There is a saying that a week is a long time in football. Whoever coined that phrase has obviously never been involved with Blackburn Rovers at any time in the last 5 years. Just seven days ago, Blackburn lost 2-1 at Hillsborough in a game were Rovers were controversially denied a point by the officials on no fewer than two instances. Following that, the Championship struggler’s took on Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United juggernaut in the FA Cup at Ewood Park, narrowly losing 2-1 despite putting in arguably the best performance of the season. Fast-forward less than 48 hours and Owen Coyle and his backroom staff had left the club. Fast-forward less than another 24 hours and Tony Mowbray has been appointed on an 18 month contract. There may not be much to write about on transfer deadline day, but when it comes to the running of the club when changes are a-foot there isn’t time for the ink to dry on the last article when the next breaking news is hitting the headlines. This post was supposed to be a review of the defeat to Manchester United and the frustrations of the performances so often being below the level seen on Sunday. Then it was going to be about Owen Coyle’s departure and the poor timing given the game at Burton this coming Friday. Now it is about all three and what the future holds under Tony Mowbray.
Leaving Ewood Park on Sunday I had a sense of surprise optimism, that maybe that game would have given the players a kick up the backside or at least the confidence to go in to the final 15 games of the season and get the results needed to stay in the division. In the first half we looked like the Rovers of old – good attacking football by a team battling above its weight; there was an atmosphere at Ewood and there was banter between the Rovers and United fans – it was like a step back in time to 20 years ago. It was good to see the ground with over 20,000 inside – maybe if the support like that had been there all season, we may be higher up the table. Ultimately, efforts where in vain and United won the tie, but it was somewhat gratifying to know that Mourinho had to turn to superstars Pogba and Ibrahimovic to get the win (against a team second to bottom in the division below) (I’m also not going to lie, seeing Ibrahimovic live is one thing ticked off the bucket list!).
What was frustrating about the game was the effort and intensity of the Rovers team – where has that been all season? Yes, as a Championship team you don’t get to play against the likes of Manchester United every week and against the likes of Zlatan, Pogba, Martial and Mkhitaryan – but surely that any supporter can expect is that the players give 100% every week to try and achieve the clubs goals; whether they be to beat Manchester United in the cup, push for promotion, or battle against relegation. What the defeat on Sunday did show is that the ability, grit and determination, and want to win is there, somewhere. If Mowbray can get Emnes dictating play like that behind Graham for the rest of the season we will score goals. Coupled with that, Mahoney needs to be given more starts – when he came on in the second half, United didn’t know what to do, beating Darmian and even drawing a cynical foul out of Pogba. Mahoney could provide that unknown quantity and spark that not only gets us goals and points, but also gets the crowd behind the team. What is evident is that we can’t defend; we haven’t been able to all season – so maybe the answer is all out attack. Another shining light was the cameo from Tomlinson when he came on – he gives us another option in the middle and deserves more game time.
So this post was going to be about how we can take so many positives from the United defeat and use them to push us on for the remainder of the season, starting with Burton – then the news broke on Tuesday afternoon that Coyle and his backroom staff had left the club by “mutual agreement”, stating that the decision had been made to “give the club the best possible chance of climbing to a position of safety in the Championship” – starting with Burton away on Friday.
Now don’t get me wrong, Coyle was never the right man for the job and was never going to get fans on side given his previous connections with Burnley and Wigan and with SEM, and performances on the pitch had done nothing to change that opinion. However, following arguably the best performance of the season, praise from pundits across the nation, and ahead of the arguably the biggest game in the last 30 years, surely the sensible option would be to ride the crest of that wave and let Coyle at least attempt to get a similar performance out of the players to try and beat Burton? Coyle and his staff left the club on Tuesday – you would expect without taking training – so who took training on Tuesday? If no-body did, even if someone did, surely that is a massive dent in the preparations for Friday crunch game? All the while, Burton where gaining another important point against Derby County. Coyle was never the “outstanding candidate” in any Rovers fans eyes, and his points return has been shocking – to an extent which should have seen him out of a job weeks ago; yes we have lost a lot of games by the odd goal, and haven’t been thumped by anyone, but consistently losing a game by the odd goal in 5 highlights there is a problem somewhere. Coyle should have gone – after the Sheffield Wednesday game, not just before the most important game of the season. If Rovers don’t win the game on Friday, the blame has to lie solely at the door of Paul Senior and his employers.
