the chance to swim the channel to Britain, teams will be, to an extent, forced to look at their youngsters and then players further down the leagues. It may mean some time away from the big domestic European cup competitions, but it could also herald a bright era for the national team – a national team who has had a dismal summer on every front. Look at the players who are being sold for the big money this summer, for a lot of them, this is their first big money move. They must have developed somewhere to legitimise that price tag. Maybe now England can follow in the footsteps and put the emphasis back on development instead of on buying talent from somewhere else. After all, that is where the Giggs’, Rooney’s, Gerrard’s, Terry’s and the Lampard’s developed, on the British Isles.

The winds of summer change

This time 12 months ago, Blackburn Rovers were gearing up for a first season in the Championship for 12 years. Following a turbulent season resulting in relegation from the top flight, expectations were high and promotion, automatic at least, was the goal. Big money, experienced internationals were being jetted in to the club to help with the ‘project’. Even the most pessimistic Blackburn fan (myself included in that bracket) could help but get a little bit excited and optimistic. The end result of this optimism – remaining in the second flight, by the skin of their teeth, with just a game to spare, just. A mere 21 points away from automatic promotion and 10 points off the play-offs – in truth though, most Blackburn fans were just happy to have survived.

Fast forward 12 months and again the team are preparing for the annual pre-season workouts, and again there is an air of optimism about the club. However, this time, it is for completely different, almost polar opposite reasons.

First of all, gone is the pantomime villain, Steve Kean, and it seems he has been joined through the door by his widow Twanky, Shebby Singh. Kean has been replaced by the club-man Bowyer, who twice stepped up to the challenge and steered the club in the right direction last season – he is the only man to have managed Blackburn Rovers in the 2012-13 campaign and still be in a job at the club: no small feat in itself. Following Kean out of the door over the summer football hiatus has been the big money earners that brought such optimism last summer, Danny Murphy, and to a lesser extent Nuno Gomes (I feel Nuno wasn’t given the chance to prove himself over the season, but when he played he tended to score). These departures may have been set about by Bowyer, or the final nails may have been struck in to the coffins by the upcoming Financial Fair Play rules – either way, there was one party benefitting from them being at Ewood, and it wasn’t the club.

Replacing the experience has been something of a step back in time with a number of old players being brought back in: Judge and Morrow to name two. They never got the chance to prove themselves the first time around, when the club were in the top flight, probably due to the pressures of keeping the Premier League status, but now the man who gave them the chance to knock on the managers door, is the man in that managers office. If you look at Blackburn squads of the last 15-20 years (excluding Kean’s reign, and to an extent Allardyce’s) there have always been young talented professionals coming up through the ranks: your Duff’s, your Dunn’s, your Johnson’s, your Jones’, your Taylors, your Given’s, your Derbyshire’s and your Gallagher’s. Hopefully this will be the jump start that the conveyor belt needs and the Hanley’s, Henley’s (x2), Kean’s, Judge’s and Morrow’s can embark on their own success stories – hopefully starting with promotion.

There’s that word, that target, again: ‘promotion’. The phrase: don’t run before you can walk springs to mind when reflecting on last season. The big names where brought in (Singh included) and paid the money to ‘guarantee’ a return to the top flight, when maybe perhaps we should have consolidated, looked at what we had and aimed for mid-table, the play-offs at a push. Evidently the players recruited to get the club back to the top flight weren’t worthy of the job – neither were the owners – but had we got there, we would not have lasted the first season. By laying the foundations and building from the ground up, the team will be more sustainable, and the big money and experienced signings won’t be as much of a must.

The irony to the situation with regards to FFP, is that for clubs to survive and achieve their goal of reaching the Premier League, they have to watch the wallet, stick to the budget and do it on a shoestring. However, once there, to stay there, it is more than likely that clubs will have to break the bank to compete just to survive. The cost of failure could potentially destroy a club with scores of players on big wages, too high for the club to afford on the next tier down, but the player so tarnished by his influence on the relegation that nobody else wants to pay the fee or the wages.

Blackburn Rovers have a rich history when it comes to developing youngsters in to stars, and they have invested the time and money in them and the Academy over the years – now is the time to realise that investment and use it to pay for the future. In these strict financial times, the money Jack Walker invested into the club through the youth setup will be more vital than ever. If Blackburn can tap in to that resource, they could be on to a (relatively cheap) winner.

The final point has to be the owners – last year they spent too much time chopping and changing managers and backroom staff. They seem to now have realised that stability is needed and by appointing Bowyer and letting him do things his way is definitely a step in the right direction. A second step in the right direction also seems to be the step to close the doors of Ewood Park to Shebby Singh. Too many times last year he rocked the boat and left the fans to pick up the pieces. Too many times did he have an input in to things he should never have had and then ran for the hills. The club needs a manager with the board behind him, and the club needs one man to steer the ship from the top, not three – two in Blackburn and one god-knows were.

The lyrics of a song sum up Blackburn Rovers over the 12 months, it’s not a song usually associated with football, but in the case of aiming to high and ignoring the talent on your doorstep, it sums up the time brilliantly: “Don’t go chasing waterfalls, please stick to the rivers and the lakes that your used to, I know that you’re gonna have it your way or nothing at all, but I think that you’re moving too fast”.
Too many times last year, the people upstairs at the club wanted it there way, luckily it didn’t get to the having ‘nothing at all’ stage.