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 Kean has been replaced by the club-man Bowyer, who twice stepped up to the challenge and steered the club in the right direction last season – he is the only man to have managed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.