So, Tony Mowbray. He probably wouldn’t have been my first choice, and to be honest I’d forgotten he was even around. A quick Google-search shows he was last at Coventry City in 2016, a role which he resigned from after 18 months in charge, after spells at Middlesbrough, Celtic and his most successful and well known spell as a manager at West Bromwich Albion in 2006-2009. He has a win percentage of 41.98% (and a loss rate of 35.3%).
When the market was first available the usual names where mentioned: Sherwood and Dunn; in addition to recent job seekers Warburton and Rowett. My own thought’s were “god knows who we’ll get” and I had expected the option of Dunn as caretaker until the end of the season, and then the position to be reviewed depending what division we were in. If I’m being totally honest, I would have loved Rowett or Warburton. When the appointment was announced around lunch today, I was disappointed, maybe even annoyed. We had yet again gone for the cheap option – someone with a CV which had no recent success, but did have a shining light in the past that we could point to (think Coyle with Burnley; Lambert with Norwich; Berg with, oh wait…). I turned the notifications off on my phone as I awaited the onslaught of fellow football fan friend taking the mick.
By the time I looked back at my phone and on-line I had come to my senses a little. Is it really a bad appointment? Mowbray has something to prove and this is his way back in to a division which he knows; as a minimum he may bring tighten up the defence and stop us leaking goals – that would be a start. Blackburn announced the current debt as being £106m today – and having almost halved their wage bill, there is evidently no money available for a big name, or to attract someone on a short term basis for big money, with the lure of further investment should they keep the club afloat. Looking back at those other choices: David Dunn is a club legend I have no doubt that if he keeps learning at the club he will one day be in the hot-seat, but the time is not now, now we need experience and know-how; Gary Rowett has proved he can work on a shoestring at Burton and Birmingham but he has always been looking for something bigger and better and with that in mind, is his heart set on a relegation? Mark Warburton is for me the more suitable candidate having worked a moneyball method at Brentford with success – I have said on this blog before that given our financial situation, moneyball may be the answer – but at Brentford he had owners and a board who were also invested in that theory and willing to let Warburton play it out (in the end he was too successful for his own good); at Ewood, if we get relegated I fear he would have been the first out of the door, either by sacking or by jumping at another offer. The only other candidate I could put in the frame was Mike Phelan – but even he has no experience of getting a side out of a relegation battle and the, optimistically, promoted.
So, the more I think about it, the more Mowbray looks like he good be a good fit. The proof will be in the pudding, and that pudding is due to be served Friday night at the Pirelli Stadium – if we lose that game, that could spell the end of Blackburn’s reign in the top two flights of English football for the first time since 1980 – if we go down this year I fear it will not be as short-lived as back then.
On a slightly separate note, the release of the current financial situation at Blackburn today do not make for good reading. A pre-tax loss of £1.5m (a reduction of £15.8m on the previous year) but still with a net liability of over £106m show just how in the mire the club is. The wage bill has been almost halved since relegation from the top flight in 2012 when it stood at around £50m/year – it now stands at just over £25m/year. The sales of Gestede, Rhodes and Hanley have no doubt helped reduce the losses off the field, but their absences have been evident in the losses on the pitch. The team which was relegated in 2012 had some established stars on presumably big wages, such as Formica, Petrovic, N’Zonzi, Dann, Rochina, Yakubu, Vukcevic and Samba. In comparison, the current squad has been assembled with loans and free transfers and bolstered with youth team players – I would expect this to be less than 50% of that squad which was relegated. The reason for the current dire straits lies at the door of bad decisions made when we were relegated – the signings we made were not bad signings, the problem was the man picking the team. I stand by my point, that had Kean been sacked in that summer before the season started, and a more experienced manager brought in, we would have bounced right back. The announcement again shows that the Venkys have put Blackburn Rovers in a Catch 22 situation: without them, we go bust and probably drop out of existence; with them, we drop down the divisions due to their poor management and understanding of the club and game of football. The Venky’s won’t leave until they have seen a return on their investment (including the loans etc they have pumped in to the club) and the only way that will happen is if the club gets back to the Premiership and manages to survive for a few seasons – in the current light, this is a long way off happening, so don’t expect the Venkys to be leaving anytime soon.
For now, let’s get behind Mowbray and the players, lets give them a fresh start to deliver results for the next 15 games……